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Marcus Buckingham: Four Seismic Shifts in Employee Engagement

Marcus Buckingham: Four Seismic Shifts in Employee Engagement

Seismic shiftsWe’ve been talking a lot about employee engagement here on the blog. How come?

Well, the timing’s just right as businesses and organizations have year-end evaluations and reviews on the brain.

Understanding how satisfied and engaged your employees are is of course crucial to the overall success of any business. You really can’t have one without the other. 

Here once more with another installment of news and advice on all things employee engagement is Marcus Buckingham, Founder and Chairman of the leading global provider of strengths-based performance tools and content, TMBC

In this post Marcus discusses four trends that companies can’t ignore if they want to keep their employees satisfied and engaged. 

Take it away, Marcus!

1. From the HR, to the Team Leader

Engagement is local, not universal

We know this because every time we study it, we see wide range across the organization. Some organizations, bizarrely, address this reality with sampling. They’ll survey 1/6 of the organization 6 times a year in the hopes that they can somehow generalize from that in some way that helps drive engagement. But what use is it to the team leader to know the engagement level of people elsewhere?

You can normalize the data and summarize it all you want, but that doesn’t change the fact that engagement happens on the team. This means that the team leader is the person with the most ability to impact it. Which means that the team leader should be the first, not the last, to see the data.

To make that happen, give team leaders the ability to skip all the boxes of the rigid org structure and create their own teams, triggering engagement surveys to whichever groups of team members they want.

You know you’re doing it wrong if:

  • The first person to see a team’s engagement data is in HR.
  • Your survey is triggered from the top down, deployed against a static org structure.

Change Your Approach to Engagement

Use the StandOut Global Engagement Pulse survey template to find out whether your teams are engaged.
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2. From the One Time, to the All The Time

Engagement is a film, not a photograph

It’s July. You’ve hired someone to do your landscaping, and they ask for a picture of the yard in advance so they can prepare to do a good job. If you give them a picture taken in January, they’re going to show up with shovels and snow blowers and be no help at all.

Work moves far too fast these days to give our team leaders out-of-date information. They need to base their approach to engagement on what’s happening now, not on what was true half a year ago. So they should be able to get their own data back the moment the engagement survey closes. Aggregate it up to HR and whoever else needs to see it if you want to, but give it to the team leader immediately.

You know you’re doing it wrong if:      

  • The team leader can’t trigger an engagement survey whenever he or she wants to.
  • The data doesn’t come to the team leader as soon as the survey closes.

3. From Siloed, to In-The-Work

Engagement is connected to the work, not separate from it

Because we all know how crucial engagement is, there is no shortage of companies springing up to address it. From established players like Gallup and Kenexa to upstarts such as Murmur, Tiny Pulse, or Glynt, they all have one unfortunate flaw. They treat engagement independently of the process of building a high-performing team — as though engagement were a discrete, tidy phenomenon that leaders stop and deal with before moving on to their real work.

Engagement is inextricably part of the work. It’s wrapped up in the collaboration, the learning, the strengths, the pressures of an actual team doing actual work for an actual customer or client.

What that means is that it’s not enough even to ask the right questions and deliver the data to the team leader immediately. If you stop there, you’ll leave your team leader thinking, “Great. Now what do I do about it?” After all, you didn’t measure engagement for its own sake; you measured it to build it.

The answer cannot possibly be generic, because the team and its leader are not generic. Instead, your engagement tools should be linked to larger intelligence that understands who the team leader is, and then gives him or her advice based on the particular survey results and tailored to his or her unique strengths. Simply asking team leaders to come up with an action-plan once a year won’t cut it. Your tools should be smart enough to automatically deliver customized prescriptions for how this team leader addresses these results right now.

You know you’re doing it wrong if:       

  • Your engagement system is a standalone process.
  • The back of your survey consists of telling team leaders to do an action plan.

4. From Big Data, to the Right Data

Address engagement with a chisel, not a jackhammer

Most surveys blast a torrent of questions at team members in the hopes that some pattern will emerge in the driver analysis of the whole company’s data. Courtroom lawyers are fond of saying that you should “never ask a question that you don’t know the answer to.” Engagement survey designers would do well to modify this motto: “never ask a question that has no link to performance.”

If you’re not asking questions that show a predictive relationship to your key business metrics–retention, profitability, productivity, safety–you’re literally wasting everybody’s time. Instead, criterion-related validity studies can show you what questions matter.

For instance, we’ve identified 8 questions–not to say these are the only ones you could use–that not only have shown reliable correlation to employee behavior, but also present a clear picture of the responsibilities of the team leader and the team member.

Employee Engagement

Team responses to these questions paint a clear picture for the team leader of where to improve engagement by addressing the universal needs of the team (“We” questions) and making each individual feel understood and special (“Me” questions).

You know you’re doing it wrong if:

  • Your survey contains more than 20 items, and you don’t know which of them correlate to performance.
  • You’ve never conducted criterion-related validity studies on your survey.

We cannot address engagement properly until we acknowledge that we can’t address it at all. Not centrally, that is. Engagement is local, and we must address it locally. A CEO who offers to take the same salary as his employees is inspiring–but it won’t matter to the person whose manager neglects her.

A workplace that offers all-you-can-eat food and classic video games will be fun–but it won’t matter to someone who’s not engaged in his work. The workplace doesn’t have one culture. It has as many cultures as it has team leaders. And building the culture, building engagement happens one team leader at a time.

Thanks, Marcus! Questions for him? Leave them in the Comments section below.
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