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  • Sonia Gavira

What will move the needle on engagement?

Over the last few weeks, my various newsfeeds have been full of statements about how the needle on engagement is still not moving, or not moving fast enough, and on lots of different ways to get it moving – more rewards, different rewards, teamwork, purpose… the list goes on.

Organisations have understood that having engaged employees is critical to success and many of them have dedicated people in the business responsible for all the engagement initiatives, as the great big positive thing is that they do understand that engagement = performance.

So why is it that despite this understanding, despite the initiatives, despite all the great theories around what will make a difference in engagement, the needle still isn’t moving significantly enough?

Here are 7 key areas I’ve uncovered after working on some significant projects in this area:

1. What are we measuring?

There are numerous great engagement questionnaires out there but do they give us a complete picture? When we were children and our parents asked us to write a letter to Santa at Christmas asking for what we wanted as a present, how many of you said “I don’t want anything this year. I have everything I need!”. You know what, I’m sure it happens, but it’s rare. We’re not asked if we have everything we need, we are asked about what we want and what we don’t have. And most of us are more than capable of adding to a list and asking for things even if receiving that gift won’t make us any happier – on in this case, any more engaged. So in your organisation, are you asking people to write a letter to Santa?

2. Engagement vs happiness

In answering the first question, I mention the word happiness. But is engagement happiness? We need to be clear about what engagement is and isn’t. Engagement isn’t about work being easy, stress free, simple or making us happy. For me engagement is about feeling truly involved and caring about that involvement. Caring about the work the organisation does, wanting to contribute to it and being able to do so. It can be tough. One of the times when I experienced engagement at its highest in a business I was working in, was in a car dealership in Spain. They were really struggling financially and were having to make redundancies and put people on shorter working hour contracts – and yet the way they communicated their vision, their plan and what they needed from everyone, made it possible for people to understand what was happening and do their utmost to help the organisation. So it’s not necessarily about happiness.

3. So where do I start? Is it teams, is it leadership, management skills, rewards, recognition? Agghh!

Familiar?? It’s so interesting that in many organisations there are people heading up leadership development, management development, engagement and yet rarely do they work together on programmes. All these programmes happen which is great and yet aren’t they all part of the solution for improved performance? I would say that the goal is to create an organisation where people thrive and in order to do that, you have to have leaders who role model behaviours and values that will lead to this, managers who can do the same and get things done in a way that allows and enables people to thrive and teams who create, innovate and deliver in a way that challenges each individual to be and do their best.

So where do you start? Ask yourself this question “What would have the greatest impact in my organisation right now?” Every organisation will be at a different stage of the journey (because engagement is not a destination, it’s a journey and one in which the landscape changes frequently). For some it will be critical to get your leaders on board as they will set the tone for the organisation. For others, your leaders may be driving it already, so how do you get it further down the line? For some you may need some clarity on your values, how to communicate them, how to translate them into behaviours. For others it’s getting the management population and their teams to work in ways that demonstrate those values… and I could go on. So where are you and where would it make most sense to start?

4. What do I measure to get a more holistic view of engagement?

In addition to what you already measure, it is critical for organisations to measure the energy that exists in an organisation and to do it at an individual, team and organisational level. What drives people IS what engages them and we all have 1 to 3 top motivators that lead to our engagement or disengagement.

There are 9 key motivators and these are:

  • Having a purpose, making a difference

  • Creativity and innovation

  • Independence or freedom

  • Financial or commercial reward and targets

  • Autonomy or being in charge

  • Being an expert, being recognised for it and teaching others

  • Security and safety

  • External recognition

  • Belonging and community

Knowing what it is that drives an individual and whether they are finding this at work at the moment, will tell you if they are engaged, if they are thriving at work or perhaps looking to move, if they are “well” or whether there may be a “wellbeing” issue. If you look at the team motivation – is it high or low, how does this map against their performance, are there stress issues, are all team members highly motivated or are there some that are not, why is that and what can be done about it? And this can all be mapped at an organisational level also.

More on this in another post, but needless to say that figuring out what people really want and crave for and enabling them to find it at work, will go a very long way to ensuring that they thrive.

5. Is it just the organisation’s responsibility to engage their people?

Do we do engagement to others or do individuals have a responsibility to engage themselves too? For me it is a two way street. Yes the organisation has a duty to create an environment where people can thrive, and it has to do it in lots of ways as we have already mentioned, but surely the individual has a part to play too. And again here I go back to motivation – if the organisation helps the individual discover what it really is that drives them, then the individual can also take responsibility for his or her own motivation and engagement. Too often the focus is on what the organisation is and isn’t doing and this can lead to lots of initiatives that the organisation has to put in place and not enough comes from the actual people working in the business.

6. Where does reward and money come in?

You will see from the 9 motivators that one of them is about financial reward. In motivational maps – the tool I use to uncover the motivators and measure the amount of motivation someone has – this motivator is called Builder, and for some it is about the actual money. What’s important is to uncover what that means to someone and the range can be huge – it can mean security, status, school fees, the mortgage and it can also be loving and being driven by the commercial aspects of the business, the targets. What is interesting is that for most, the physical money is only something that drives people for short periods of time and is linked to something else (like the school fees that have to be paid, or the mortgage). Otherwise it is about something bigger, such as status or security or a love of being challenged with those monetary targets.

So for most the actual salary, is a hygiene factor – this is what I need in order to live, to do what I need to do. In which case, make sure that your people are paid enough to take that subject off the table, so they can focus on what really drives them.

7. What about recognition?

For some money will be about recognition - pay me more if I achieve more. So it is important that those people who find their motivation in this way, are in roles where this can happen – be it in your organisation or in another. Being aware – both you and the individual – is the first step. Others will want to be recognised in other ways depending on what drives them be that publically for some or quietly for others. Knowing how to recognise individuals is a key skill, we will again look at in another post coming soon.

So those are 7 questions and observation that I have made in my time working on engagement so far. The needle doesn't move far because we aren't always focussed on the right things and because we aren't always taking a more rounded approach and with all the good intentions of dividing and conquering, we end up working in silos of leadership development. management development, reward, talent, engagement, and not really seeing that we need every part to work together.

What are your observations? What questions do you have? How do we move the needle on engagement positively?

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