Engagement: getting the best out of the best

Bad news! A recent global survey on employee engagement by Towers Perrin[1] revealed that only 20% of employees interviewed declared themselves to be fully engaged and ready to go the extra mile to ensure the success of their company. The same study shows that of the 80% remaining, 41% were merely enrolled , 30% disenchanted and 8% totally disengaged.

This means   almost 4 in 10 employees are disengaging from their company’s objectives . In the present current economic climate, this indeed is very discouraging because companies need all employees’ energies and skills to maximize  performance.  The study defines engagement as the “extent to which employees “go the extra mile” and put discretionary effort into their work. This engagement is measured according to responses to questions that measure employees connections to their organization on 3 levels:

·         Rational: how well employees understand their roles & responsibilities

·         Emotional: how much passion and energy they bring to their work

·         Motivational: how well they perform in their roles

Simply put, engaged workers score high on all 3 levels, enrolled score high on rational and motivational but low on passion while disenchanted have lower score on all three and disenchanted are totally disconnected.

So what can companies do to reverse this situation and reengage more employees? What can they do to impact employees rationally, emotionally and motivationally?  

There is happily good news, if companies are willing to see it. The same survey argues that companies must resist the temptation to view the problem as one caused by the employees themselves or by their direct managers. Engaged workers are “made” and if companies accept this point, they can adopt proactive engagement strategies which will start to close the engagement gap.

 Towers Perrin’s study identifies 10 key drivers of employee engagement:

1.       Leadership: senior management demonstrate sincere interest in employee well-being

2.       Skills & Employability: employees skills have been developed in the previous year

3.       Social responsibility: companies demonstrate social responsibility

4.       Empowerment: input into decision making process

5.       Customer care: the organization quickly resolves customer concerns

6.       Management exemplarity: leaders set high personal standards

7.       Career development: employees enjoy excellent career advancement opportunities

8.       Challenging work assignments: employees enjoy challenging work assignments

9.       Manager-employee work relationship: employees enjoy good relationships with supervisors

10.   Innovation: organizations encourage innovative thinking

These 10 engagement drivers do not impact all employees at all levels of organizations everywhere in the same way.  However, study results suggest that these 10 drivers are shared to a greater or lesser degree throughout organizations today and for the sake of argument, let’s take these 10 drivers as building blocks in closing the engagement gap. So what can organizations do and, in particular, what HR strategy can be defined to work these drivers? Here below are some suggestions:


1.    Leadership

Leaders in today’s global organizations require new skill sets to meet the challenge engagement poses today. The traditional command and control type leader has been replaced by a need for leaders who engage employees, demonstrate  greater emotional intelligence,  communicate more effectively, coaching and involve, inspire.  Organizations need to develop this new engaging skill set in leaders.

2.    Skills & employability

Organisations needs to know what skills they have and what skills they require in middle to long term. This means mapping skills in the organization and building a workforce planning process which will develop employees to make the journey from where they are to where they should be in the medium term.

3.    Social responsibility

Organisations must walk the talk and demonstrate through their employment and industrial processes and practices that they are socially responsible and not simply out to make profit. They must above all demonstrate to employees that they are responsible socially. It’s not enough to build the employer brand but this brand has to match up to employees experience inside the company.


4.    Empowerment

This is closely linked to leadership as you can only empower employees through empowering leaders. Giving employees their say in the decision making process is vital because otherwise, you do not liberate the initiative and creativity of your workforce to tackle and solve problems. Let employees propose and managers dispose!

5.    Customer care

Customer focus has to be the number one value driving the organization, not only in terms of external customers but also internal customers.

6.    Management exemplarity

All leaders from top to bottom of the organization need to be developed to lead by example. Above all, the stairs must be swept from top down and senior leaders set the tone. Special efforts must be made to support senior leaders to lead by example. This doesn’t make senior managers supermen but means special focus on adopting coherent leadership practices.

7.    Career Development

This goes with skill development and employability. Once you map your skills and your employees are clear on what skills they have, what they need to do their job and what they will need in the future, significant effort must be made to ensure that employees take responsibility for their career development and work with their managers and HR to progress their careers. The appropriate HR processes must then be in place to manage proactively the career development process.

8.    Challenging work assignments

Employees need to be stretched through SMART objectives which go beyond their day-to-day routine. This means a robust annual appraisal process where managers focus not only on current business needs but also on pushing the employee to go beyond the comfort zone.

9.    Manager-employee work relationship

This again goes back to Leadership and all leaders from top to bottom must understand the nature of their role and take on the leadership role fully in terms of generating a positive relationship with the subordinates individually and in teams.

10.  Innovation

Innovation can be a result of the amounts invested in R&T. It can also be considered as a process which concerns everyone and this again involves leadership and the way leaders create and maintain inclusive team working which allow all team members to participate and contribute new ideas without fear of blame.


Finally, if we return to the 3 levels of employee engagement: rational, emotional and motivational and if we want to engage employees on these 3 levels, all organizations need to do 3 key things:

1.       Tirelessly work to clarify roles and responsibilities. Employees can only be effective when they know what they are expected to do, when, where, how, with whom and why. No wind is favourable to he who knows not where he’s going.

2.       Constantly communicate the strategy through the leadership chain and constantly work with leaders to align the message to changes in strategy.

3.       Always consider the annual appraisal process as the key motivational tool and as a performance plan of what will happen rather than a review of what didn’t happen. Leaders and employees should be constantly updating the process and the end of year discussion should always simply a final update rather than a detailed review. All employees should have successful reviews because if the horse has already bolted, it’s no use closing the barn door at year end.

What are your suggestions for closing the engagement gap?





[1] Towers Perrin Global Workforce study 2007-2008

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