How to overcome six employee engagement challenges

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Employee engagement should not be seen as a goal in and of itself.

It should instead be treated as a vehicle to help fulfil the corporate vision and achieve business success.
 
As such, it is essential to translate the concept into what this specifically means for your organisation. So what would the experience of an engaged employee be? What new behaviours would you expect to see, how could performance be improved and what difference would it make to customers?
 
Once your desired outcomes have been defined, it becomes much easier to design, introduce and measure the success – or otherwise - of suitable programmes. But there are, nonetheless, a number of challenges that you are likely to encounter along the way:
 
Challenge 1: Who is responsible for making it all happen?
 
Some organisations make employee engagement the responsibility of managers, while others believe that staff themselves should be accountable. But in fact, we are all responsible - the buck should not stop with any one individual or team.
 
To make this possible, however, managers and workers both need guidance to follow and pertinent tools to use. Simply giving them a manual and saying ‘get on with it’ will not be enough: to truly embed engagement into your organisation, it needs to be kept ‘front of mind’ at all levels.
 
This means adopting and maintaining best practice here in a similar way to how it is practiced in fields such as health and safety or diversity. If you want your employees to own and act on engagement issues, it is important to let them know that it’s OK to get involved and encourage them to take an active interest in the wider business. 
 
For instance, schemes such as ‘The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For’ create opportunities for staff to take this kind of ownership. By sharing employee survey results (as a company as a whole and on a team basis), managers and personnel are also provided with an opportunity to work together to resolve issues and come up with ideas to improve future scores. 
 
Challenge 2: How can we best reach different audiences?
 
Take a leaf out of the customer relationship management book. In this environment, it is the norm to plot customer lifecycles and identify ‘customer lifetime value’. But these principles can also be applied to your relationship with staff throughout their time with you.
 
For excellence in engagement terms, it is essential to identify and understand the needs of individuals and teams at different points in their lifecycle within the organisation, from recruitment to retirement.
 
Changes in needs, attitudes and priorities at each stage of the individual’s ‘journey’ can be used to influence what benefits and training they are provided with - and, most of all, how you communicate with them.
 
To this end, being able to accurately segment your audience into different groups will help you target them more accurately and ensure that the content and tone of any communications are correct.
 
The aim here is to ensure that your employees receive messages that are immediately relevant and interesting to them as individuals. 
 
Moreover, if mystery shopping and Customer Satisfaction Index scores show whether the customer experience is falling short of expectations, why shouldn’t the same principles be applied to workers?
 
It is in this area that an open communications culture will prove important – it is crucial that staff have a clear feedback structure through which they can share issues and problems, know that they will be listened to and see the key points acted upon. 
 
Challenge 3: How do we ensure that employees care about what we do as an organisation?
 
When employees have an understanding of, and passion for, what your brand is about, they can also make decisions about what this means for them in their day-to-day role.
 
This means that a clear understanding of the organisation’s vision, business strategy and performance will create resilience and bolster confidence and loyalty. 
 
As a result, it is important to establish where the gaps are between what the organisation aspires to be and the reality perceived by staff members. Are your company values in synch with your customer charter? Are your internal and external brands aligned? 
 
Allowing everyone, at every level, to play some part in shaping the way that service is delivered increases accountability and makes each individual worker feel involved. If your staff feel valued and understand how they are helping customers, they will be more inclined to do so effectively.
 
Challenge 4: How do we get our message through, and past, line managers?
 
In some organisations, people are trained to take over management positions before actually being promoted. There may not be a position immediately available for them, but they are ready when the time comes (while in the meantime making an enhanced contribution to their team).
 
This approach fosters strong succession planning as well as boosting individuals’ aspirations to get on and further develop themselves.
 
In many organisations, however, such development happens after people are promoted, which potentially weakens their engagement levels and reduces the effectiveness of their team.
 
Line managers need to inspire trust and provide positive behaviours and attitudes for their teams to follow.
 
Therefore, we should be developing them and equipping them with suitable tools to translate the corporate vision into day-to-day business practices and help each individual understand the value of their role in achieving organisational goals.
 
Challenge 5: How do we ensure that leaders engage with employees?
 
Leaders act as role models for personnel throughout the business. But effective leaders are seen to be out-and-about: talking to employees, asking questions and listening attentively to the answers. 
 
Some organisations have had success by building such activity into leaders’ personal objectives, for example, providing them with targets around spending time with a certain number of employees who are not direct reports every month.
 
Challenge 6: How can we build an effective business case?
 
There is plenty of evidence to support the case for employee engagement: the ‘Engaging for Success’ report written for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills by David MacLeod and Nita Clarke is packed with documented case studies. 
 
But specific industry and peer-related statistics and success stories will prove the most effective in supporting your business case. The organisation’s marketing and customer service department should be your first port-of-call in order to make the case for internal communications and branding and to demonstrate the value of introducing an enterprise-wide programme.
 
Internal surveys may already show that some areas of the organisation show higher engagement levels than others and these can be compared and contrasted in performance terms.
 
An employee engagement healthcheck/audit will also help to identify key areas for improvement, while pilot studies can be used to understand the effectiveness of a programme before it is rolled out on an enterprise-wide basis.
 
As previously stated, employee engagement should not be a goal in and of itself – it is instead a means of helping to fulfil the corporate vision in order to achieve business success.
 
But perhaps the strongest business case of all is to consider what would happen if there was little or no staff engagement within the organisation – what would the outcome be then?
 

Francis Goss is head of employee engagement at business services provider, Grass Roots.

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