39 HR activities Drive Employee Engagement... It's not about the T-shirt

I've never been a fan of the term "Employee Engagement", mostly because it is a narrow view of the collective of people, teams and other contributors who constitute the total workforce. It also seems somewhat 'one-sided' with remnants of master-servant and power-mongering innuendos which evokes memories of Deming’s ‘Red Bead’ experiment where employees were subjugated under the guise of effective management systems.

Okay, rant over regarding the term! Engagement is an important contributor to business success. While the academic jury is still out regarding its causal effect on customer satisfaction and business profitability, there is consensus amongst academics, business leaders and HR Professionals of a strong correlation between ‘Engagement’ and ‘Improved business outputs’.

In fact, many of the 30+ research reports and white papers I’ve read on this topic, suggest a stronger correlation between ‘Engagement’ and ‘Improved individual performance’. Now one may argue that if everyone is performing better then we should produce better business outcomes, right? Well, that would be a misguided assumption as it could reflect ‘Doing things right, rather than doing the right things’.

What this last point suggests is our need to understand ‘Engagement’ at a deeper level to ensure we recognise the underlying success factors and not fall prey to believing a parcel of company branded gifts and the proverbial T-shirt on day-1 is all it takes to trigger ‘Engagement’.

And if you have a mature, strategically-focussed HR function in your company (rather than a transactional, admin team), then they have an important role in delivering the value underpinning ‘Engagement’..... 39 important contributions in fact!

Rather than seeing ‘Engagement’ as a single event, it would be of greater benefit to understand which HR activities are at play to produce an engaged workforce. To do this I created a ‘Causal Map’ using the Presence of IT B-Causal™ tool. In short, it maps HR activities, services or tools to each Causal Step in the Engagement journey that produces improved business value (Financial and societal). Your Causal Steps may be slightly different from mine (graphic below), but this type of DNA modelling is an excellent way to understand the impact HR has on business objectives and outcomes. It's also an evidenced-based approach, which can support HR business cases.

Some key findings:

  • The onus is on your Executive Leaders to truly inspire the workforce, which can only be achieved when they are truly aligned to all stakeholder needs, not just focussed on short-term profits at the expense of
  • Engagement is a 2-way street, as the employer, you need to create a work environment that supports ‘Engagement’. This is underpinned by flexibility, honesty, trust and amiable policies.
  • There are at least 39 different HR activities, services and tools at play to produce the right outcome. Topping the list is ‘Shared Values’, ‘Mentoring & Coaching’ and ‘Leadership Style’ all of which are tightly linked to principles of business maturity (see the Maturity Institute for these).
  • This mapping gives significant insight into ‘Engagement’ success factors. Technical solutions such as Learning, On-Boarding, Analytics and Social engagement show their importance as part of the top 10 influencing HR actions.

The more I've thought about ‘Engagement’, particularly as we move towards digital work environments, the more I am convinced that the traditional HR operating model (Ulrich mostly) must evolve to effectively support outputs such as ‘Engagement’ – given the top 10 list of HR influences for 'Engagement', The HR Business Partner role and the SSC can have greater impact if they are refocused on Coaching & Leadership and Analytics respectively. But that’s a blog for later. 

This article was written by Rob Scott, Presence of IT's Global Lead: Strategy & Innovation, on LinkedIn.

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