Employee Engagement Strategy? Nay! Leadership Strategy!

futurelab default header

Let’s just put this out there again: Employee Engagement is not a strategy.

I just read somewhere that it is … which tells me that it bears repeating both what it is and what it isn’t. Employee engagement is…

…the emotional connection or commitment that an employee has to the organization that then causes the employee to want to put forth the additional effort to ensure the organization and the brand succeed. 

What the company can do is have a purpose and build a culture that facilitates employee engagement. But keep in mind that t-shirts, free food, and surveys do not a strategy make. And no company can make an employee engaged.

When  there’s some confluence of: (1) emotions, commitment, passion, sense of ownership, etc. on the part of the employee about the brand and (2) what the organization does (purpose, brand promise, who the company is and why, etc.) to facilitate and enhance those emotions or that commitment – then we have employee engagement.

Aon Hewitt and Edelman recently released the results of some of their employee research. The findings are interesting, but I wanted to see if/how they defined “Employee Engagement.”

Aon Hewitt claims that employee engagement is starting to rise, according to their latest study. They define engagement as: “the psychological and behavioral outcomes that lead to better employee
.” They also define engagement using three attributes that include the extent to which employees:

  • Say: speak positively about the organization to co-workers, potential employees, and customers
  • Stay: have an intense sense of belonging and desire to be a part of the organization
  • Strive: are motivated and exert effort toward success in their job and for the company

Edelman called out “Employee Engagement findings from their 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer,” but the research was not focused on employee engagement specifically. As a matter of fact, as you can tell from the title, the annual research is all about trust: trust in leadership, institutions, and industries. They did, however, uncover a couple of interesting things that relate to the employee experience:

  • Treating employees well is a higher priority for employees than it is for executives.
  • There is a crisis in leadership, led by a distrust in executives and the business; executives need to rebuild their credibility with employees, reinforce ethical behavior, and adopt an inclusive management approach by listening to other voices – specifically, employees’ – and incorporating those into decision making.

This last point echoes a statement – “we have a crisis in leadership in this country” – that Bob Chapman (Chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller) made in his Tedx presentation last year. Take a look at my post about his talk; you’ll see that he addresses the first bullet point as well: “7 out of 8 employees  believe they work for a company that doesn’t care for them.”

So, why is employee engagement constantly referred to as a strategy? Good question. I actually think we should be talking about leadership strategy, not employee engagement strategy. What should  leadership’s strategy entail? Creating the right conditions to allow employees to become engaged. Those conditions include:

  • Clearly communicating the vision and purpose of the organization
  • Communicating openly and being transparent about company performance and how employees’ contributions matter
  • Ensuring employees are well taken care of, which includes tools, training, development, recognition, respect, appreciation, trust, balance, and more.

Tall order? Yes. But totally worth it!

There are only three measurements that tell you nearly everything you need to know about your organization’s overall performance: employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and cash flow. … It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it. -Jack Welch

Click here for the original post.