Are you a Chief Executive or HR Director struggling to increase employee engagement in your organisation?
Are you wondering who's really responsible for employee engagement in your engineering firm? I'm sure you're already familiar with the answer 'everybody'. While this is ultimately true, it's far too glib to be meaningful.
Like many of my clients, you probably find that this broad answer doesn't actually help you build employee engagement. Communicating that 'everybody' is responsible tends to mean that 'nobody' believes they actually have to do something. 'Everybody' is busy waiting for 'somebody else' to step forward first.
I find that, when it comes down to it, if you're going to build employee engagement there are some people who have a bigger role to play – at least initially – than others.
In this post, I'll share with you my experiences of helping organisations implement better employee engagement practices. This is what I find works.
1. The critical leadership group
The primary people to take the lead in building employee engagement are the CEO, the Heads of major operational departments and the Head of HR.
The CEO sets the tone for all elements of culture across a business – and a belief in the importance of employee engagement is one part of this culture. If your Chief Executive isn't actively involved from the outset, you've got yourself an almost impossible task. If you'd like to read more about this, take a look at this post.
The Head(s) of major operational divisions must be engaged right from the beginning because they are leaders for the majority of the people in the business. Therefore, they set the direction that others follow.
And finally, whether HR practitioners like it or not, employee engagement will be seen by many in the organisation as being primarily the responsibility of HR. Therefore, the Head of HR will be expected to be a role model far more than, say, the Head of Finance or Head of Safety.
So, these three (or more) individuals need to take up the mantle of responsibility first.
2. The leadership hierarchy
Once the critical leadership group is on board, leaders throughout the organisational hierarchy need to take responsibility for their role in driving employee engagement.
I find that employee engagement builds most quickly if leaders take responsibility 'layer by layer'.
While you may find that you can't get every single leader at each level actively involved before moving onto the next one, rushing on without enough involvement will cost you more time in the end.
You will find that middle managers will be less willing to engage if they aren't experiencing good practices from their senior managers. And it’s the same when you come to the front-line managers in their relation to middle managers.
At the senior leadership level, you really want around 90% of senior leaders engaged before you move to middle managers.
Then, as you move to middle managers, you’re looking to have 80% engagement before moving to front-line managers, where you would expect to achieve at least 70% engagement.
To help you stay patient as you go through this process remember that building employee engagement is an ongoing process rather than a project with a start and end point. It takes time!
3. Sharing responsibility in medium to large organisations
If you work in a large organisation (say 10,000 plus), you will find that you will get faster progress if you carry out this cascade by Division rather than across the whole organisation. The latter becomes too unwieldy and action get spread too thinly across the business.
If you are working Division by Division, start with those Divisions where you will get the greatest return for your investment.
4. How to get front line staff to play their part
If you follow the process I have outlined you will find that your managers create a working environment that naturally enables front line staff to engage. This means that you can avoid rolling out the dreaded 'employee engagement initiative' – a certain death knell for successfully making the change a reality.
And avoid running training courses to engage front-line staff in employee engagement. This is counter-productive. Research as far back as the 1990s made this clear. Looking at those organisations that successfully introduced 'empowerment' (an essential component of engagement), the researchers found that changing managers behaviours was the key to success. Training people did not result in change!
5. Who should not be responsible
I always find that having a Director or other senior leader put in charge of employee engagement – and setting up a series of 'Employee Engagement Champions' – is counter-productive.
This approach inevitably suggests that employee engagement is the responsibility of a select few and lets other people off the hook. It also builds the sense that employee engagement is a 'project' rather than a way of working and, as a 'project', is separate from the 'real work' of the company.
Building employee engagement is a long-term process that is best begun at top of the organisation and cascaded layer by layer. In this way:
- Each leader finds it easier to change because his or her boss is already role-modelling the change required
- Each leader's primary focus is on leading change amongst their direct reports
- Front-line staff find it easy to play their part because the environment within which they are working enables them to do so
- You avoid having to introduce champions or run training courses that 'train' people on employee engagement – both of which are counter-productive
Trying to short-circuit this cascade, or rush on without engagement at senior levels, is a waste of time and you will find that increasing employee engagement ultimately takes longer.