The Ten "Likely Truths" of Employee Engagement

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 | Category :

By Jim Bowles

Jim Bowles

Many of our clients are interested in discussing, understanding and incorporating the construct of employee engagement as it relates to effective strategy execution. When you consider the BTS Strategy Execution Framework (E:AMC) where execution is a result of alignment, mindset and capabilities, engagement is primarily found in Mindset (the M of the E:AMC framework). So it certainly plays a critical role in driving execution. However, the influence of employee engagement is not necessarily straightforward.

The key questions around employee engagement are usually focused on its measurability; its relative importance in driving business results; its relationship to other similar constructs that have been with us through the ages (motivation, commitment, satisfaction, morale); and finally (and most importantly), the ability to derive value from its manageability (ability to influence). In addition, with the countless articles and research initiatives tied to engagement, the inevitable question arises: is there one model that stands out above the others as the “right one” to leverage?

Needless to say, it is well beyond the scope of this blog to attempt to address these questions, but there are some overarching conclusions (likely truths), consistently supported by research, that ultimately shape our views and inform our work on the influence of mindset (and the role of employee engagement) as a key element of the Strategy Execution Framework. This “POV” recognizes that people management is as much an art as it is a science. So, it is with this bias that we offer the following commentary as to what we believe to be generally true, worth understanding and perhaps capable of mastery, when it comes to employee engagement.

The “top ten likely truths” of employee engagement (in no particular order):

  • Likely Truth 1: Engagement has proven to be a legitimate behavioral construct and represents the evolution (not the replacement) of some of the early work on motivation from great thinkers like F. Herzberg and others.
  • Likely Truth 2: Engagement, if measured properly, can yield some insights into the liklihood that employees will exert additional discretionary effort on behalf of the organization, and are less likely to leave.
  • Likely Truth 3: Engagement can be measured but is sometimes diluted by the creation of indices that tend to weigh in other variables that don’t necessarily have a direct a relationship to the construct. The simple question: “I am willing to exert effort to help my organization succeed” seems to be a common approach to measurement. This type of measurement is most useful when comparing aggregate team engagement levels as opposed to individuals. Team scores can suggest the need for additional analysis to determine why certain teams or team leaders who are lagging are lagging, and why those who are leading are leading.
  • Likely Truth 4: Note that the above very simple question has nothing to do with happiness or satisfaction, but has everything to do with strategy execution. The intent to deliver additional discretionary effort to benefit the organization is important to discern and is likely a strong predictor of intent to execute the company strategy. This assumes there is alignment to the strategy, and that the capabilities exist to perform.
  • Likely Truth 5: There is probably no one right employee engagement model to follow. Most models address some of the basic ways a manager can have a direct influence over an employee's willingness to contribute to organizational outcomes. These models usually attend to "engagement drivers” that are valued by that employee. In fact, many models have key drivers in common (career development or recognition as examples).
  • Likely Truth 6: And by the way, those engagement drivers are generally viewed as the elements of an engagement model which influence motivation, satisfaction and commitment. As a result, they are of unique importance and value to an employee.
  • Likely Truth 7: The answer to what engages an employee appears to be an individual issue- no one driver fits all. This is a key “ah ha” for anyone hoping to use engagement to improve organization execution or results. This of course requires additional time investment on the part of the manager “to get it right” (to understand what unique driver might apply to each team member).
  • Likely Truth 8: And, to make matters even more complex, the drivers can (and likely will) change over time. As employees progress through their careers or experience changes in their lives outside of work, it logically follows that what they want or need from work may change. Some suggest that generalizations can be made about the generational differences of these changes. The research on that conclusion appears to be inconclusive.
  • Likely Truth 9: The practical use of how to leverage engagement models is probably a good thing for managers to understand. At its best, it may have a direct influence on results. At its worst, it can influence managerial behavior in a positive way – on an interpersonal level. In fact, it likely relates to the development of emotional intelligence, another approach organizations use to consider relative to the development  effective interpersonal skills.
  • Likely Truth 10: An employee’s immediate supervisor is the most important conduit for moving the needle on employee engagement. The immediate supervisor also happens to be the key to our notion of mindset in the execution framework. Managers have the ability to improve commitment to the company using tools inherent in engagement models. And that engagement is key to creating the “mindset” required to have extraordinary execution.

A key, overarching point of this “top 10 likely truths list”- effective management or leadership is likely a result of the practice of an art as well as the application of a science. While we count on the science to provide reliable and predictive management tools, there is actually very little we can count on in the world of people management which creates absolute certainty of human behavior. Attending to this notion of employee engagement provides managers with the tools that help apply the art, so these tools are likely worth mastering!

About the Author: Jim Bowles is a Senior Director, BTS Leadership & Management Practice.


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