CommonSense Blog

How Employee Engagement is Being Obfuscated and Marginalized

By Gary Grates | Apr 08, 2015

Three Steps to Avoid the Inevitable and Construct a More Resilient System

Obfuscate.

Big word. It means to make something “difficult to understand” or to purposely “confuse” so as to make unclear.

Unfortunately, this is the state of employee engagement today as organizations strive to improve relationships with employees. It comes at a time when workforce productivity, retention, and recruitment are the keys to successful business performance. It also comes at a time when workforce cynicism is at its highest making engagement difficult if not impossible.

Interestingly, we also find ourselves in a place where HR leaders and communications professionals have access to incredible amounts of data and information that, for the first time, uncovers the behaviors and underlying motives that lead to or negate engagement.

Let me explain.

There are two ‘uber’ factors causing business leaders, HR and Communications executives, to spin their wheels, so to speak, obfuscating the real opportunity to gain greater levels of engagement:

1) Manufactured Complexity – Over the past several years, employee engagement has become big business with millions of dollars being spent on studies, coaches, platforms, training, and systems. This is a ripe area for large management consulting firms and even political polling firms to extend their respective reach into a client. Unfortunately, the by-product of this entry is complicated and often contradictory methodologies and research cause organizations to chase a number of characteristics. Once such model includes over 100 criteria forcing leaders to literally “chase their tails” in a hopeless circle to achieve results. This is what we refer to as the “Symptom-Led” solution.”

2) Real Complexity – The truth concerning engagement is that it is, in fact, complex. To achieve any state of equilibrium, organizations must comprehend that employee engagement is composed of many different, yet interrelated parts. From values to policies, management relationships to compensation, and communications to recognition. Comprehending how each part fits into the system and then how they all work in concert, clarifies the concept of engagement and mitigate the complexity.

So how do organizations get their arms around this evasive yet critical competitive advantage?

At the heart of any engagement dynamic is Trust. Trust to engagement is akin to Faith to religion. It is the foundation.

Lack of Trust causes people to question intent. When this happens no amount of commitment or action can overcome it. Trust, then must be nurtured always if organizations are to survive and prosper.

Three Steps That Avoid FailureOperation ENDURING FREEDOM

Given our extensive experience in this area, often supporting companies to center and clarify misguided attempts at addressing engagement, there are three specific steps to take both to respect the importance of Trust and set the pathway forward and also to mitigate risk:

1) Define Engagement at Your Company (yours and your employees) – Probably the most important aspect of properly achieving engagement in your organization. Every company must define what engagement looks like and means in order to calibrate the right formula. Also, how do your employees define engagement? What behaviors and attitudes do they display? Without knowing the terms of engagement in your company, anything that is designed will be wasted effort and investment falling short of expectations.

2) Determine Your Employee Worldview and Archetypes – Employees, like customers and consumers, have the ability to access information 365 24/7 from multiple sources. As such, they are influenced and impacted on almost everything. Against this reality, how and what shapes their opinions and beliefs?

W20 Group’s proprietary Employee View™ analytics tool allows leaders to discern how employees view the business. It characterizes the archetypes that shape the organization’s workforce. Below is an example of such an archetype profile. This analysis begins to direct the internal communications model needed to drive engagement providing the tone, cadence, content, context, frequency, platform and system needed to gain interest and generate trust. For each archetype represented in the below graphic, internal communications needs to be nuanced, calibrating content, context, tonality, frequency and platform. As an example, if a significant portion of your workforce defines themselves as “catalysts” then internal communications must be more provocative pushing people to think more critically about things.

Example: 4 Types of Employee Archetypes

Communications profile

  1. Passionate Preservationist
    Career oriented/strong company pride – respectful of status quo
    This group tends to be long-time employees who have had successful careers in the company. They are highly engaged but often blind about the opportunities and gaps inherent in the culture and business. They are also more often than not the ones who state in meetings that “we tried that before and it failed” or “good idea but won’t work here.”
  2. High-energy Catalyst
    High potential/high achievement – catalyst for change
    The most powerful group in any organization. High potential, talented and committed to winning. Can be frustrated by inertia and perceived lack of discipline and commitment to change. This is the key target for any leadership and internal communications effort!
  3. Productive Minimalist
    Productive/satisfied
    A large population of the workforce sits here—come to work every day, do their jobs, and are generally satisfied with the way thing are.
  4. Denigrator
    Marginally effective/highly critical – “Victim” mentality
    Typically the smallest group within a workforce but also the most dangerous in terms of culture deterioration. These folks tend to gossip the most, work the least and trash every company decision inside and outside the company.

3) Communications Should Drive Curiosity – The critical element in any engagement formula continues to be communications. It is the glue that holds all the other elements of an engagement formula together while directing future-focused efforts.

For the most part, internal communications is still a dissemination system distributing propaganda and materials designed to promote the organization. It is used to SELL the organization to its employees.

But this no longer is effective. We live in a DISCOVER world where people need to experience, discuss, debate and delve into subjects to gain their own understanding and form their own opinion.

Communications then must be developed to initiate curiosity among the workforce. To delve and probe into important issues facing the business inspiring conversations to take place and cultivating organizational interest informing leaders on what’s important not the other way around.

Employing communications in this manner, coupled with data culled from the Employee View™ above, opens up a whole new network of internal influence from which to elevate engagement.

Viewing Engagement as a System and Communications as a Catalyst

Getting the three steps right point the organization in the right direction in terms of achieving engagement and intentionally connecting employees in much deeper ways to themselves and the business. For employees, engagement is neither abstract nor obtuse. Engagement must be experienced as a shared value. That is, everyone who conducts themselves in a similar fashion gains a shared benefit and feeling.

But, the organizing principle from which engagement can be formed is communications. Communications as a catalyst for moving ideas, generating patterns, encouraging discussion, and informing decisions and policies all conspiring to drive employee engagement that achieves strategic business goals.

The collision of well-intentioned yet highly complicated approaches and models with a more challenging business climate and highly cynical workforce are causing unnecessary and detrimental implications for organizations searching for higher levels of engagement.

Avoiding such pitfalls is not as difficult as one would imagine.

The shift in thinking just needs to happen at the leadership level first!

Gary