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Getting past the shortcomings of employee engagement

Employers tout the importance of an engaged workforce—a place where employees are devoted, eager, interested in their jobs and happy to boot. But how much of a payoff does a nominally engaged workforce provide? Can an engaged workforce still be steeped in drama that holds an organization back?  

Nicole Price, vice president of training for workplace consulting firm Cy Wakeman Inc., recently presented a Business & Legal Resources webinar titled “Reality-Based Rules for Employee Engagement: Beyond Buzzwords to Meaningful Action” in which she outlined five rules for meaningful engagement in the workplace.

Price says employers make their first mistake when they conduct employee engagement surveys and then simply give employees what they say they want. But the human resources department often makes three faulty assumptions when developing action plans out of engagement surveys:

  1. HR assumes all employee responses are equally credible. Because engagement surveys are anonymous, every response is treated the same, but in reality not all employees are equally credible.
  2. HR assumes that perfecting employee circumstances will drive engagement. In reality just giving employees what they say they want doesn’t always lead to true engagement.
  3. HR assumes engagement drives results. In reality, though, “engagement without accountability drives entitlement,” Price says. She urges HR professionals to ask themselves how many hours they spend working on engagement and contrast that with how much time they spend working on increasing the level of employee accountability. Both areas deserve attention, but too often more time is spent on engagement.

Rule No. 1
Price’s first rule for engagement centers on accountability, and she identifies four factors of personal accountability:

  • Commitment: the willingness to do whatever it takes to get results.
  • Resilience: the ability to stay the course in the face of obstacles and setbacks.
  • Ownership: the acceptance of the consequences of people’s actions, both good and bad.
  • Continuous learning: the perspective to see success and failure as learning experiences to fuel future success.

Price recommends the book QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life by John G. Miller. The book explains that when people are dissatisfied, they often focus on questions such as what’s wrong in the organization or who isn’t doing what needs to be done.

They’re “stuck in drama,” Price says. They would be better off asking what they can do to help. “If we can encourage people to focus on what they can do instead of taking a look at all the situations and circumstances that are holding them back, we can drive our businesses forward,” she says.

Rule No. 2
Price’s second rule states that suffering is optional and most pain is self-created. “We’ve got to make a conscious choice to ditch the drama, eliminate the waste,” she says. Employees who feel unsupported are likely to let that feeling hamper their work. But Price asks what if they focus on what they can do. They can’t control events, but they can control how they think under the circumstances.

Most people want to be engaged and happy, yet they argue to be right, Price says. They complain when someone on the team messes up, and they question why they have to deal with that. But judging other team members isn’t helpful, she says. Employees need to stop judging and start helping.

Rule No. 3
Buy-in is not optional. Price says employees need to remember that once a decision has been made, it’s their actions—not their opinions—that add value. Feedback and resistance aren’t the same. Employees opposed to a plan may claim to be offering useful feedback when they’re really just resisting the plan

Rule No. 4
Change is opportunity. Price explains that some people are resistant to change, others—the disengaged—don’t care, and others are “in vision.” Employees in resistance mode see change as a threat, something out to hurt them. HR faces long odds when trying to change them. People in vision are naturally accountable and resourceful. If they don’t like an employer’s culture, they leave, creating regrettable turnover.

Those in the middle are the ones HR has the highest probability of bringing around. “They go where the love is,” Price says. “So if you spend more time with people in resistance, you move your culture more toward one of resistance. If you spend more time with your people in vision, then you can move your culture to one that’s more accountable, more engaged, more visionary.”

Rule No. 5
Employees will always face extenuating circumstances, Price says, and the engaged employees who are accountable are the ones that have learned how to deliver in tough situations.

“Circumstances are not the reason why we can’t succeed,” Price says. “Circumstances are the realities in which we must succeed.”