In today’s culture it is almost impossible to not think about how you eat. Every day we are bombarded with the latest diet fad - hi-fat, low-carb, no-dairy, caveman diets, lemon juice detoxes and so on. There is even the sleeping beauty diet, which recommends sleep instead of eating to reduce those unwanted kilos!

As we all know the best approach is the most basic, eating in sensible moderation along with a reasonable amount of exercise. Simple, but by no means easy.

It turns out that achieving the holy grail of effective human capital management, employee engagement, is the same. It’s all about some simple, common sense approaches.

Again, that doesn’t mean easy. According to a recently released study on engagement by Aon Hewitt, a global HR consultancy, only a third of firms achieved an improvement in engagement in 2010.

Their report “Your pathway to improving employee engagement,” concluded that best practice in employee engagement comes down to three factors:

  • Doing it every day
  • Making it every manager’s job
  • Sticking to the basics and avoiding an overreliance on process and systems.

The good news from the study is that engagement delivers to the bottom line. Employers across Australia and New Zealand with the best engagement scores had on average profit growth four times of that of other companies (Aon Hewitt use a database of 203 organisations to test shifts in engagement between 2010 and 2011).

Not so positive was that while most organisations’ engagement scores didn’t shift, almost 40% of organisations saw a significant decrease. This mirrors Aon Hewitt’s global statistics which in 2010 more saw more organisations reporting declines in employee engagement than gains.

They also found there was no ‘magic pill’ for engagement. Taking small, incremental steps is much more effective than a ‘big bang’ approach to improving employee traction. Good engagement scores were more likely when small incremental improvements were being made over time.

Every day

For organisations able to improve their engagement levels the concept wasn’t just ‘an HR thing’, but a fundamental part of the way the organisation went about its business. Evidence of this is the fact 80% of improving organisations set engagement targets as opposed to 66% of other organisations.

Eight out of 10 improving organisations linked engagement to remuneration, while just over half of the other organisations did not. Of course the secret to effectively linking engagement to remuneration is ensuring you are measuring the underlying behaviours that drive engagement, not simply the engagement. Otherwise canny managers will manipulate the system to improve their engagement ratings and therefore compensation.

Share the load

‘Everyone’s in HR’ is the often repeated mantra, but the Aon Hewitt shows it actually rings true for improving engagement. 93% of ‘improver’ organisations held HR, individual managers, senior leaders and the executive team all accountable for improving engagement. Only two thirds of other organisations held the same view.

HR teams can’t be expected to deliver engagement in isolation, no matter how smart your programmes. There has to be awareness of what drives engagement and a commitment to that across an organisation.

Gaining this alignment typically needs to be driven from the top, with 80% of improver firms indicating that their executive team was “significantly involved” in taking action to improve engagement. Interestingly only 7% of improver firms thought HR should be accountable for improving engagement, as opposed to 16% of other firms.

Improver firms also displayed an understanding that the major influencer of an employee’s activity is their direct manager. It is that person an employee relies on for an interpretation of corporate strategy, feedback on their performance, how those align to corporate goals etc. Almost 60% of improver firms saw direct managers as having the primary responsibility for delivering engagement improvement action plans, against 44% of other organisations.

Stick to the basics

Like so many other things in life, the Aon Hewitt study found effect engagement was about doing the basic things consistently and well.

In engagement terms, that means providing the right structures and support, but also encouraging frequent informal conversations between managers and their direct employees. Improver firms, according to the study avoid the trap of “over reliance on HR systems, process and frameworks as the sole method for improving engagement.”

It is critical that software tools are used to support good practice, not implemented as some sort of magic wand to transform an organisation. Effective engagement uses products like performance management software, but in a way that enhances the ‘sticking to the basics’ approach.

Good HR technology enables HR to focus on its appropriate role. Not as the ‘deliverer’ of employee engagement, but as the adviser, facilitator and provider of useful support tools.

Like the individual trying to lose weight, an organisation must find its own collective will to commit to engagement on an everyday basis. HR software is not a magic pill to make that happen, but plays an important role in following a consistent approach and measuring that it is making a difference.

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Comment by Russell Kelly on March 30, 2012 at 10:21

Thank you for your excellent blog Philippa. This reinforces that any long term relationship is a progressive series of basic and often simple actions. Small promises made and kept on a daily and weekly basis, leading towards a greater long term goal. Keep up the fantastic work! Cheers.

Comment by Erica Collins on March 30, 2012 at 10:28

Thanks for your blog Philippa and comment Russell.  Great to see some Australian data too.

Comment by Tony Griffiths on March 30, 2012 at 13:13

I liked your analogy Phillipa. Congratulatons on a great article

Comment by Tammy Tansley on April 3, 2012 at 19:57

Thanks Philippa. Well written and a good reminder. Do you have a link to the AON report?

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