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Want to Become an Employee Engagement Hero? Do These Things (and Avoid the Rest)

Michael Vasey

While paved with good intentions, the road to becoming a strategic HR hero can contain a few hazards and roadblocks that slow you down, or worse, grind your efforts to a halt.

Over my career conducting over 2000 employee engagement meetings with HRBPs and executives, I’ve identified some of these common roadblocks as well as the best practices that truly do lead to a more engaged workforce. 

About 75% of the teams I’ve worked with have seen improved outcomes and therefore turned the HR team into heroes in their organizations. They did it by putting in the work and following the engagement do’s and don’ts I’m going to share with you here. I hope you’ll learn at least one thing that can help you on your own hero’s journey.

Employee engagement strategy in 5 steps

An effective employee engagement strategy can be broken down into 5 parts: assessment model, engagement ownership, business outcomes, leader accountability & development, and communication.

I’m going to give you some do’s and don’ts for each of these five categories, so you can better understand what tactics should (and should not) be part of your overall strategy.

1. Assessment model (aka employee surveys)

Your employee engagement strategy should start with employee feedback in the form of a survey. But not just any old survey can give you the type of data you need. Here are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to valid measurement.

Employee engagement heroes DON’T:

  • Rely on focus groups or comment cards for employee sentiment.
  • Create their own survey questions alone as a measure of engagement.
  • Lean on “best places to work” or eNPS surveys alone as a measure of engagement.
  • Do surveys once a year (too little) or once a week (too much)

Employee engagement heroes DO:

  • Measure core engagement (instead of satisfaction) using statistically-valid statements with results benchmarks (so they know where their measuring stick is).
  • Survey employees at a regular cadence (more than once a year) at times that align with planning and performance cycles. Focus in with topical surveys or even add custom questions to probe for more understanding.
  • Get 3rd-party advisory help on interpreting and communicating up what could be some difficult truths.

2. Engagement ownership

Employee engagement is a primary part of work culture. Everyone should care about it. But like any other initiative, engagement measurement requires clear strategic ownership. In this case, the owner must have the authority to make business and people decisions. Here are a few do’s and don’ts when assigning ownership.

Employee engagement heroes DON’T:

  • Believe that survey execution is the same as engagement strategy. 
  • Think employee engagement is just an “HR project.”
  • Put the culture committee in charge of engagement strategy.

Employee engagement heroes DO:

  • Have an ally at the top level of leadership.
  • Make sure the C-suite commits upfront to the strategy.
  • Have authority to make real (sometimes uncomfortable) change…or partner with someone who has that authority.

3. Business outcomes

Employee engagement data can be extremely valuable and can be a leading indicator of problems (or successes) to come in an organization. But to take full advantage of its value, leadership must be willing to tie employee engagement metrics to business outcomes. Here are a few do’s and don’ts for HR leaders to consider.

Employee engagement heroes DON’T:

  • Decide that gross turnover is the only business outcome.
  • Treat an engagement score as a business outcome itself.
  • “Just ship a survey” and disconnect it from business realities.

Employee engagement heroes DO:

  • Partner with execs to make engagement score a key organization metric.
  • Treat engagement score as a leading indicator to a variety of other stated business metrics.
  • Tie engagement actions to business operations (What gets measured gets managed!)

4. Leader accountability & development

It’s one thing to measure employee engagement. It’s another to actually take action on it. Holding leaders and people managers accountable to their teams’ engagement results is critical to driving change. Here are a few do’s and don’ts for leader accountability.

Employee engagement heroes DON’T:

  • Just send engagement results to managers and trust them to figure it out.
  • Roll out results to leaders but keep HRBPs as accountable for action.
  • Keep survey results private and deal with “problem” teams individually.

Employee engagement heroes DO:

  • Get action commitment upfront from the leadership team.
  • Set deadlines for action commitment, team conversations, and space to accomplish actions in the natural flow of work..
  • Provide WIIFM, guidance, and support to managers as they act.

5. Communication

Employees won’t take engagement measurement seriously if they don’t understand why they’re taking a survey or believe that nothing will come of it anyway. Good communication is essential to ensuring the entire organization is bought in and understands what is being done and why. Here are a few communication do’s and don’ts.

Employee engagement heroes DON’T:

  • Say “we heard you and we’re gonna make big changes” and then make no changes.
  • Practice “radical transparency” and post all the results for all departments 
  • Take action but forget to connect it back to the survey results (don’t forget your internal marketing!).

Employee engagement heroes DO:

  • Partner with the engagement owner to announce when assessments are coming and share the “why.”
  • Enable managers to communicate their own engagement results with their teams and be specific about changes they’ll make (or are unable to make).
  • Close the loop! Make sure employees understand that they’re taking an engagement survey for a reason and that real work is being done based on their results.

Want to go deeper?

Watch Michael’s webinar on common ways to screw up employee engagement- and how to be a hero instead.

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