Dear By the Numbers:
You should be able to gauge the impact of your employee engagement efforts almost immediately. Most engagement programs produce their strongest gains in the early waves. The range is typically 5 to 15 basis points, with one basis point equaling 1/100th of a percent.
It should be easy at this stage to link changes in engagement levels to documented, positive changes in key business outcomes. The most common relationships are links to retention, attrition, productivity, sick days and a variety of other important business outputs.
Different engagement programs produce different definitions of engagement (and disengagement) so there are no standards or averages across all programs. That being said, most experts agree that you need a ratio of at least two to one of engaged employees to disengaged employees to start achieving business gains associated with engagement. Personally, I think you should target a three-to-one ratio.
Typically, and unfortunately, organizations often mirror the flow of a relationship, as in a marriage. As with a couple's relationship, companies often go through three stages in their employee engagement program.
Stage one is the honeymoon. The new approach creates energy, overcomes mistrust and reaps the low-hanging fruit of giving managers the basics for productive employee conversations, known as "bottom-up" engagement. In this stage, an organization becomes competitive on engagement and targets industry benchmarks. This stage tends to produce strong wave-over-wave gains of five to 15 basis points. The honeymoon typically last for two to three waves, with each wave being equivalent to about one year's duration.
Stage two is when the strong gains of the honeymoon are replaced by much smaller gains as the relationship matures. The low-hanging fruit has all been reaped. Now, the organization struggles to create the same level of energy around its strategic decisions on engagement. This is the reverse approach, known as "top-down engagement" in the parlance of consultants. During this stage it is harder to prove strong linkage to positive business gains. Many times, the focus is on maintaining or protecting gains made during the honeymoon period. Stage two usually lasts for two to three waves.
By stage three, an organization is looking for a change--similar to the proverbial seven-year itch of a marriage. It is driven by a need to break out of the mold in a mature relationship. Lacking strategic advice, and weary of bottom-up engagement, the organization produces flat to potentially negative engagement results. Rumors surface that managers are gaming the system. This is this stage at which organizations typically start searching for a new engagement partner.
The good news is that three stages don't have to exist in your company. The best practice is to make employee engagement a continuous process, completely integrated in year-round business management and planning. Engagement should be viewed as a strategic effort integrated with and aligned to the workforce strategy.
In summary, you can ensure long-term progress and honeymoon-like engagement by focusing on some core pillars:
- Align your program to key business strategies
- Focus less on the process and more on targeted outcomes
- Design the program to optimize both strategic insight and tactical advice
- Maximize the role of senior leaders and avoid putting all engagement responsibilities on your managers
Utilize dynamic technology to keep up with the real-time pace of business.
Source: Scott Ahlstrand, Right Management, Philadelphia, April 26, 2013
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