Employee engagement: Feel-good exercise or essential to the business?

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"The formula is simple, if the initiatives support the business while addressing the employees’ concerns; we are instantly strengthening trust, which in turn boosts employee engagement. Employees who perceive their leadership as highly trustworthy, credible, and qualified tend to be more loyal and likely to better advocates of the organization."

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When I started to write down my thoughts on the topic of employee engagement, it seemed like the obvious place to start was by going back to the key principle of our function:  listening. I asked my peers what they felt were their top three pain points within their roles of employee engagement.  The list was long:  how do we make ourselves a constant member of the decision making table; how do we show our impact; what are the most effective ways of creating dialogue, and so on.  In the end, what they were saying is they wanted to been seen as contributors to business success, not just a cheerleader for employee sentiment.

As most experts will tell you, “you can’t argue with the data.” The fastest way to get leaders to pay attention is through evidence.  What I have found effective is reminding a company’s leaders that engaged employees equals higher productivity.  But we need their help.  If engagement focuses on employees, and motivating them to make the organization a high performer, then leaders need to inspire them with a meaningful purpose and direction, and then listen to their input about better ways to succeed.

But quite often leaders struggle to differentiate between initiatives to keep employees happy, and real business challenges. Our role is to help with this process. As employees form a good understanding about the challenges, road blocks and potential solutions through their day to day roles, by listening to them you can enlist them in the process of overcoming challenges, rather than relying only on a top-down approach.

The most crucial part of our journey is building credibility for our function by showing results. We need to make informed recommendations based on facts that directly connect to the purpose of the business.

I always tell my team to connect the dots. As engagement experts we need to continuously remind leaders about what we are doing, why and what are you hoping to tackle. This helps them stay the course. There are obviously multiple ways of doing this – recognition programs, establishing forums, populating dashboards and scorecards, among others.  Above all, we must invest the time and energy in becoming a reliable business partner to your leadership team.

Our role is not necessarily to do everything, but to help leaders take on their rightful roles.  The formula is simple, if the initiatives support the business while addressing the employees’ concerns; we are instantly strengthening trust, which in turn boosts employee engagement. Employees who perceive their leadership as highly trustworthy, credible, and qualified tend to be more loyal and likely to better advocates of the organization. One of the most satisfying moments of my career was seeing leaders invest full and half days to off sites addressing challenges from their unit survey results. Through this process they gained the trust of their employees and empowered them to go the extra mile.

There comes a point when leaders get comfortable and assume their work is done as the organization starts to prosper. It’s exactly at this time that the employee engagement team must encourage the leadership not to stop. The organization succeeds through an ongoing process of commitment and listening, even as priorities shift. By staying close to stakeholders and helping them on the journey, at all stages, we remain essential to the business and its eventual success. That’s how we keep our seat at the table.

 

 

Umayma Abubakar

    With over 15 years of experience, Umayma Abubakar is the Head of employee engagement at Mubadala Development Company. Her responsibilities include counseling the senior leadership team on employee engagement levels and overseeing the company‘s engagement initiative.