- Short-term engagement strategies fail
- Sporadic engagement strategies fail
- Leaders with the right long-term engagement strategies win
Some companies have transformational employee engagement programs. Some companies just approach the starting line but never really get out of the blocks. The difference between the two is executive behavior.
When a CEO and the board decide that what they want to achieve -- organic growth, profitability, agility, diversity, productivity, you name the goal -- can best be accomplished by engaged workers, which is both perceptive and true, they must hand the initiative off to other executives. Those are the leaders who pull the levers of culture change.
If those leaders simply communicate the initiative, the program will fail.
If those leaders merely support the initiative, the program will fail.
If those leaders take ownership for culture change, understand the business case for engagement and create a high-engagement, high-development strategy that they lead by example, employee engagement stops being a program and starts becoming a way of life.
Those leaders will likely succeed.
In fact, they may accomplish more than they intended. Engaged workers are distinctive for their stellar performance and personal stake in the organization's success. Their energy and commitment make every outcome more achievable, which opens new possibilities for the CEO and board to capture.
Employee Engagement Best Practices: Next Steps
Successful initiatives depend on day-in, day-out executive behavior. And not just that of the CHRO: HR supports the initiative, but business leaders drive the change. They do it through a series of actions -- a particular kind of strategic alignment -- that creates a seamless connection between what employees are asked to do, what the organization stands for and what executives want to achieve.
Gallup has identified those best-practice actions and recommends that execs engineer this strategic alignment, in this order:
The CEO, board and executives must agree on a well-defined purpose and brand identity for their organization. That purpose will guide every subsequent decision and differentiate the brand to customers and employees. This step is vital. It takes time. It often requires assistance from a neutral third party. But success depends on it.
These same leaders must draft a strategic business plan that explicitly connects engagement to business issues -- abstract concepts don't get traction. For example, whether the company is aiming at a higher share price, improving retention, improving safety outcomes, etc., teams that fall in the top quartile of engagement deliver better business outcomes. Whatever the goal, executives will be more committed if they understand the financial effect of engagement.
With those steps completed, executives will be better able to explain how engagement amplifies the purpose and brand of the organization and leads to desired business outcomes. Some leaders may need individualized coaching to effectively communicate the connection between strategy and employee action; such assistance is readily available. But only when engagement is understood as strategy can it be relayed into day-to-day activity.
Finally, leaders must be the source and authority on engagement, connecting it to everyday work, embedding it into existing processes and systems -- such as performance management systems, development programs and onboarding initiatives -- and incorporating the strategy in corporate communications, meetings and key decisions. Only when leaders model attitudes, beliefs and behaviors can they create real change.
Employee Engagement Programs Are a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Don't expect strategic alignment to be fast or effortless. An effective human development strategy takes time and work. Gallup clients that have achieved exceptional levels of engagement have made multiyear commitments to doing so. Only a sustained, focused commitment from executive leadership can produce outstanding, long-lasting results.
But when engagement is part of daily conversations and is used as a tool for solving real work problems, CEOs and boards will know that their culture has changed. That their decision to lead by example has truly transformed the organization.
And that's when CEOs and boards will know that the goal they could only achieve alongside engaged employees -- organic growth, profitability, agility, diversity, etc. -- is within their grasp. They'll know they're running a company with a transformational employee engagement program. Not a company that merely started one.