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Employee Engagement - Myth or Reality?

 Employee Engagement - Myth or Reality?


Engaged Employees are a huge asset for any organization. In fact Employee Engagement has been occupying the centre stage in the agendas of HR professionals particularly over the last decade. Engagement being the panacea for managing employee attrition, enhancing retention, increasing productivity and employee discretionary contribution is all too good to be true. With the changing dynamics in the Talent market and the vulnerability organizations in India Inc have been experiencing, there is no escaping the omnipotent Employee Engagement Survey and the initiatives to capture the hearts and the minds of employees en route the Best Employer journey.


But as more organizations focus on standardized concepts of Employee Engagement that can easily be benchmarked, the competitive advantage or differentiation that organizations can build through a culture of Employee Engagement declines or gets diminished.


Therefore smart organizations that are looking for a game changer strategy on people ask themselves what is beyond Employee Engagement? Are there more astute ways of analyzing and optimizing the human drivers of achieving the organization’s business results?


There are a number of myths associated with Employee Engagement that can get in the way, but Strategic HR professionals can get past this by focusing on the broader concepts of human capital management. Let’s explore some of these myths:


Myth No 1: The key drivers of Employee Engagement are the same everywhere:


Employee Engagement is the outcome that is generally measured by the questions asked in a survey – such as their willingness to refer their current employer to others as a great employer or their intent to continue staying with their current employer etc.


Drivers of engagement are the factors that contribute to this outcome. When comparable surveys are used across different organizations, it is possible to identify which drivers are similar or not similar across a range of organizations.


A deeper analysis of the questions reveals that the true drivers of Employee Engagement across different organizations are consistently more different than similar. This may be true even among businesses within the same industry. Engagement like Leadership is situational. Different organizations even in the same industry have different cultures, histories, strengths, areas of improvement.


The most important engagement drivers in one company are unlikely to be as important in another company. Therefore this one-size-fits-all strategy using a benchmarked list of engagement drivers- usually derived from average results across several hundreds of organizations does not seem to make sense.


Myth No 2: Employee Engagement drivers and the drivers of business results are the same


Employee surveys could easily be used to collect information or factors that influence business results such as sales, customer satisfaction, safety- with a subsequent analysis which can identify the factors which are the most important drivers of each outcome.


The top drivers of Employee Engagement generally have little or no overlap with top drivers of Business results. Therefore a unilateral focus on improving the drivers of Employee Engagement alone through initiatives that may positively impact the most important engagement drivers, are unlikely to improve (say) sales or safety performances which may be important drivers for achieving business results.


Myth No 3: Employee Engagement must be maximized if you want to maximize business results


As drivers of Employee Engagement and drivers of business results are not the same, attempting to maximize Employee Engagement through only focusing on the drivers on Employee Engagement alone, does not guarantee maximizing business results.


Employee Engagement at best can be a mechanism for ensuring the organization has its heart in the right place, has mechanisms to deliver on the organization’s Employer Value Propositions and has the ability to establish an important emotional connect with its employees that may evoke discretionary efforts in many, thereby creating the conditions for achieving greater business results. Since the drivers of Employee Engagement and the drivers of business results are not the same, HR professionals who measure engagement without understanding what’s driving the business results may miss the opportunity for aligning their efforts with the efforts to address the real organizational business challenges.


Having busted these myths associated with Employee Engagement, the question that looms large then is what can organizations/ HR /Learning professionals do to move beyond Employee Engagement? Here are a few questions to reflect on before we do that:


-         Is the term engagement just being used as a new term for motivation in this decade?

-         Are employees truly engaged when they are driven to engagement? What is the impact of using the word ‘drivers’ for engagement?

-         Will engagement always be shaped as a bell curve regardless of what an organization does?

-         Are new challenges created when we remove the responsibility of Employee Engagement from Employees? What happens when we tell Managers and Leaders that they are responsible for Employee Engagement?

-         Is there any such thing as discretionary effort or is all effort ultimately discretionary?

-         What are we unconsciously communicating in an organization with anonymous surveys? Does authentic engagement require a name and face?

-         Is the primary focus of engagement strategic and long term or tactical and short term?

-         Does Employee Engagement come with expensive price tags, high priced consultants and expensive programs?


All these are pertinent questions to reflect on as organizations move the needle on Employee Engagement internally to become magnets of talent.


That Leaders are in the space of occupational intimacy to influence positive engagement is unquestionable- but must employees not meet the Leader/Employer more than halfway in his own journey of engagement?


While many leading organizations have engaged high priced consultants to embark on this important journey preferring to use proven researched and validated approaches to driving Employee Engagement, several leading organizations have designed their own questionnaires constituting drivers that are important for addressing their unique business challenges, in the context of their culture which can help them measure what matters the most.


The debate on whether ‘motivation’ is a better word, whether ‘employee satisfaction’ and ‘employee engagement’ is the same conceptually and also whether we have forgotten about ‘employee commitment’ in this journey are all important considerations.


Employee satisfaction is the extent to which the employee is satisfied and approves of the Employers attempt to deliver on his promise. Employee commitment is the extent to which an employee will go the extra mile to deliver on the organization’s agenda, while Employee Engagement is the extent to which the employee is willing to proactively act on behalf of the Employer to help the organization succeed. It is proactive discretionary effort that presumes the employee is satisfied, approves of the employer, is committed to deliver on the job but moves beyond all this to positively intervene on behalf of his Employer, offer positive advocacy to other potential employees enables the organization to succeed through delivering superior quality business results.


Where can we go from here - Using Employee Engagement to formulate a smart human capital management strategy


For HR/Learning folks to move beyond only measuring and benchmarking standardized concepts and drivers of Employee Engagement, organizations must:


1)     Develop/ design a smarter employee engagement survey

2)     Link the measures of human capital management statistically to business results

3)     Use the results that emerge to develop a robust, fact based human capital strategy


Employee Engagement surveys normally ignore integral aspects of the organization’s work learning, leadership, environment and culture- all elements of which are powerful drivers of business results. Survey questionnaires must be designed to include aspects of human capital management such as work processes, informal and social learning, Leadership behaviors and communication. Employee engagement drivers must be combined with people related drivers of business results.


The next step constitutes using human capital analytics and linking these to measures of business outcomes. The soft measures can emerge from an Employee Engagement survey, the hard ones such as employee turnover, safety, customer satisfaction, sales must then be statistically linked to develop a linkage analysis to gain meaningful insights for developing a fact based Human Capital Management Strategy.


This approach can provide organizations business intelligence- the facts and evidence needed to invest in human capital factors that most impact business results. This can help organizations move beyond guesswork and understand what is really driving/ influencing business outcomes, thereby avoiding the benchmarking against the one-size fits-all measures.


This is perhaps a more astute way of drawing the organization’s attention to the ‘soft’ measures and draw attention to the power of positive Employee Engagement by establishing the linkages with the ‘hard’ measures which are so crucial for achieving business results. Otherwise Employee Engagement has the potential of becoming part of an organization’s or Leader’s (CEO’s) short term strategy, a fad filled with programs and initiatives rather than a long-term strategic initiative to garner strategic advantage through differentiation. Far too many organizations are riding the Employee Engagement bandwagon in their bid of keeping up with competitors, getting carried away with the glamour of being listed as a Best Employer/ Dream Organization to work for and missing the real forest for the trees. It is not uncommon for organizations to get carried away with the Best Practices of Great Employers and mistaking socialization activities and other fun and joy initiatives to be drivers for enhancing Employee Engagement.


Employee Engagement is not a program, it is not an event, it cannot be caused by copying a best practice. Employee Engagement is caused organically through an Employer’s honest intention to deliver on its Employer Value Propositions, through Leadership that is inspiring and employee- oriented, through offering employees differentiated learning and career opportunities that inspire their own journey of excellence and prompting discretionary contributions. Employee Engagement is caused through several cultural levers of engagement being in place to capture the hearts and minds of the Leaders, the Teams, the people who constitute the organization, who want to go the extra mile, get emotionally connected to the organization and to their Leaders. HR/Learning professionals desirous of strategically making their human capital their key differentiator to sustain business success must focus on linking Employee Engagement factors to drivers of business performance. Only then can we hope to create sustainable organizations that are future-ready.


Employee Engagement is about Leadership, Employee Engagement is about Employee Ownership and advocacy, but most of all Employee Engagement is about creating the right conditions to enable real business success.


The Views Expressed Here Are Personal Of The Author And Not Representative Of The Organization In Any Way. 


Profile: Dr. Sujaya Banerjee, Chief Talent Officer & Senior VP at  Essar Group

Publsihed With Permission.