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Marc is Founder & CEO of HRN, HR Tech World, disruptHR and iRecruit.

Sigh… at some point during the year HR departments will start scrambling to rally their troops because it’ll be employee survey time!  You know how the drill goes.  There’s some kind of communications plan, buy-in and sponsorship from senior management, coaching of people managers and employees, and the actual day where all employees spend time responding to various questions about their workplace.  What’s awesome about the workplace and what’s not, and what should we do to make things better?  Then… everything dies down and the survey data falls deep into a black hole.  This is obviously a simplistic and generalized idea but you get the point.


What’s Wrong with this Picture?

There are many things wrong with how organizations traditionally find out how engaged their employees are.  But, the 2 things that I like to focus on are:

  1. Why care about engagement?
  2. The process.

Why Care About Engagement?

It’s a known fact that organizations that possess higher employee engagement are more successful?  Success though is defined by their core strategic objectives.  What success looks like to an international airline is very different than a small not-for-profit.  Regardless, what the airline and not-for-profit share is the positive correlation between the levels of engagement of their employees and how successful they are.

For evidence to support the positive correlation between employee engagement and business productivity, have a look at a few of my favourite relevant papers and articles below:

  1. Right Management—Employee Engagement: Maximizing Organizational Performance
  2. Brett Minchington—The Profit vs Engagement Paradox
  3. Bob Kelleher via TLNT—The Link Between High Performance and Employee Engagement

So…

During my work over the past decade helping organizations with their employee engagement I have observed one constant thing with virtually each one of them.  That thing is extremely poor process.  Before I talk about process it’s absolutely critical to understand that the workplace has changed drastically over the past 30 years.  I can only intelligently speak to the past 10+ years but the key point here is that business process needs to stay with the times.

In terms of my observation on poor process I argue that organizations have the mindset that by doing an employee engagement survey once a year and talking about employee engagement is enough to positively influence the level of true engagement of their employees.  This is an absolute cop-out and does absolutely nothing to help the business in a meaningful way.  It’s actually embarrassing because 99% of the time it’s HR that is accountable for leading and driving employee engagement efforts, strategy and action.  No wonder why HR departments around the world continue to struggle with having that “seat at the table” debate.  This cop-out practice of driving employee engagement is a prime example why.

The Changing Workplace…

Everything about the workplace has changed in the past 10 years.  The workplace is now no longer a physical place where employees have to commute to each day.  Depending on the nature of the business all of your employees could be physically sitting in remote locations around the world connected by technology.

We are very close to having 5 distinct generations in our workplaces: Traditionalist, Baby Boomer, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z.  We have never had this many groups working together in the history of organized work.  Just imagine the dynamics to group and team that is going to take place.

The lines between personal and professional are completely blurred.  Now it’s about how do I fit work into my personal life rather than completely separating them.

Technology, notably social media has blown everything related to the traditional workplace up into bits and pieces.  We can do everything from the palm of our hands with our smart-phones.  The regular citizen can now be a social media celebrity by building and fostering their global fan base through viral means like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.  In general people crave real-time access to information and data, and are increasingly leveraging feedback, recommendations and advice from social tools.

People no longer work for one company for their entire career.  In fact, many of us have multiple streams of income going at any given time, which has given rise to the term “free agent”.  I for one am an employee, entrepreneur, freelancer, investor, advisor, consultant, project guy and anything else you can think of.  It’s about opportunity, whether creating them or having them fall into your lap.

So, with all of this real-time and immediate communication happening that is being enabled by technology you would think that traditional workplace processes like employee engagement would follow suit.

The Process…

Going back to earlier sections of this blog post I mentioned two things wrong with how organizations treat employee engagement.  Process is the most important thing to impact engagement but many do this completely wrong.  It’s simply not enough anymore to talk about employee engagement.  You need to practice what you preach, take immediate action, deliver and demonstrate immediate results.

The Survey

Information that you collected yesterday is obsolete tomorrow.  Our world changes so rapidly that you cannot afford not to have real-time data and information.  Why on earth would you only measure your employee engagement levels once a year and then take another six months to put a strategy into action?  Your business likely will be completely different, made up of different employees and tackling very different business problems.

You need to start measuring employee engagement ALL THE TIME!  This is absolutely compulsory in order to identify trends, allow you to take more specific and targeted action that makes sense TODAY, not yesterday, or the day before, or ten weeks ago.

Have a look at a few different types of real-time social tools to help you get started on gathering real time engagement data.

  1. InstaPulse—they have built an ingenious product called “Employee Net Promoter Score” or eNPS that is a short survey that focuses on the key drivers of engagement.
  2. Yammer—a closed source platform that allows employees to communicate with one another, share information, provide instant feedback and identify overall sentiment in real time.
  3. Chatter—a similar platform to Yammer that enables real time online communication.
  4. Grapevine Surveys
  5. Yorn
  6. Saba Social Performance Platform

Action

All too often the data is sitting on someone’s desk collecting dust, or the data has been analyzed, discussed and used to identify gaps, perhaps even a plan of attack.  But, all of this means absolutely nothing unless you act on it.  The longer you wait the less relevant the data, which in turn makes any ideas, strategies and plans less and less relevant.

In today’s world you need to act immediately, and stay with the rapid beat of change.

Not only because of the quick pace of business but there is a psychological effect that happens when you take action quickly.  Employees see this, they like it and they resonate with it because it’s still fresh in their minds.  If action is taken based on feedback that an employee provided just a few days or weeks ago you are more likely to get buy-in, impact true employee engagement and ultimately business results.

Moral of the Story

Business is fast.  Employee engagement levels are positively correlated to business results.  Process to measure engagement and to act on engagement strategy needs to be as fast as the pace of business.  Social media tools to help you measure and act are required in order to do all of this effectively.

If you haven’t or won’t accept this reality, you will get left behind.