While reading reams of Employee Engagement advice, I’m continuously reminded how “buzzwordian” it all sounds. Typical tweets discussing employee engagement are like this one:
“Engagement means an alignment with employees feeling authentically connected to an org and its values.”
Huh? Reminds me of cow excrement followed by the word Bingo…
Guess that’s why PhD stands for “Piled higher and Deeper.”
Perhaps I’m different; I’m an engineer who crossed over to the dark side – HR and recruiting – who at various times has been responsible for a company’s recruiting AND organizational development initiatives (as I like to describe it, my groups had to find them and keep them). And the engineer in me knows that you can’t build things that last out of smoke and mirrors.
Rather than talk about engagement using the same lethargic lexicon, here are a few specific ideas on engagement that have worked for me:
Ask employees to describe a specific time when a manager or existing “process” hindered them from doing their job and how they felt. Likewise, ask them to describe a specific time when a manager or existing “process” positively helped them to do their job and how they felt. Details are critical – who, what, when, where, why. Understanding the people and processes behind engagement and disengagement are the drivers behind taking down barriers and building more effective “structures.”
In one instance, this approach led to the discovery that 3 business units were effectively running parallel development operations; the solution was to retask people and resources to work on common platform elements that were core to all units. Lots of “didn’t know you could do that” as a result of collaboration. And of course, “wow, someone listened” (which was the CEO whom I brought in to these first cross-BU collaboration meetings).
Learning & Development are great but they have to be focused on critical “is-now” and “will-be” problem solving. For instance, if you’re implementing open-book management, you sure as heck need to teach non-financial employees some balance sheet principles. Someone has to directly tie all this new material to the person’s current role. This means that managers have to be in the room when their folks are learning new things so they can make the connections between new stuff and existing roles.
I’ve led many brown-bag-like sessions for recruiters where I introduced some cool way of sourcing purple squirrels or engaging the unengageable. For me, there have always been two key elements of this: One, the technique is very narrowly focused rather than being something overly broad like “This is how you source people”; and two, the technique is applied to a specific role that each recruiter is in the process of filling (AKA, the session is highly targeted). Invariably, there are many I-didn’t-know-you-could-do-that comments followed by “Are there other things you can show us?” Cool.
Don’t just hire people who fit your culture and share your organizational values. Hire people who can also shake up your sacred culture. Identify people whose skills sets and problem solving experiences can take your company to new places. It’s laughable when company’s spout off loudly about their disruptive technology yet won’t hire disruptive employees. Value alignment is not culture fit – it’s value alignment (like being customer focused, blah, blah, blah). Culture shouldn’t be a Wailing Wall but more like a containment boom that flexes.
Examples? The developer with the 2.22 GPA whose programming ability was exquisite; the head of Software Development who came from one of the world’s greatest technology think tanks to join a start-up headed up by a “a very interesting CEO”; or the crazy places who took a chance on an engineer who for some reason likes HR and recruiting.
Employee Engagement isn’t an exercise to see who can come up with the most quotable phrase; it means first getting down and dirty at the grassroots level of a company and finding out why the financial, operational and organizational elements aren’t all together being happy followed by mapping the reasons for all the unhappiness to those sacred values and business goals, and finally prioritizing them with managers and business leaders with the goal of every employee achieving their own level of superstardom.
In other words, figure out what it takes for people to do their job better than they thought possible and remove all the obstacles in their way.
And if success means poking holes in your Wailing Wall of Culture, so be it.