The knowledge economy, and the subsequent war for talent (well established as the key determinant of success or failure for the modern organization), has made employee engagement and retention graduate from something Human Resources did perfunctorily at the end of the year to a KPI that organizations need to track from the executive suite on down. In other words, the culture of the company has to embrace and embody it at all levels of the organizational hierarchy.
This need to have been firmly established, organizations often struggle to implement and maintain such a culture. In many cases, the traditional HR function, built for an earlier era of top-down management, tries to tweak existing paradigms to fit it to the needs of a modern workforce. The inability to understand that the paradigm has shifted and that the old playbook has to be replaced with a fundamental re-think of what employees need from the workplace dooms most such efforts to failure.
To operationalize an effective employee engagement culture, organizations need to cover the following salient aspects:
- It flows from the top: While the C-suite or the executive team cannot be expected to be engaged at all levels, the culture starts at the top and percolates down the hierarchy. Their responsibility is to ensure that they are keeping the next rung of leaders engaged and acting as coaches keeping their personal aspirations aligned with the organizations. Empowered leaders then become the best evangelists, and can make sure that they can implement the same within their teams, and then onwards. This is more effective than anything any employee handbook or corporate communication can ever achieve, by trying to enforce a rigid set of rules.
- Communication is a two-way street: Employees need to hear from leaders at the highest level candidly about company performance and objectives, in the context of the overall strategic vision. They are most engaged when their personal aspirations and goals are aligned to the direction the organization is headed, and they can ignore the everyday ebb and flow of business performance if they buy into the broader journey. Conversely, leaders and executives need to realize that employees are a key, if not the most important, stakeholder they are answerable to, and bottom-up feedback is a critical part of shaping and recalibrating strategic plans.
- Keeping it regular: Engaged employees are the ones who feel they have a voice, and that they are heard. The way to effectively implement such a system is not through a form-filling exercise once or twice a year. Instead, for managers, it should be a regular exercise done at an interpersonal level, with ongoing tracking of performance and feedback throughout the year. This makes sure that small problems are caught before they balloon into critical ones affecting overall team morale, and that managers can intervene not only as evaluators of performance, but as coaches who can listen empathetically, and act effectively.
- The most personal is the most creative: Employees are most engaged when they can bring their complete selves to work, and organizations accept and embrace the diversity of individual backgrounds. Creating a culture of inclusion for expecting (and new) parents, minorities and people of all sexual orientations sends out the message that the goal of the organization is for human potential to be realized, and there are no rigid templates for that. Not only does it bring different viewpoints to the table, but it creates long-term bonds between employees and organizations.
- There is a big world outside the box: Focusing only on traditional inside-the-box metrics such as hours spent at the office, assigned deliverables completed only provide a part of the picture as far as an employee’s engagement and long term value to the organization are concerned. Keeping an eye out for, and actively encouraging, creative sparks that employees bring to the table can be an absolute game-changer for organizational culture. Giving interested employees responsibility and creative license over office events and team outings, encouraging product managers to find unique ways to evangelize the product through hackathons and meetups, are but a few examples where encouraging individuals to think outside the box pays outsized dividends to the organization.
The modern organization, more so than ever before, has to balance the current and strategic needs of the organization with the needs and aspirations of a workforce that is the key shaper of corporate destiny in the knowledge economy. The first step towards reconciling both is realizing that they cannot be held distinct from one another anymore, and tracking, measuring and optimizing for employee engagement is core to the health of a business. The steps outlined above show how, once organizations come to that realization, they can implement an employee engagement culture (in practice and in spirit) that can stand the test of time.
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Author Bio:Souvik Majumdar is Chief Customer Success of GroSum, a cloud-based performance management software that helps build a goal-oriented and continuous feedback-based work culture. He is passionate about employee engagement and has spent the last decade working with organizations to improve their performance management processes and implement online systems.