Engaging the engagers

Your staff are potentially your best ambassadors. If they are positively engaged, both at work and outside work they will be leading your stakeholder engagement. Improving staff engagement is a win-win that will improve internal processes and strengthen external engagement.

Ideally, your staff are great ambassadors for your business. When they are at work, they interact with a range of stakeholders, and outside work they interact with the wider community. We know from the 2010 Hay Group Report, that the best leadership companies harvest knowledge and best practice from wherever they can, and staff, and contacts of staff are sources of this knowledge.

Fostering better staff engagement has great synergy with external stakeholder engagement. If staff are feeling good about the company, they will project that goodwill into both their workplace and social interactions. Both activities require the same skill sets – so by improving staff engagement capacity, external engagement improves.

But staff engagement is not in good shape. For example the Tower Perrin 2007 Global Workforce Study, based on nearly 90,000 employees worldwide found 21% of staff engaged, 41% enrolled, 30% disenchanted and 8% disengaged – a total of 38% in a negative space.

The Hay Group reported that 59% of employees in the UK started 2010 resolving to find a new job.

Identification, citizenship and engagement

Another dimension of engagement is how staff identify with the organisation. The following diagram illustrates four different types of identification. Some staff as in the second column, will identify strongly with the organisation. Another possibility is ambivalent identification as illustrated in the fourth column; in this situation the staff member identifies strongly with their work team, but not with the organisation itself. An example might be engineers or health clinicians, who identify strongly with their professions, but are disenchanted with the organisation. They might be technically engaged, but not engaged as corporate citizens. Thus, while they are happy in their work, they may not be good ambassadors for the organisation.

Having disenchanted or disengaged staff costs. I think of it as the company never quite managing to shift into top gear. The Hay Group found that “employees who are both highly engaged and enabled are 50 per cent more likely to outperform expectations”. So when times are tight, while the cost cutting game may yield a few percentage gains, raising engagement has greater potential benefits.

The Towers Perrin research identified drivers of engagement:

  • senior management sincerely interested in employee well-being
  • opportunities to improve skills and capabilities
  • the organisation’s reputation for social responsibility
  • employees able to input into decision-making
  • the organisation quickly resolves customer concerns
  • the organisation sets high personal standards
  • excellent career advancement opportunities
  • challenging work assignments to broaden skills
  • good relationships with supervisors
  • innovative thinking encouraged

In the previous blog, leading engagement, I shared the Hay Group findings about best leadership practices for engagement. The companies with leadership worth emulating, are good at reaching across boundaries to learn from people and to connect people. They help people to find meaning in their work and link their tasks to a greater good. The story of the stone-cutters illustrates this: A traveller encountered two stone-cutters and asked them what they were engaged in. The first said “I’m cutting a stone”. The second said “I am building a cathedral”. For effective engagement, we need more cathedral builders and fewer stone-cutters.

[1] adapted from Kreiner, G. & Ashforth, B. (2004) Evidence toward an expanded model of organizational identification. In Journal of Organizational Behavior 25:1, 1-27.

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