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Strategic Employee Engagement – a LinkedIn question

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The LinkedIn question from Vicki was:

I’m exploring STRATEGIC employee engagement. What does that mean to you? (I’m not looking for tactical ideas – I’m looking for suggestions on how organizations create strategy around engagement)

TalentAlign response:

Hi Vicki.  I think first we need to all get on the same page regarding “what do we mean by Strategy”.  For me, the “father” of Strategy is Michael Porter, so I will start by some of his definitions.

Firstly “Operational Excellence is Not Strategy” – so management tools, such as total quality management, benchmarking, outsourcing, reengineering, and change management may lead to operational improvement, they are not, in themselves Strategy.  “Operational effectiveness” is about performing similar activities to your competitors, but doing it better than them.  Strategic positioning, on the other hand means performing different activities or similar activities in a different way.  Porter says “a company can outperform rivals only if it can establish a difference that it can preserve”.

So, back to your question.  If we are going to do justice to this, we need to acknowledge that Employee Engagement is not a single thing or activity that an organisation does.  In fact, Employee Engagement has a number of “drivers”, and each “driver” can be approached from a number of ways.  Marcus Buckingham, in his book “First Break all the Rules”, which describes how the concept of Employee Engagement was researched and was brought into being (a must read), describes the four “levels” of getting to Employee Engagement as being similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  In other words, there are different levels of need to achieve Employee Engagement, and lower level needs have to be satisfied before higher level needs can be addressed.  The four levels of need that he defines are:

  1. Employees needs to know what is expected of them, how much they will earn, and will they have the tools and resources to do the job properly.  Once these needs are satisfied they can move to the next level.
  2. At this level employees need to know how they are performing in the job, that there are aspects in the job in which they can excel, and that there is someone in the organisation who encourages their development.  Once these are satisfied, they move on.
  3. This becomes a critical phase in the lives of most employees.  At this level they need to know that they belong in the organisation –  are they comfortable with the way the organisation does business, can they align (culturally and otherwise) with the mission of the organisation, do others in the organisation have the same drive and value system, do they get on with those around them, and do their opinions actually count.  Only when these needs are met – as well as the previous 2 levels of need, can the employee move on to the next level.
  4. Research tells us that the majority of people leave because this level cannot be achieved in that organisation.  At this level employees need to know how they can grow in the organisation, what career choices do they have and what do they need to do to grow their career, do they get “stretch” opportunities in their job.  This is the “innovative” level – employees want to innovate, to learn to do and make things better, for themselves and for the organisation.  When this and the previous 3 levels have been achieved, you have an Engaged Employee.

So, “Strategy” is about how each organisation tackles each level.  How they use the tools available to them, how they use different combinations of these tools, and how they create new tools, in order to achieve the goal – which should be:  at least 67% of the workforce should be Engaged!

Sears have a great model that they use (you can Google “Sears model”).  They will tell you what the model is, and what the measures are that they use, but they won’t tell what makes up the “strategy” that they use to make it work and drive organisation performance and customer satisfaction.

At TalentAlign we specialise in defining and implementing Employee Engagement for IT departments and organisations.  We have developed a number of tools and processes to assist organisations with getting through Level 1 and onto the more dynamic levels.