Employee Engagement is NOT HR’s Issue

Hand holding a person to signify human resources - Peter Barron Stark Companies We recently had a conversation with a Senior VP of Human Resources who set a goal to conduct an Employee Engagement Survey. When we started to discuss her goals, she stated, “I have a challenge. Because the CEO and senior management team do not see the value of an engagement survey, when we get the results back, it will be my responsibility to create action plans and change our challenging culture.” We did not want to burst this SVP’s vision or dreams, but the reality needed to be stated. Neither the Human Resource Department nor the CEO alone can create employee engagement. This responsibility lies with every manager in the organization.

In each of the employee engagement surveys we’ve conducted, there is always a wide range in the levels of employee engagement throughout the organization. When we break the data down by manager, we are able to see the wide variance of scores. Some managers can score a 90 percent favorable response while other managers in the exact same organization, score only 50 and 60 percent favorable. If employee engagement was solely the responsibility of the Human Resources Department, then you would see much more consistency throughout the organizations’ scores on those statements.

Although Human Resources can provide a lot of knowledge, data, support and facilitation, employee engagement falls on the shoulders of every manager in the organization. With that said, there are things that Human Resources can do to assist managers in cultivating employee engagement. Here are six tips:

  1. Hire the right people: In interviews, you can quickly see the behaviors of people who are engaged. They are involved. They are action oriented. They have questions they want to ask you. And, they do not have a track record of waiting to be told what to do. We recently interviewed a candidate who had been actively involved in her high school ASB leadership, had done several internships while in college and had connected with us in ways that would not be the traditional sending in a resume and hoping someone else will follow up. She also sent a hand written thank you note that made her stand out from everyone else who was interviewed. Engaged people take action. Taking action leads to higher levels of engagement.
  2. Focus on results: Many people feel that when you talk about employee engagement, you are talking about the “touchy-feely” side of the business. People who believe that engagement is only dealing with the softer side of the business have missed an important point about leadership. What the Best-of-the-Best Benchmark data tells us is that the best leaders are much more focused on results. When employees understand the goals and desired results, they take the necessary actions to hit those goals and, in turn, are much more engaged.
  3. Tie pay and promotion practices to levels of engagement: Stryker, a medical device and equipment company, does it right. The company bases managers pay and promotions on their ability to engage their teams. When managers realize that the results they achieve, and their path to those results, are important to their success in the company, they are much more concerned with how they treat people. Managers find that team members who are fully engaged give discretionary effort, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
    While we don’t support using the results of your employee engagement survey as a weapon against a manager who has low engagement scores, we do endorse the manager making rapid changes based on their survey results. Finally, if a low scoring manager is not willing to significantly change within 30 to 180 days after receiving the survey results, we also support replacing that manager.
  4. Recognition: Recognize and reward team members who demonstrate full engagement. If the recognition and rewards are not different for the people who are doing whatever it takes to provide extraordinary quality and service, then eventually, your most motivated employees will begin to lose their drive to be the best they can be.
  5. Give your time to employees: The greatest gift you can give to others is your time. A quick weekly one-on-one with members of your team can help you build an even stronger relationship with your employees. Other than just providing updates, the communication should also focus on topics such as the next steps in the person’s growth and development.
  6. Make hiring decisions by the team: When you involve more than one person in the interview process, some good things happen. First, the feedback from multiple team members would be more valuable than just one person’s opinion. Second, when multiple people endorse a candidate’s selection, more people feel they have a vested interest in helping the new team member be successful. And third, when the candidate is hired, they know they are special because of the multiple interviews they had to go through to be selected into an organization that takes great pride in who is hired.

While employee engagement is not a direct Human Resource responsibility, it’s clear that HR can still be influential in this area.

What are your thoughts? Is employee engagement solely the responsibility of managers, Human Resources, both, or some other combination?

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