Building capacity for employee engagement

The great thing about building engagement capability is the broad range of benefits. Engagement reshapes the nature of the relationship the organisation has with its stakeholders, be they customers, suppliers, owners, employees or the community. Reshaping the relationship with employees appears to have significant potential.

It doesn’t take long to find a damming array of reports revealing that, in most cases, employee engagement is woeful. Without labouring the point, here are some examples:

Employee engagement by region, from the
2011 BlessingWhite Employee Engagement Report 

The good news is that there appears plenty of scope to improve engagement. The even better news is, that the capabilities required to improve engagement with employees will be beneficial in other stakeholder relationships.

I may be biased, but engagement capability needs to be at the epicentre of organisational development.

Think of it this way; What action would you take if only a third of your vehicle fleet operated reliably, or your core systems rarely achieved their potential? I am sure you would focus your attention on it. So why is it that many organisations are unable to more fully engage their employees?

Engagement capabilities

Some organisations survey employees to learn more about engagement, but these surveys can actually further erode engagement if employees perceive that there is no follow up. Further analysis is probably not useful. Fortunately, the essence of engagement is in one-to-one relationships between people, and therefore capability for engagement can only be enhanced when individuals work on their engagement skills and develop those aspects of character that support engagement. These include integrity and trust. The Korn/Ferry Whitehead Mann UK Survey found a clear deficit of these qualities where there was poor engagement.

The engagement spiral

The popular TV series ‘Undercover Boss” week after week demonstrates what happens when company leaders take time to get to know their employees. Typically their employees respond strongly when their boss acknowledges the effort they invest in the company. And as they get to know something of the private lives of their employees, empathy increases.

Of course organisational leaders do not have the time to engage with all employees, but all employees should have the opportunity to engage with someone with a leadership role. A sense of belonging and connection with the wider social group, including its leaders, is a fundamental human drive.

Developing engagement capability

The skills of engagement are simply communication skills, including listening, acknowledging and empathy. These are supported by qualities of character such as integrity and trust. Formally, these skills can be fostered in organisational development programmes in communication, leadership, change and organisational learning. And given the critical role that engagement has in 21st century organisations, they must be regarded as core skills for performance management purposes.

In earlier series of posts I identified engagement as one segment of the communication spectrum. Understanding the distinctive nature of engagement helps us to be more discerning about how we communicate, and helps us aspire to higher expressions of communication.

The tools needed to improve engagement are simple and close at hand. There are no quick fixes – the journey to improving engagement requires constant vigilance, but the returns promise to be significant.  Understanding the communication spectrum is a good place to start.

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