Employee Engagement. We still talk about it. According to Amazon, there have been 30 new books published related to Employee Engagement just in the past 90 days. And, they have 7 more coming soon!

Meanwhile, I hear rumors some organizations are dumping their engagement surveys in favor of little emoticon buttons at the office exit so employees show how they feel about the day they’ve just experienced. All this as I prepare to help a client address top-line findings from a large engagement survey. Upon reflection, I still have to ask, are we making enough difference?

As communicators continue to strive to understand engagement and how to realize it, I’ve heard these thoughts lately:

  • HR shouldn’t lead employee engagement efforts
  • The only ones who can lead an engagement effort are senior leaders
  • Our engagement scores are pretty solid, so we don’t need to follow up on them
  • Engagement is dead as a concept; like TQM turned into lean manufacturing and Six Sigma, engagement will become something else

Who should lead?

Let’s take that first one about HR not leading. It’s not that HR shouldn’t lead, it’s that HR can’t do it alone. Leaders from all over the organization are important in engagement work, some more than others. For example, I’m doing a lot at the moment in healthcare – an old favorite of mine – and if you don’t have physicians and directors fully involved in engagement efforts, you can almost write it off. The former dramatically shape the employee experience for all clinical and patient-facing staff. The latter set the focus on innovation and patient safety.

So get your most important stakeholders involved in implementing engagement efforts, but someone still has to drive the bus. And that someone can be from HR as long as they have the vision, connection, energy and ability to facilitate others. Alternatively, it can be someone from communication, operations, etc. It’s more about the individual than it is about the department.

Of course, you can’t talk about HR leading without talking about the role of executive leaders. True, everyone’s ideal situation is for an executive leader to take charge of the engagement effort. But, really, how realistic is that? Your engagement effort is far more likely to die on the vine if it depends solely on a very busy executive to get off and stay off the ground. Certainly, executive leaders must visibly model and vocally champion engagement activities and changes. But they are not implementers; sometimes they aren’t even the best planners. So, planning and implementation should be done elsewhere with a healthy dose of executive input, feedback and involvement.

When the scores are above 80%

Sometimes, engagement scores are so high leaders believe they can rest. Coasting with a score in the 80-90% range means you believe there is no more room for improvement. Instead, ask yourself what the score is telling you. Why is it 83%? What do we need to do to get to 90%? If we still have concerns about our culture or meeting business goals, then is the engagement survey measuring the right things? What else should we measure to help us identify what to change?

Great organizations don’t rest on their current position. They keep innovating, keep moving forward. To do this, you have to know what makes an organization tick and what levers to push to effect change. Sometimes, you have to ask different questions than the ones you’ve been asking. I’m not advocating dumping your engagement survey; if it gives you actionable findings, keep it! But, if you need more, then look at other questions to ask and other ways to engage employees in sharing their opinions.

More importantly, look at ways to create ongoing dialogue. A once-every-24-month survey isn’t a great option when our business, technology, hiring and retention environment changes at a rapid pace.

Getting at the heart of employee engagement

Finally, is engagement as a concept dead? Was it the flavor of the day and now that flavor isn’t hot anymore? I don’t believe it is the wrong concept, I think the way many approach addressing it is off.

If you look at the factors Gallup says drive engagement, most of them have a collaboration hook. Many are also strongly related to effective communication. But, communication and strong management skills are not enough by themselves. Gallup talks about development and performance metrics, which are also important, but where is collaboration? Like communication, collaboration seems on its face like something employees and leaders should intuitively know how to do. Like communication and engagement, collaboration is a concept we’ve talked about for decades. But it’s not about doing collaboration, it’s about doing it effectively.

Take for example, Gallup’s finding in their recent How Millennials Want to Work and Live report that millennials are more engaged when their manager helps them set goals and prioritize work. It is possible to communicate to and manage an employee in these endeavors without generating engagement. But good managers effectively collaborate with the employee to uncover ideas, make decisions and agree on priorities and metrics.

So, why, with all the blah, blah, blah about engagement, communication and collaboration, aren’t we doing more to teach people how to collaborate effectively? This includes teaching them how to use the wonderful new virtual tools we’ve acquired that enable effective collaboration across time and space. Improved collaboration could lead to the light at the end of the engagement tunnel.

Interested in improving collaboration and communication in your organization? Join me at one of these events where we’ll talk about this and more!

  1. ALI’s Internal Communications for Health Care in Washington, D.C., in September
  2. IABC Southern Region Conference in Atlanta in October
  3. ALI’s Intranet and Digital Workplace Summit in Chicago in November