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August 15, 2016  |  I believe in the concept of employee engagement. I think focusing on employees is key in impacting success of customers and organisations. I love HR and the HR technology space trying to support this cause.

I’ve enjoyed being surrounded by it for the past 12 years… but recently I find myself annoyed.

I’m annoyed at how employee engagement is being defined and approached. I’ve also, deservingly or undeservingly (your call), directed my frustrations in three different directions: HR Vendors, HR Leaders, and CEO’s.

Oh, and let’s be clear these are generalisations. Many companies are doing great things out there.

  1. HR Vendors

It seems that every HR technology vendor claims to be “the key” or have the “biggest impact” on employee engagement. As a marketing leader in these types of companies in the past… I know. Guilty as charged.

I don’t know what we can do to change this, though. It happens in almost every product category in business.

I remember walking around at major HR Technology shows like HR Tech (Europe & US) or SHRM (US) and five to seven years ago you saw the term employee engagement a lot less than now where hundreds of vendors claim to be the answer to employee engagement.

Buyers should read third-party studies and engage with analysts to get a broader picture of the problem and possible solutions. There isn’t a silver-bullet and solutions needs to be part of a broader strategy.

  1. HR Leaders

HR Leaders traditionally spend too much time measuring and not enough time acting on employee engagement. When HR leaders do act though, it’s often a knee-jerk reaction to an engagement survey with a tactical approach, not a real strategy.


Perhaps a different approach? 

I don’t think there should be employee engagement programmes, but rather tactics that are a part of a larger people strategy. My suggestion:

  1. Define what you want your employees aligned on that will drive company success. Some examples are: shared purpose and vision, focus on a major organisational objective (i.e. being the lowest-cost supplier), or an unwavering focus on customer satisfaction.
  1. Think about how they can accomplish these goals by defining your employee values.

Your company values are one thing, but establish what values your company must focus on relating to employee success. Empowerment? Personal Growth? Innovation? These should drive how you align your people strategy.

  • Decide who is accountable for making this a reality and focus on the executives, leaders and managers in your company to make this part of the daily conversation.
  1. What are the best initiatives to reinforce the approach – by building a strategy around what a flourishing environment should look like first and then align different tactics to it, you can then create a place where employees can provide tremendous value.
  1. CEOs

This isn’t an “HR problem.” The right people strategy needs to be high on every CEO’s priority list, yet too often it is not.

I fundamentally believe that CEOs do not spend enough time participating in these strategies. It is important that there is senior executive sponsorship and support. As Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell’s Soup proclaimed, “to win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.”


But, are we looking at this all wrong? 

Are employee engagement levels the right measure? It begs several questions:

  • Are employees only engaged when their company is flourishing and successful? Is it a ‘cart before the horse’ situation?
  • Are employees engaged when they have a cushy job collecting a paycheque and waiting for that bonus or retirement and offering little performance value to the company?
  • Do engaged employees actually correlate to better customer satisfaction and profitability?

Correlation? Great. Causation? Well, Gallup explains in their Q12 Meta-Analysis on the impact of employee engagement that the “paper does not directly address issues of causality.” Gallup is arguably the authority on how engagement impacts performance and there seems to be a lack of certainty that it truly does impact employee engagement.

So as much as I like the concept of making the environment of our workplace one where employees can thrive, I think employee engagement can also be misleading at times. Perhaps the concept needs a better definition and a better approach to achieving the results we want.


The idea of Employee Ambassadorship

In 2012, Michael Lowenstein discussed the idea of Employee Ambassadorship – a concept that always stuck with me. It’s hard to answer the questions of what the outcome of employee engagement is and why it’s important, but I think any people strategy should address Dr. Lowenstein’s definition of ambassadorship:

“It’s overarching objective is to identify the most active and positive (and inactive and negative) level of employee commitment…

  • Commitment to company – Commitment to, and being positive about, the company… and to being a contributing, loyal, and fully aligned, member of the culture
  • Commitment to value proposition – Commitment to, and alignment with, the mission and goals of the company, as expressed through [products and/or services]
  • Commitment to customers – Commitment to understanding customer needs, and to performing in a manner which provides customers with optimal experiences…”

When building your people strategy, if these three elements above are aligned, I think it puts your company at a great advantage of pulling the employee-customer-company equation closer together.

In the end…

My annoyance comes from our lack of definition on employee engagement (which we likely will never perfect), but more specifically on our approaches.  If CEOs begin to make it a priority, and HR leaders are strategic in their approach then they can look beyond the mass of technology vendors out there to find a solution that works for them.

It also isn’t about just finding a technology, it’s about a strategic approach. My suggestion is that an engagement strategy should be a three-to-five-year journey.  Once the people strategy is defined, there should be a focus on major components of environment, culture, process and issues that impact employee engagement. The ping-pong tables and free food isn’t going to cut it anymore.