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Employee engagement continues to be a hot topic, and little wonder. Conservative estimates suggest that small increments in employee engagement levels bring very tangible benefits through increased productivity and reduced turnover. A 5 per cent increase in engagement is estimated to bring increased revenue and reduced costs of about 10 per cent of an employee’s salary. This comes to thousands of dollars per employee, per year.
Other less tangible but no less important benefits include increased safety, lower absenteeism, reduced fraud and pilfering, increased customer experience and loyalty, and more innovation.
Engagement surveys and intranets
Billions of dollars are spent assessing employee engagement annually with many intranet initiatives being driven by the need to improve low results received on these questionnaires.
However, without understanding the clear linkages between the engagement levers and what the intranet offers, the results can be very hit and miss.
Dr Peter Langford and his team at Voice Project (www.voiceproject.com.au) have conducted rigorous research on employee engagement which underpins the surveys they use. This research provides a basis for explaining what engagement is, describing the levers that drive engagement within organisations and exploring how the intranet can be used to work alongside other initiatives to help enhance employee engagement.
The intranet can improve employee engagement
What is employee engagement?
Employee engagement is a term used to encompass a constellation of attitudes and behaviours, many of which have been around for a long time. Overall these include the ideas and intentions that staff have towards the organisation, principally:
- job satisfaction
- intention to stay
- organisational commitment
along with the behaviours that can be observed by others, like:
- discretionary effort
- being proactive
- proficient citizenship behaviours
While this helps us understand what engagement is and how to look for the symptoms of poor or low level engagement, by the time they become apparent it may be too late. It is generally more useful to understand what contributes to high levels of employee engagement.
There are a number of very obvious elements that impact directly and powerfully on engagement. Overall they tell a story of the employee’s need for their role to have a sense of meaning. To have a sense of meaning, staff need to have clarity and alignment around:
- organisational purpose
- individual purpose
- personal growth
- organisational progress
By exploring these we can gain an understanding of the contribution the intranet can make to improve employee engagement, often an organisations most valuable resource.
How the intranet can help
There are eight key areas where the intranet can help support engagement initiatives by helping staff:
- connect with organisational purpose
- orientate themselves in the organisation
- align with ethics and values
- become more involved
- develop cross-unit cooperation
- build career opportunities
- associate with organisational progress
- navigate change better
The following takes each topic in turn and examines how the intranet might help.
Staff must be able to connect with organisational beacons
1. Connecting staff with organisational purpose
The factor which has the most significant impact on employee engagement, in general, is for employees to have a clear sense of organisational purpose. Without this sense of direction and an understanding of the driving values the staff member will not have the organisational beacons to engage with.
A mission statement is important but only if it is clear enough for staff to understand how their roles relate to it. Don’t leave it all up to senior management, take some local ownership if necessary. If the organisation is very large, the divisions or departments might need to have their own defined purposes, albeit aligned with the overall corporate purposes. Even better, get the staff involved in helping craft a guiding statement of purpose for which they can have a sense of ownership and pride.
In practice, use the intranet to connect staff with the organisation’s purpose by:
- ensuring the organisational mission and values are clearly articulated and written so that they are meaningful to operational staff
- encouraging local ownership of team purpose and helping those teams communicate this vision
- ensuring the intranet has a mission that aligns with the organisational purpose, but also resonates with the team
- vague ‘motherhood’ statements that are difficult for staff to relate to
2. Staff orientation
Closely linked to organisational purpose is the sense of purpose the individual derives from being in the organisation. Orienting individual staff members within the organisation will help with their sense of belonging but also help them understand how their input contributes more broadly.
Tools for orientation can be as simple as access to an organisational chart. At a high level, larger organisations can help staff understand the different departments and divisions and how they interrelate. At a micro-level, understanding the individual linkages between people can help staff associate what they do with higher level team and departmental outcomes
Organisational clarity helps those lower in the hierarchy feel more connected with the organisation and its purpose. It also has the potential to help those higher up understand the viewpoints of the majority of staff and attempt to open more direct and effective lines of communication.
A sense of belonging is helped by knowing where you fit in
In practice, help staff clarify their position and role in the organisation by:
- ensuring organisational structures and charts are available and current
- providing a people finder that visualises staff orientation within the organisation
- designing local charts that are clear to staff across the organisation and do not rely on knowledge internal to the department or division.
- letting information get out of date, by only updating the organisational chart occasionally
- assuming that outsiders do not need to understand the details of particular areas of the organisation
3. Ethics and diversity
Fairness plays a significant role in aligning staff purpose with that of the organisation. Bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination more generally erodes confidence in the organisation. This will most obviously impact staff who are the targets of unethical behaviour. It will also erode confidence in the organisation for those who feel unsupported or simply believe these practices to be unacceptable.
What is prominent is perceived as being important. Using the intranet to convey and support ethical behaviours can work to support a fairer and more ethical workplace.
Reinforce ethical standards by:
- prominently displaying codes of conduct to reinforce their importance
- promoting zero tolerance on inappropriate behaviours
- providing educational tools such as a sexual harassment quiz
- clarifying responsibilities and obligations around reporting instances of inappropriate behaviour
- providing simple ways to report and obtain ‘whistleblowing’ information
- providing only detailed policy documents and assuming staff will read and be able to apply them
- assuming that staff can discuss issues with supervisors and managers
What is prominent is perceived as being important
4. Inviting staff participation
Not being involved in decisions that impact them can be very disempowering and disaffecting for staff. Requesting input but not acknowledging it can be very disheartening for staff, especially those most keen to support improvements and positive change.
The role of more senior people in the organisation is not simply to ‘push’ instructions. If management want the involvement of staff, they must be prepared to listen.
Communications that impact staff must also be genuine and relevant. For example, a successful infrastructure project will have many claiming credit in ‘corporate news’ after the fact, but during project implementation, few will care to provide meaningful updates in a way that allow staff to make important decisions about the impact on them. Indeed, the project ‘bad news’ might be the most meaningful and helpful to the most staff, but will be the information that is disseminated least effectively.
Empower by involving staff in decisions that impact them
In practice, use the intranet to facilitate positive feedback loops in these ways:
- locate news and corporate communications in a single place to give staff a broad view of organisational activities
- encourage communication that is valuable and meaningful to the intended audiences
- invite comment and feedback, making it clear how this will be responded to
- take or assign responsibility for meeting the commitment to respond to feedback
- only good news stories, as the readership can become cynical of the usefulness of the messages
- anonymous commenting to ensure people remain responsible for their contributions
- trite responses to those providing feedback, such as ‘your comments are important to us’, as they stale very quickly
5. Supporting collaboration
Cooperation within and across teams can be significant sources of enrichment both for personal development and achievement of organisational aims. Narrow and local thinking can give rise to silo mentality which reduces opportunities for shared understanding, innovation, and limits the capacity for staff to participate fully.
Collaboration tools are increasingly common in intranet toolkits and can be effective in facilitating relationships between teams that already exist.
Foster cross-unit collaboration by:
- providing collaboration tools appropriate to the culture and organisational needs
- supporting collaborating teams with guidelines, case studies, suggested mentors, and training
- taking time to evaluate the needs of the different teams and tailoring resources accordingly
- taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the collaboration tools provided
- assuming that providing collaboration tools will make it happen automatically
Develop collaborative relationships that already exist
6. Supporting career planning
Career planning is particularly important to engagement and generally under-emphasised by organisations. Larger organisations may have capacity to accommodate employee career aspirations, but smaller ones may need to put effort into maximising the employee engagement benefits that can be gained here.
Setting expectations is particularly important to ensure that staff have realistic goals and that they are aware of the requirements, skills and the responsibilities that go with more senior positions.
In practice the intranet can:
- provide information and tools that allow staff to plan their career paths, clarifying expectations in relation to timeframes and skills requirements
- support staff evaluation tools (such as 360 questionnaires) that link to targeted development tips and activities
- provide support and guidelines for managers to make performance appraisals about strengths and success rather than about deficits and failure
- setting expectations too high as staff can become dispirited if they are not progressing as fast as they were led to believe they would
Managing career expectations reduces disappointment
7. Progress trumps success
Employee engagement tends to be a focus because of its overall impact on organisational progress. The impact of organisational progress on employee engagement gets less attention.
One might assume that employees will be more engaged in more successful organisations, but it is the degree of progress that engages staff, not the absolute level of success. An organisation that was previously performing poorly, but is now taking strides towards becoming a more successful entity, will have greater capacity to engage staff.
Staff close to operational parts of the business may have access to more direct indicators such as sales performance or client satisfaction surveys but these are also of interest to the wider organisational audience. Indeed intranet needs-research continually finds that most staff want to be able to see organisational key performance indicators (KPIs), even staff quite removed from operational parts of the business.
In practice, the intranet can be used to more tightly connect staff with organisational progress by:
- organisational KPIs available in ways that are timely and easy to understand
- updating staff on the progress of strategic projects, even if they are not directly involved
- helping to link longer term organisational purpose with shorter term initiatives
- relying entirely on one broad indicator, such as share price, to convey a sense of progress
8. Reducing uncertainty in times of change
Despite the capacity for progress to engage it invariably involves change and uncertainty. In times of change it is particularly important to ensure that all of the above factors are considered to maximise engagement.
Moreover, change management is in large part attempting to ensure engagement is kept high enough that following the change employees are still ‘on-board’ literally and in a productivity sense.
In practice, the intranet can also support change by:
- ensuring that ‘change’ messages are regular and appropriately reflect the true state of affairs
- providing staff with opportunities for additional information and support in times of change and uncertainty
- highlighting the opportunities that change presents for staff
- relying on e-mail to do all the communication
- assuming employees will ‘know who to talk to’ about change initiatives or that their managers will have all the answers
Good engagement is a by-product of good intranets
Sharing the burden
Staff engagement is a two-way relationship and staff expect their organisations to contribute more to their engagement than remuneration.
While the intranet can play a significant role in enabling this exchange, it would be a mistake to expect it to carry the entire burden. The intranet will simply represent one aspect of the organisational behaviours that staff expect to see. If the staff ‘only hear the talk but do not see the walk’ it will quickly erode trust in the messages being conveyed. This reinforces the need for the intranet to align with what is going on in the organisation and for it not to run too far in advance of other initiatives.
Taking the initiative
Employee engagement is driven by relatively simple mechanisms. The hard part is taking a holistic view and then targeting initiatives in a way that have the most impact. With clear line of sight between survey results, organisational activities and the role the intranet can play, intranet teams that are tasked with lifting engagement survey results can plan more effectively. Teams less focused on engagement itself can refine their current initiatives to ensure that lifting engagement is a welcome by-product of their main objectives.
There is plenty of easily accessible material online starting with Wikipedia. For those wanting more definitive formal research material including Dr Langford’s recent work, consider browsing the Handbook of Employee Engagement: Perspectives, Issues, Research and Practice, ISBN 184844821.