Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Connecting the Dots in Employee Engagement


  I was delivering a training session on employee engagement today (focusing on ‘total engagement management’ rather than ‘kaizengagement’) and then this evening, catching up on the HCI’s Engagement and Retention conference again.

But I’ve also been sent a copy of some new HCI research on engagement, due to publication in September, ‘Connecting the Dots: Comprehensive Career Development as a Catalyst for Employee Engagement’ and am pleased to see the overlap with some of the key points I was making in today’s training.


Defining Engagement

A agree with David Zinger that there’s no need for a common definition of employee engagement – a point I also made at my presentation along with David Macleod.  But I also support the idea that each organisation should define for themselves what they mean by engagement.  This is how the point is made in the HCI’s report:

“William Costellano of the Center for HR Strategy at Rutgers, pointed to the pitfalls associated with improperly defining and assessing engagement: ‘If one does not know what one is measuring, the action implications will be, at best, vague and, at worst, a leap of faith.”


Social Engagement

Along with declining levels of trust and engagement post the recession, I think the other key change in business and society is an increasing focus on social connection.  This may not appear as a key focus in all engagement survey vendors’ summaries but it’s clear to me that it is having an increasing impact on engagement.

Here’s HCI:

“Typically, when we think about employee engagement and the drivers associated with it, we consider the traditional elements of compensation, benefits, and perks to be the most meaningful levers of engagement for employees. Not only does our research demonstrate that this is untrue, but it is increasingly difficult for organizations today to maintain these types of ‘perks’ given the fragile economic environment that we now live in, even in the postrecession economy. Taking these two factors together, we aimed to identify the true levers that impact employee engagement the most, especially through the lens of Top and Poor Performing Organisations  to gain valuable insights about best practices and differentiators from our respondent organizations.

This finding implies that engagement may be best created through the use of ‘holistic’ strategies that interconnect an organization’s talent with accentuating supportive interpersonal relationships, as well as working to foster a connection between employees and the strategic goals of the organization. Further demonstrating that Top Performing Organisations have a comprehensive understanding of what drives employee engagement in their organization, our research found that they are better prepared to implement several of these strategic offerings rather than relying on just one or two.


How effective are the following in regards to impacting employee
engagement in your organization? % Who Responded ‘Effective’


Furthermore, while the importance of fostering positive relationships to impact engagement has been frequently highlighted in past research studies, the fact that this is a significant differentiating feature for TPOs in our current study underscores the efficacy of this practice to impact employee engagement and retention. One research study remarked, “As organizations battle to get the most from their existing people in an environment characterized by skill shortages, the role of human resource practices in fostering employee engagement and commitment is paramount.

As mentioned above and perhaps a bit surprisingly, our survey uncovered that the least effective means for impacting employee engagement was ‘compensation, pay and benefits.’ While these benefits are certainly important to an employee, it is the “interpersonal relationships” and “ability to connect work to the organization’s strategy.”


Career Development

But HCI makes a point that I largely missed.  This is about the importance of career development (which I did discuss) and of the way this development has changed (which I didn’t).  But I agree with the research that this does now provide a new opportunity for engagement:

Leveraging Multi-Directional Career Movements

The final compelling distinctive element of TPOs versus PPOs relates specifically to career pathing or advancement. This is a particularly complicated process to define for today’s modern organization mostly because organizations are flatter than they once were, and the traditional concept of ‘moving up the career ladder’ is no longer something that is necessarily possible or even straightforward.

There is an emerging belief that effective career advancement is not limited to a linear progression up the ‘corporate ladder,’ and is rather defined by a series of lateral, as well as upward, moves to impact an employee’s career development. The increasing interconnectivity among organizational functions calls for a more interconnected method of movement within an organization and within individual career advancement, and ‘muti-directional career movement’ offers this flexibility.

The survey results indicate a prevalence of these “multi-directional” moves is taking place more regularly among TPOs. A combination of lateral moves and upward moves were mentioned more frequently by TPOs as a means for career advancement within their organization, as opposed to the standard ‘corporate ladder.’

This trend was first observed in 2001, and was described in the following excerpt, ‘Organizational career development programs started being developed in response to the changing nature of employees’ career expectations and desires. The traditional psychological contract between employers and employees in which lifelong employment was guaranteed has ended. Employers focus more on helping employees build employability so that they are able to make any number of career changes — vertically or laterally. The hierarchies that once made straight career paths simple are disappearing, and organizations have become flatter.’

It is paramount for organizations to embrace and capitalize on this shift if they aim to ensure that career development opportunities remain a key lever for increasing employee engagement and satisfaction.

By contrast, nearly 1 in 3 PPO’s continue to utilize the ‘corporate ladder’ to describe career advancement in their organization. This failure to change the development strategies to align with current workforce trends will arguably impede these organizations in the future and likely result in lower employee engagement and increased rates of turnover. As top talent continues to look elsewhere for opportunities and organizations that allow them to move more freely and advance their knowledge and skills more readily, organizations would be wise to adapt.”


It’s a good point, and I should have made more of it today.



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