February 2013

Creating REAL Engagement

What does it take to increase employee engagement that’s real and sustainable?
I’ve been working recently with two leaders in different organizations who are looking to increase the level of engagement on their teams.  Hmmm… and who isn’t these days?   I believe at last count there are literally hundreds of companies specializing in those pricey engagement surveys, promising to identify the most important aspects of employee engagement to improve upon.

The dreaded annual survey

I am beginning to hate the word “engagement” because of the stigma attached with the annual engagement surveys that focus primarily on general quantitative scores, rather than on identifying the underlying issues to be explored much more regularly.  At best, these surveys provide very general directional information.  At worst, they can measure the wrong factors.  Does every company define engagement in the same way?  Not in my experience.  I think about how the money spent on these surveys could be put to better use with more targeted, small group focus meetings, or scheduled time for managers to spend with small groups of their employees.

The typical company that utilizes an annual engagement survey requires specific action plans to be identified by the leaders, which are rarely executed effectively, if at all.  The leader’s performance evaluation is measured according to the action plan built and the cycle continues the following year with another survey and marginal results.

Real solutions rarely come from scores

Back to those two leaders wanting help to increase engagement with their teams...  Both of the leaders were concerned with their low engagement scores, and how to ensure a higher score for next year’s survey.  In both cases the teams are large and spread out with 24-hour shifts, so there are additional challenges.  We began to explore how the departments worked, and what real engagement might look like in both companies.  Not surprisingly, the discoveries that we are making were not obvious through the engagement surveys.  While the surveys did indicate general low scores around job satisfaction, it could not help these leaders understand exactly what that meant, and how to address it.

In both companies, the employees felt undervalued, and unheard by their managers, and wanted greater visibility and connection with the company’s goals and leadership team.  The leaders have begun scheduling check-ins with small groups in each of the locations, getting to know them better, and to understand what’s most important to them.  Then, and only then can they determine what actions to take – first in themselves as they lead the teams.  In both cases, the leaders are discovering how their leadership styles and actions are contributing to the less than desirable situations.  Actually getting out and connecting, communicating and listening are always the most important first steps.

There have been some very interesting current articles challenging the present thinking about employee engagement and better ways to approach it than surveying and creating action plans based simply on the survey results.  Here’s a link to a post from Barbara Milhizer, Partner at PeopleResults:


She illustrates beautifully the challenges with engagement surveys.

Focus on real engagement

 Before spending dollars on an expensive engagement survey… try talking with your teams, and start with questions like these:

  1. What inspires you to come to work each day?
  2. What things do your managers do to inspire you?
  3. Do you understand how your work contributes to achieving your department and organizational goals?
  4. Do you feel proud of this organization and what it contributes?
  5. What does engagement mean in this team? How do you think engagement contributes to achieving positive results?  
  6. How do you keep yourself engaged in the work you do?
  7. How can your managers help you further?

“Business and human endeavors are systems…we tend to focus on snapshots of isolated parts of the system. And wonder why our deepest problems never get solved.”   - Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization

 Struggling with leadership effectiveness or business change?
If you’re looking to enhance your leadership effectiveness and would like some help to get the results you’re looking to achieve, I’d love to talk with you. I help leaders to successfully navigate the challenges of making change to achieve the results they want. Visit my website www.terrihughes.com for details, free resources and to schedule a complimentary consultation to move you forward!




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