Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Is Engagement A Buzzword?

In my last blog I focused on the negative side: disengagement—people quitting and feeling stuck.  I’ll talk about the positive side in this blog—engagement.  If you can envision a miserable and disengaged employee, I hope you can envision an activated and positive employee.

Is Engagement A Buzzword?
Engagement is a big concern to HR executives—it might even be a “buzz-word.”  People are writing about, and Google-searching, employee engagement more than satisfaction these days.

Google Trends: Employee Satisfaction, Employee Engagement

Are we thinking clearly?  What is employee satisfaction and does it matter? Is engagement different? Despite being a humanist, I do not care about employee satisfaction. Many point out that employee satisfaction has NOT been proven to be related to company performance. But there are other problems with satisfaction.

It is hard to understand satisfaction because it is multiple things. To reliability measure satisfaction, you have to specify the facets of employee satisfaction.  Satisfaction with pay, supervision, working conditions or senior management all are different. 

Further, personality predicts job satisfaction;in fact, twin studies have established a genetic element of job satisfaction. (see meta-analysis here.) Said another way, satisfaction is a trait!  So why worry about changing the work environment to have satisfied employees? If you want a satisfied workplace just hire satisfied people… or, well, maybe not.  

I’d argue that dissatisfied people get more done!  Most sales managers I know are looking for sales reps that are “hungry,” not those who are content and satisfied in life. Looking at history, dissatisfied people have made the greatest human innovations.

I wonder the importance of employee satisfaction.  I applaud the move to engagement.

In the late 1990s, publications started to highlight that employees’ sentiment does matter.  Tony Ricci’s HBR article on the Employee-Customer-Profit Chain at Sears highlighted the importance of customer and employee engagement and Marcus Buckingham’s First Break All the Rules showed how employee engagement predicts company profitability.  His index of engagement is called the G12 based on 12  questions.

Gallup's G-12 An Index of Employee Engagement
  1. Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  2. Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
  3. At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  7. At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
  9. Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do you have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  12. In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?
If an organization has a big database of employee survey data and many identical operating units– like retail stores or chain restaurants-- research can demonstrate how employee sentiment is related to unit-level business results.  The research validates that employee sentiments are related to metrics of interest, within a business. 

This research is called linkage research, and is practical due to increased computing power and databases.  The sentiments that relate to business results are called “engagement.” 

There is a new idea here: employee engagement is active and related to passion and enthusiasm.  While satisfaction suggests being satiated or fulfilled, engagement is dynamic.  For example, I am satisfied with my clothing, while someone else might be much more engaged in the pursuit of fashion. (Those that know me well tell me I could never be in the fashion industry!) 

Engagement is sensibly related to business results.  An engaged employee might be in pursuit of organizational strategic success, professional excellence or any number of things.  Leaders have intuitively known this for years; now HR is starting to understand, measure and worry about engagement.   

What is Employee Engagement? / Defining Employee Engagement?

Engagement is about a personal relationship—relationship to work, organizations, and supervisors.  In this sense it is a buzzword—there is no consensus on what it means.  Like satisfaction, we think about a global idea yet there are different facets.  Consider: engaged in work, engaged in organization, socially engaged. Buzzwords are not bad, but we should understand what they mean for us and our organizations.

Here are two of the best definitions I’ve seen:
  1. Engagement is an individual's sense of purpose and focused energy, evident to others in the display of personal initiative, adaptability, effort and persistence directed to organizational goals.  (see Employee Engagement: Tools for Analysis, Practice and Competitive Advantage by Macey et al.[2009])
  2. The degree to which a person commits to an organization and the impact that commitment has on how profoundly they perform and their length of tenure (see Employee Engagement: A Road map for Creating Profits, Optimizing performance and Increasing Loyalty by Federman[2009])
Let’s be honest though, people are different and engage in different ways—some individuals work for social aspects, some for financial reasons, and some for yet other reasons.   A great review of the meaning of employee engagement (See Macey & Schneider's Paper ) notes that engagement is variously defined as   
  • Psychological a state
  • A trait
  • The factors that lead to engagement. 
We get even more confused when we try to measure engagement. Whether deliberate or not surveys and indexes always have some underlying theory of engagement.  Some consultants have developed engagement surveys using empirical methods—survey questions that relate to business results are combined in an “engagement” index. It seems like one widely used index is a mix of social engagement and drivers of engagement.  

I fear some indexes have caused more confusion and mystification than progress. If you are a team leader with poor engagement, as defined by an index, you have to understand and define engagement for your team.  Let's not make it hard on our clients! 

Further, organizations need to engage people in different ways—what sort of engagement does your organization need? These questions will have to be answered by practical individuals that understand our organizations' strategy.  Organization’s strategy and the role of employees in organizational success is the best starting place for defining engagement. 

Finally,  we must understand the drivers of employee engagement as well as we understand the state of employee engagement.  Without a sense of the drivers of engagement (e.g., supervision, connection to organizational strategy), how will we engage employees?  

I have summarized research and past work to develop a model of the drivers and state of employee engagement.

The REALI Model of Employee Engagement

 (See more here

If you have a work-group that would like to pilot this assessment for free let me know.  While I have used every question in the survey previously, I am looking for some small samples to test the psychometric properties of the scales.   

Please let me know what you have seen and learned.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Charley Morrow
www.SageAssessments.com

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