Why It's Not A Case of Re-Inventing The Wheel For Employee Engagement

Tony Kissack
Why It's Not A Case of Re-Inventing The Wheel For Employee Engagement

Last week, I presented at the HR & Workforce Analytics Innovation Summit on how to engage with your employees in the right way using the tools and systems that are already out there. Excitingly for me, it garnered a lot of interest, as employee engagement has begun to rightfully draw attention from businesses all over the world.

We were asked by a number of attendees for a summary of the presentation, so here it is! I hope you enjoy it, and if you want to chat further, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me: tony@peakon.com

It’s all in the basics

When looking at businesses that are engaging with employees in the right way, it makes sense to look at multi-billion dollar companies with an abundance of employees and easily-accessible data to assess. There’s perhaps no better example of a company that does things differently with their employees than Google.

They recently ran a year-long data mining survey, titled Project Oxygen, that aimed to identify what makes a successful manager, and ultimately, a successful employee engagement strategy. By raking through a huge amount of data such as performance appraisals, surveys from employees and nominations for managers for top awards, Google hoped to generate interesting results on what makes a good manager, and how to engage with employees on a deeper level.

Project Oxygen uncovered such results, which you can see below, as “empower; don’t micromanage”, “be a good communicator and listen to your team” and “have a clear vision and strategy”. However these observations that Google ‘discovered’ are nothing new, and don’t present any ground-breaking insights that businesses can implement. Of course, many of the points are valid and should be included in any business, but they aren’t revelatory. 

For a year-long project that involved over 10,000 observations, resources and cost, the results could be considered disappointing. Nothing new, nothing innovative, nothing Google-esque.

But, perhaps Google are onto something. For what is employee engagement? If you cut through the abundance of bean bags, work drinks and mottos emblazoned on the wall, it’s easy to find the core of what it means. Employee engagement isn’t about new gimmicks, or buzz words. It’s about listening to your employees by giving them a voice. It’s about having processes in place to ensure that your employees feel safe, and creating an inclusive work culture for all. Reinventing the wheel isn’t necessary. The wheel is already there; you just need to learn how to use it properly.

So where do you start?

Engaging with your employees in the right way

It starts simple. 

It starts with listening.

It starts with adopting transparent feedback systems. Creating processes about dealing with, and acting on, the feedback. Employees need to be given a voice, and there must be no fear of repercussions. Anonymity is key in this process, and in spite of such anonymity, the company should be able to act on the feedback accordingly. 

You’ll be familiar with well-known examples of where companies are failing with a lack of a good process, lack of employee engagement and lack of good communication. Or, worse still, no communication at all.

Perhaps the most famous current example of poor employee engagement is with Uber, another multi-billion dollar business. 215 complaints of sexual harassment. Internal departments that are seeing the number of women employees falling from 25% to 6%. And managers who dismiss claims of sexism by simply saying that “sexism is systemic in tech.”

Uber will be quick to respond to these claims now, but in many ways, it’s already too late. The PR damage has been done. Through a lack of communication, Uber’s business leaders were unaware of the company’s issues, and unable to act before it got out. Had previous employees not had the confidence to speak out, the issues may still have been brewing in the company- a crying shame for one of the market’s leading technology firms.

But this lack of real-time information isn’t new. HR leaders suffer from a near-impossible task of finding out employees’ opinions at exit interviews- when the employee has no doubt mentally checked out. As a last touchpoint for the employee, these interviews serve as little more than a chance for people to air their issues with the business, or discuss their reasons for leaving. 

Some organisations, such as the NHS, try to prevent this lack of communication by providing an annual survey for their employees, which seems to turn up optimistic results.The latest 2016 survey found that 90% of staff feel that the NHS takes positive action on health and well-being, and 75% of staff say that they can make suggestions that will improve the work of their team.

The problem with annual surveys is that they don’t provide consistent and ongoing results on how engaged employees feel, and how managers are performing. It’s an incredibly costly way of doing things, especially if only 44% of employees respond, as the NHS 2016 survey, which you can see below, revealed. 

Further still, it was the happiest employees from the top 10% of individual trusts that had higher response rates, while those trusts that had lower engagements rates also had less survey replies. 

As you can probably guess, this can really skew results. If less than half of your employees reply to these surveys, or only the most engaged employees reply, then you aren’t learning anything. Your unhappy employees stay unhappy. 

It is nearly impossible for a company to make decisions that benefit the entirety of employees when less than half of the employees respond. Unfortunately, these figures make it hard for NHS managers and HR teams to know where the problems lie and how to implement good, transparent processes that can bring a company, and the teams within, forward together. So where do they go from there?

Survey Fatigue

One of the biggest challenges we see in perfecting a people analytics plan is that there are a multitude of questions that a business and its leaders need data on at any one point in time. To get this data, many organisations end up with a never ending sprawl of surveys on different topics such as these:

The outcome of this is that over time, employees suffer from survey fatigue resulting in rapidly declining response rates across all surveys. What we have learnt at Peakon is that by following a consistent frequency of listening, with senior leaders in an organisation being seen to communicate and act on employee’s feedback that exceptionally high response rates can be achieved. However, it is important to ensure leaders have something of value to communicate and act on that is specific to their team. If surveys are run multiple times without this process of action, then employees quickly lose faith that is worth their time responding to future surveys.

Using the wheel

It doesn’t need to be complicated. Keep it simple and look to adopt a continuous approach. This will ensure you have an effective feedback system in place that ensures everyone, from the bottom-up, is part of an open dialogue on the things that matter most to them. Feedback systems aren’t just for criticisms or concerns, they’re a brilliant chance for employees to discuss what they love about the business, and what works. Such a cyclical process of providing feedback, and acting on that feedback, means that the wheel can keep on turning.

Making your employees your most important asset

In short, we’ve found that making your employees your priority and genuinely engaging with them can have huge results for your company. Studies have shown that teams who have engaged employees have 50% less regrettable churn, are twenty times more likely to bring creative ideas to work, and will also see a 2.5x increase in customer loyalty. Making your employees your brand not only boosts your brand’s image, but it also boosts the way in which customers interact with you too. 

Utilise the tools that are already on the market, and mimic companies that are leading the way like Google. Get the fundamentals right, do your research, and understand the difference between engagement and culture.

In the same breath, avoid the mistakes that companies like Uber have made. Stick to the values that your company has created, and ensure that action is taken against anyone who doesn’t adhere to them. Building a safe space for employees can completely change how successful your business is.

Build on these examples and apply them to your own specific business. Each team and each company is different, so work on what makes your company successful. What drives your employees? What do they need from their management team to be at the top of their game?

Use the tools that are already existent on the market to help you achieve these aims. Things like our employee engagement tool, or a benefits tool like Perkbox or an updated Intranet. Whatever it is, make sure that you understand a tool, why you’re using it, and how you’ll use it to measure progress. 

Finally, understand that employee engagement is a marathon, not a sprint. You can never completely master it, but the efforts that you put in now, and from here on in, will have you well placed against competitors, and will ensure that the results of your business will dramatically increase.