Employee engagement strategy

employee_engagementBY DR KELLEN KIAMBATI Engaged people at work are positive, interested in and even excited about their jobs and prepared to go the extra mile to get them done to the best of their ability. The term employee engagement refers to ‘the extent to which employees put discretionary effort into their work, beyond the minimum to get the job done, in the form of extra time, brainpower or energy’. An engagement strategy will address all the means that an organization can use to promote this type of effort. Engagement and organizational commitment are two important concepts affecting work performance and the attraction and retention of employees. However, the two concepts are often confused. There is a close link between high levels of engagement and positive discretionary behaviour. Discretionary behaviour refers to the choices that people at work often have on the way they do the job and the amount of effort, care, innovation and productive behaviour they display. It can be positive when people ‘go the extra mile’ to achieve high levels of performance. It can be negative when they exercise their discretion to slack at their work. Discretionary behaviour is hard for the employer to define and monitor, and the amount of discretionary behaviour required is hard for the employer to control. But positive discretionary behaviour is more likely to happen when people are engaged with their work.  The propositions on discretionary behaviour are that: Performance – related practices only work if they positively induce discretionary behaviour, once basic staffing requirements have been met; Discretionary behaviour is more likely to occur when enough individuals have commitment to their organization and/or when they feel motivated to do so and/or when they gain high levels of job satisfaction; Commitment, motivation and job satisfaction, either together or separately, will be higher when people positively experience the application of HR policies concerned with creating an able workforce, motivating valued behaviours and providing opportunities to participate; This positive experience will be higher if the wide range of HR policies necessary to develop ability, motivation and opportunity both are in place and are mutually reinforcing; The way HR and reward policies and practices are implemented by frontline managers and the way top-level espoused values and organizational cultures are enacted by them will enhance or weaken the effect of HR policies in triggering discretionary behaviour by influencing attitudes; The experience of success seen in performance outcomes helps reinforce positive attitudes. Who is an engaged employee? Engaged employee is someone who:
  • Is positive about the job;
  • Believes in, and identifies with, the organization;
  • Works actively to make things better;
  • Treats others with respect, and helps colleagues to perform more effectively;
  • Can be relied upon, and goes beyond the requirements of the job;
  • Sees the bigger picture, even sometimes at personal cost;
  • Keeps up to date with developments in his or her field;
  • Looks for, and is given, opportunities to improve organizational performance.
Strategies for Enhancing Engagement The work itself Intrinsic motivation through the work itself, and therefore engagement, depends basically on the way in which work or jobs are designed. Three characteristics have been distinguished as being required in jobs if they are to be intrinsically motivating:
  1. Feedback – individuals must receive meaningful feedback about their performance, preferably by evaluating their own performance and defining the feedback. This implies that they should ideally work on a complete product, process or service, or a significant part of it that can be seen as a whole.
  2. Use of abilities – the job must be perceived by individuals as requiring them to use abilities they value in order to perform the job effectively.
  3. Self-control (autonomy) – individuals must feel that they have a high degree of self-control over setting their own goals and over defining the paths to these goals.
These approaches may be used when setting up new work systems or jobs, and the strategy should include provision for guidance and advice along these lines to those responsible for such developments. But line managers on a day-to-day basis make the greatest impact on the levels of engagement arising from the design of work systems or jobs. The strategy should therefore include arrangements for educating them as part of a leadership development programme in the importance of good work and job design, the part they can play and the benefits to them arising from thereby enhancing engagement. Performance management, with its emphasis on agreeing role expectations, is a useful means of doing this. The work environment A strategy for increasing engagement through the work environment will be generally concerned with developing a culture that encourages positive attitudes to work, promoting interest and excitement in the jobs people do and reducing stress. Lands’ End believes that staff who are enjoying themselves, who are being supported and developed and who feel fulfilled and respected at work will provide the best service to customers. The thinking behind why the company wants to inspire staff is straightforward – employees’ willingness to do that little bit extra arises from their sense of pride in what the organization stands for, i.e. quality, service and value. It makes the difference between a good experience for customers and a poor one. The strategy also needs to consider particular aspects of the work environment, especially communications, involvement, work–life balance and working conditions. It can include the formulation and application of ‘talent relationship management’ policies, which are concerned with building effective relationships with people in their roles, treating individual employees fairly, recognizing their value, giving them a voice and providing opportunities for growth. Leadership The leadership strategy should concentrate on what line managers have to do as leaders in order to play their vital and immediate part in increasing levels of engagement. This will include the implementation of learning programmes that help them to understand how they are expected to act and the skills they need to use. The programmes can include formal training (especially for potential managers or those in their first leadership role), but more impact will be made by ‘blending’ various learning methods such as e-learning, coaching and mentoring. It should also be recognized that a performance management process could provide line managers with a useful framework in which they can deploy their skills in improving performance through increased engagement. Opportunities for personal growth A strategy for providing development and growth opportunities should be based on the creation of a learning culture. This is one that promotes learning because it is recognized by top management, line managers and employees generally as an essential organizational process to which they are committed and in which they engage continuously. Reynolds describes learning culture as a ‘growth medium’ that will ‘encourage employees to commit to a range of positive discretionary behaviours, including learning’, and that has the following characteristics: empowerment not supervision, self-managed learning not instruction, and long-term capacity building not short-term fixes. It will encourage discretionary learning. Specifically, the strategy should define the steps required to ensure that people have the opportunity and are given the encouragement to learn and grow in their roles. This includes the use of policies that focus on role flexibility – giving people the chance to develop their roles by making better and extended use of their talents. It means going beyond talent management for the favoured few and developing the abilities of the core people on whom the organization depends. The philosophy should be that everyone has the ability to succeed, and the aim should be to ‘achieve extraordinary results with ordinary people’. It includes using performance management primarily as a developmental process with an emphasis on personal development planning. The strategy should also cover career development opportunities and how individuals can be given the guidance, support and encouragement they need if they are to fulfil their potential and achieve a successful career with the organization in tune with their talents and aspirations. The actions required to provide men and women of promise with a sequence of learning activities and experiences that will equip them for whatever level of responsibility they have the ability to reach should be included in the strategy. Opportunities to contribute Providing people with the opportunity to contribute is not just a matter of setting up formal consultative processes, although they can be important. It is also about creating a work environment that gives people a voice by encouraging them to have their say, and emphasizes as a core value of the organization that management at all levels must be prepared to listen and respond to any contributions their people make.

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