Category Archives: Engagement

Maybe Engagement Doesn’t Really Matter

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When Gallup released the most recent State of the American Workforce Report the engagement news was not good. Here’s what the report said:

“Currently, 30% of the U.S. workforce is engaged in their work, and the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is roughly 2-to-1, meaning that the vast majority of U.S. workers (70%) are not reaching their full potential — a problem that has significant implications for the economy and the individual performance of American companies.”

Because the basic premise is that organizations with highly engaged workforces produce better results than those with less engaged workforces, I was surprised that the press didn’t make more of this data. I wrote about it here, but it was about creating the business case for caring about whether or not employees are or are not engaged. I guess the overall sad state of engagement in the U.S. is a given and not newsworthy anymore.

But I saw some new Galllup survey data that, frankly, raises new questions for me, and makes me wonder if “engagement” is really what we should be measuring. And if “engagement” and stronger financial performance really are causal, as Gallup implies.

The survey question was “If you won $10 million in the lottery, would you continue to work, or would you stop working?” So a rational person might think, “Well, if 30% of the workforce is engaged and 70% of the workforce is not engaged, then probably 70% of the workforce would quit their jobs if they found themselves $10 million richer.” Wouldn’t you think that? I certainly did.

So imagine my surprise to see that the response to this survey question is exactly the opposite of what we would have expected! 68% of polled working adults said they’d keep working and 31% said they would quit. Exactly the opposite!

Gallup win the lottery 1I’m confused. But then I thought I had it figured out when I looked at the next question, which asked those who said they’d continue working if they’d stay in the same job or take a different job. “Aha!” I thought to myself. “The people who said they’d continue to work would surely take another job – a job in an organization that would be more engaging since they’re all not engaged.” But no. Nearly half of those said they’d even stay in the same job!

Gallup win the lottery 2

Now I’m really confused. Maybe it’s financial. Except that the positive trajectory to stay in the same job started way before the recession of 2009. So it may not be financially motivated. In fact, $10 million buys a lot less in 2013 than it did in 2005 – and still the percentage of workers saying they’d stay in the same job has grown substantially.

So what’s the deal? Does engagement even matter? If 67% of the population will continue to work after winning $10 million – and fully half of those will stay in the job they currently have, why do we care about engagement scores? Does engagement really matter?

Enquiring minds want to know!

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Filed under China Gorman, Data Point Tuesday, Engagement, Gallup, Winning the Lottery

Performance and Engagement: No More Smoke and Mirrors

data point tuesday_500 I was talking with the CEO and CMO of a startup software company in the HCM space yesterday. One of the things we talked about was the ready availability of data that link organizational performance with employee engagement. No longer the stuff of smoke and mirrors, the correlation between higher revenue, lower costs and greater customer satisfaction with employee engagement is rock solid. Whether the data come from academic researchers, think tanks, research/analysis firms or other interested parties, we can cite legitimate sources to underpin our ROI calculations. (See previous posts here and here.)

Gallup’s recently released State of the American Workforce is one example of such data. In the “From the CEO” introduction, Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton says:

“Here’s what you need to know:  Gallup research has found that the top 25% of teams – the best managed – versus the bottom 25% in any workplace – the worst managed – have nearly 50% fewer accidents and have 41% fewer quality defects. What’s more, teams in the top 25% versus the bottom 25% incur far less in healthcare costs. So having too few engaged employees means our workplaces are less safe, employees have more quality defects, and disengagement – which results from terrible managers – is driving up the country’s healthcare costs.”

Here’s the corresponding chart from the report:

Gallup Engagement KPIx

You may or may not have an opinion about Gallup’s Q12  methodology, but the longitudinal nature of their data — together with their periodic meta-analysis — says to me that their findings have weight. We can take to the bank – and to our CEOs and CFOs – the relationship between higher engagement and stronger organizational performance.

This is the data of sound and persuasive business cases for investing in the well-being of our employees. Take a look at the Gallup findings. You’ll find something that will spark an ah-ha moment. Or maybe two or three.

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Filed under China Gorman, Data Point Tuesday, Employee Engagement, Engagement, Gallup

Shooting Ourselves in the Foot Isn’t an Effective Engagement Strategy

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Recent headlines from Gallup proclaiming that college-educated Americans are less engaged on the job than other cohorts may have spurred some conversation among HR leaders and professionals. Engagement, that elusive component to organizational success, is the holy grail many employers chase. And Gallup, the grand surveyor of people on all topics, has regularly published engagement data that either convinces us that engagement is a fraud or that we have to try harder to win over our workforces.

A recent USA TODAY article, “Higher education = lower joy on job?” quoted Gallup findings as well as findings from this report: “Why Are Recent College Graduates Underemployed?” from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. The justaposition of these two sources shows an interesting picture.

Here’s Gallup’s data:

Gallup Engagement by Education 2013

So. According to Gallup, the most engaged group of workers are those who have earned a high school diploma or less.  And the least engaged group of workers are those who have earned a college degree. By themselves, the numbers are almost interesting. By themselves, the bigger news is that the numbers show that less than a third of the workforce is engaged, and more than two-thirds of the workforce is either not engaged or actively disengaged. OK. That’s interesting and cause for concern.

But put this Gallup data into the blender with this data from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and it gets a little more interesting:

College Grads Underemployed 2013

If nearly half of all American workers with college degrees are in jobs that do not require a college degree, might that have something to do with their level of engagement? Are nearly half of our college educated workforce bored on the job?

And if they are, and if we’re concerned about engagement, why are we putting them into jobs for which they are overqualified? Would high school graduates be more engaged and perform better? Would those better performers positively impact the financial performance of their employers?

The Center also asserts that

“past and projected future growth in college enrollments and the number of graduates exceeds the actual or projected growth in high-skilled jobs, explain the development of the underemployment problem and its probable worsening in future years.”

So they believe the engagement problem will grow worse – if there really is a causal relationship between engagement levels and the over-qualification of many of our workers.

What do we make of this? Well, I do think it’s common sense to believe that people who are significantly over-educated for the jobs they hold could well be bored and unengaged. But I also think that in this economy, many are grateful to have any job, over-educated or not. What that means for engagement is unclear to me. Except that Gallup, being the last word in survey data, shows a clear line between education levels and engagement.

shoe with bullet holeWhile this might be above my pay grade, I’m willing to make a leap here and suggest that hiring overqualified workers might not be the best strategy for boosting engagement. If we truly believe that engaged workers have a demonstrably positive impact on an organization’s financial performance – and that’s been the HR mantra for a number of years – then we are probably shooting ourselves in the foot by requiring college degrees for jobs that truly don’t need them.

I’ve written this before: the over-inflation of job requirements in job descriptions isn’t putting the unemployed in this country back to work. And now we know it isn’t helping organizational performance. Hmmm…

I’ll bet we can agree on this:  shooting ourselves in the foot isn’t an effective engagement strategy.

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Filed under Center for College Affordability and Productivity, China Gorman, Data Point Tuesday, Education Deficit, Engagement, Gallup, Job Descriptions

The Tip of the Engagement Spear

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BlessingWhite’s Employee Engagement Research Update has recently been released.  It’s an update to their massive research published in 2011. Measuring engagement is tricky – from gaining consensus on terms and definitions, to crafting survey questions that generate useful answers, to identifying key findings, to agreeing on recommendations – it’s all very tricky.

BlessingWhite does a good job managing the trickiness.  But truthfully, there’s not a lot of difference in engagement scores globally since their 2011 findings.

Here’s what caught my attention, though, as it did 2 years ago, as I read through the report:  a greater percentage of the workforce trust their managers more than they trust the executives in their organizations.

This makes sense, right? Managers have day-to-day interaction with their colleagues and can get to know them in personal ways. Executives, on the other hand, rarely have one-to-one interaction with the majority of the employees their organization. And the survey results show the difference in trust levels.

I trust my manager BW 2013

I trust senior leaders BW 2013

It’s a good thing that employees in North America trust their managers more than they trust their senior leaders because there’s a high correlation between engagement and trust in managers. Or maybe it’s the other way around.  Either way, BlessingWhite points out that while engaged employees have other factors that motivate them – like interesting work, a sense of contribution and career aspirations – less-engaged employees are far more dependent on knowing their manager personally to reach higher levels of engagement.

This makes managers the tip of the engagement spear. And why we spend so much time focused on managerial effectiveness in almost every category of performance.

Not so with senior leaders, which is understandable because they don’t have the ability to interact personally with every employee, as BlessingWhite points out.  But they do have the responsibility to set the direction of the culture, communicate that direction with a “clear line-of-sight” throughout the organization, and create a culture that fuels engagement and business results. In other words, set the managers up for success in engaging their teams in more personal ways.

The CASE model, reviewed briefly at the end of the report, focuses senior leaders to fulfill four key workforce needs in building and leading their cultures:

  • Community for a sense of belonging and purpose
  • Authenticity  as a basis for trust and inspiration
  • Significance to recognize individuals’ contributions
  • Excitement to constantly encourage – and raise the bar on – high performance

It’s a good message for executives. It’s a great message for managers. It’s a call-to-action message for HR to know how to help executives drive performance and grow their culture while supporting managers to make more personal connections.

Engagement isn’t the answer to every organizational challenge. But it does seem clear that highly engaged workplaces are more productive than less engaged workforces. And almost every organizational challenge I can think of gets solved more effectively and faster with an engaged workforce working the solution and being led by managers who are personally leading the way.

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Filed under BlessingWhite, China Gorman, Connecting Dots, Data Point Tuesday, Engagement, HR Data, Managerial Effectiveness, Workforce Management

From the Archives: Job security is the #1 talent attraction magnet. Wait. What?

This was originally published on April 17, 2012.  It’s worth repeating…

In doing some research for a speech I’m giving, I came across The Talent Management and Rewards Imperative for 2012 from Towers Watson and WorldatWork.  It’s chock full of interesting data based on the 2011/2012 Towers Watson North American Talent Management and Rewards Survey and an unpublished Towers Watson 2011 survey of over 10,000 full-time employees in North America on topics such as total rewards, communication and other work-related issues.  Because I’ve been looking at data about the state of the talent pipeline (see Data Points #3, #5, #6), I thought this would be interesting reading.  Little did I know!

A couple of the data points that stood out to me challenge the “conventional wisdom.”  See what you think:

  • Only 11% of organizations have trouble retaining employees generally
  • Fully 68% of organizations identify high potentials, but only 28% inform those employees who have been identified.
  • Organizations underestimate the effect work-related stress and work/life balance have on employee retention, and do not recognized the significance of job security in attracting top talent.

Wait.  What?

It’s the last point that brought me up short.  Look at the chart below.

There are important disconnects between what employees report will attract them into a new job and what employers believe will be important in attracting talent into their organizations.  And if you look at the differing views between employers and high potential performers you’ll be even more surprised.

In all of the writing on this topic that I have seen in the last 18 months, no one else reports the significant importance of job security as part of an organization’s EVP (employee value proposition).  And look how it ranks as #1 for all employees as well as high-potential employees.  #1.

Not meaningful work.  Not alignment with the organization’s mission.  Job security.  Am I the only one surprised by this finding?

Look at the disconnect between the top 5 factors for all employees and employers’ top 5 factors.  Outside of base pay it’s a total mismatch!

On the high-potential performers side, outside of base pay and career development opportunity it’s a total mismatch!

It looks like we’re totally out to lunch when it comes to knowing what’s motivating in terms of EVP and the talent pipeline.  Out. To. Lunch.

In a world that observes the incredible talent acquisition strategies and investments at organizations like Zappos, PepsiCo, Rackspace and AT&T, we’re encouraged to believe that creating cultures of happiness and engagement are what it takes to delight customers and retain employees – high potential or otherwise.  And I chose those organizations because I know the ground-breaking work each is doing in terms of building their talent communities and the engagement of their workforce.  They truly are ground breaking.

It turns out talent attraction may be a bit more mundane than “creating a little weirdness.”

It turns out that some of the basics like job security and base pay still hold huge sway in our workforce.  And I think this is good news.  It gives” regular” employers doing good work and being good to their employees a fighting chance to keep their employees and attract the talent they’ll need going forward.

Basic blocking and tackling.  Basic management competence.  Basic HR.  Can’t get away from them if you want your organization to succeed.

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Filed under AT&T, Business Success, Career Planning, China Gorman, Culture, Engagement, HR, Talent Management, Talent pipeline

Connecting Dots: Employee-style

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Back in July, I referenced data from the Glassdoor Q2 2012 Employment Confidence Survey.  If you’ll recall, this quarterly survey monitors four key indicators of employee confidence:  job security, company outlook, salary expectations and re-hire probability.  The Q4 2012 Survey from Glassdoor is out and the results are interesting.

It’s probably not shocking to anyone who reads this blog that half (51%) of employees (including self-employed people) will consider looking for a new Glassdoor logojob if the state of the economy stays the same or improves, with 33% looking for a new job in less than a year and nearly one in five (18%) planning to look for a new job in the next three months.  We’re hearing that our employee base is not engaged and other sources have said that as much as 90% of the employed population will look for a new job in 2013.

Glassdoor ECS Q412 - consider looking for a new job

What’s interesting to me is that, if you look at other data points in this survey, it makes perfect sense that a high percentage of employees think they’ll look for work this year. Why?  Well, according to the survey, 39% of employees don’t expect a pay or cost-of-living increase in 2013 and 21% aren’t sure if they’ll get an increase this year.

Glassdoor ECS Q412 - salary-expectations (2)

So.  60% of employees don’t think – or aren’t sure – they’ll get an increase this year.  I’m thinking that has something to do with the percentage of employees who will be looking for a new job this year.  And guess what?  The most important factor these employees say that will influence their decision on whether or not to accept a job offer is…wait for it…salary and compensation!

Employees are pretty good at connecting dots:

I don’t think I’m going to get a raise this year   +

I’ll be looking for a new job this year  =

The most important factor in my decision to accept a new job will be the salary and compensation

Makes perfect sense to me.

But I also think that a majority of employees will receive raises of some sort this year.  Even small ones.  So why do so many think that there is no soup for them?

Perhaps we’re causing this supposed exodus ourselves by not communicating clearly – at the employee level – what our compensations plans for this year are.  Or, maybe we’re being extremely clear and they don’t believe us.

Either way, it’s a problem.  Either way, we should never forget that our employees are smart and know how to connect the dots.

Maybe it’s time we do the same.

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Filed under China Gorman, Compensation, Connecting Dots, Employee Loyalty, Engagement, Glassdoor, HR Data

From the Archives: Stick a Fork in Annual Performance Review Systems

While I’m traveling, I thought I’d re-post one of the most popular Data Point Tuesday posts from 2012.  Enjoy.

Today’s data points come from two recent surveys:  one from Achievers and one from Cornerstone OnDemand.  Both surveys show clearly that annual performance review systems’ time has come.  It’s over.  Time to stick a fork in them.

Well, it’s time to stick a fork in them if you’re interested in providing the kind of feedback to your employees that is focused on growing their skills, binding them closer to the organization and engaging their full and discretionary energy.

Let’s look first at the Achievers data.  As part of a survey fielded in April of this year, employees were asked how frequently they would like to receive feedback from their managers.  HR professionals and CEOs were asked how frequently they thought employees in their organizations would like to receive feedback from their managers.  Do the answers surprise you?

No surprise that employees would like to receive feedback immediately or on the spot – or at least weekly.  Maybe a bit of a surprise that both HR professionals and CEOs know this.  Here’s the question, though:  if employees, HR professionals and CEOs all know that employees don’t want feedback in an annual context, then why are the majority of performance feedback systems in use today based on an annual model?

Making matters worse, Cornerstone OnDemand published survey results from late 2011 with related findings:

  • only 37% of employees report that they’ve been given useful feedback from their manager/employer in the performance review process
  • Only 32% said that their performance goals are aligned with their company’s business objectives
  • Only 20% have established career goals with their manager/employer

So.  Annual feedback systems satisfy no one from a frequency perspective.  And feedback systems in general are not providing useful feedback for employee skill growth or engagement – or in line with business objectives.

At this point you could say, “Yikes!” and start moaning.

Or, you could say, “This looks like an opportunity for HR to make a significant contribution to the success of the business!” and start collecting similar data from your organization to identify whether this opportunity is real.  If it is real, I see the building of a compelling business case in your future – just in time for the FY2013 budget planning process.

And a new more powerful way to engage employees and manage performance in your organization could be right around the corner.

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Filed under Achievers, Annual Performance Reviews, Business Case, Business Success, China Gorman, Cornerstone OnDemand, Engagement, HR Data, Performance Feedback

Fighting for a Pessimistic Workforce

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OK.  So there’s an awful lot to be pessimistic about these days.  That goes for Baby Boomers, Millennials and Xers.  That goes for your workforce.

There’s the economy, the unemployment rate, cost of benefits, the fiscal cliff, taxes, the soaring price of college educations, the high school dropout rate…  There’s a lot. And Mercer has captured some critical information about how this pessimism – that isn’t going away – is coloring the views of the future held by many of your employees.

The questions we need to ask ourselves are:  how do I engage and motivate a workforce mired in pessimism, and, how do I (we) counteract a perceived environment of scarcity?

The recently published 12th annual 2012 Mercer Workplace Survey provides results that should give any HR professional more than a momentary woah! as we think about these questions. The survey has a cross-section of active 401(k) participants who were also enrolled in their employer’s health plan.  1,656 participants were interviewed online in June of this year.

The high points include:

  • US employees are still concerned about saving enough for retirement
  • Workers over 50 are more concerned than their younger counterparts about their job security and have much lower retirement expectations
  • Workers perceive that the value of their benefits has dropped

If you haven’t surveyed your workforce lately, this report’s results might just motivate you to start asking some questions.  Questions beyond, would you recommend our organization as a good place to work?

Other nuggets from the survey:

  • 36% of the respondents over 50 are still concerned about losing their jobs, its highest level since 2007 (25%)
  • a survey record 44% of all respondents have considered delaying their retirement – with 59% of those aged 50+ considering delaying their retirement, up four points from last year
  • 62% of those over 50 believe they will have to work at least part time when they do retire vs. 48% of younger workers

Mercer Putting Off Retirement

Data like this can be helpful in knowing what questions to ask yourselves and your workforce as you deal with the talent challenges that face most organizations.

  1. If Baby Boomers are putting off retirement indefinitely, how do we keep the Millennials who want those jobs engaged and continuing to develop their skills?
  2. If all workers – and Baby Boomers in particular – are concerned about job security how do collaboration and innovation fare in a culture of perceived scarcity?
  3. If Baby Boomers believe that they’ll have to work part time once they do retire, how can we harness that experience in a win-win solution?

Pessimism is insidious.  It worms its way into your workforce and destroys your employees’ visions (and expectations) of a bright future for your organization and for them.  While it’s true that many of the concerns that are driving employee pessimism are out of your control (the fiscal cliff, taxes, politics, healthcare costs, etc.), you need to find powerful, positive evidence in the organization that will counteract the pessimism attacking from the outside:  a strong, ethical culture; authentic and transparent leadership; a focus on employee and customer engagement; commitment to learning and development – all of these can convince a workforce that, although the outside world may not be as friendly as it could be or once was, the inside world of your organization is a place worthy of the investment of time, commitment and heart.

Of course, you have to believe that first.

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Filed under Baby Boomers, China Gorman, Connecting Dots, Engagement, GenX, HR Data, Mercer, Millennials, Retirement Planning, Talent Management

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the C-Suite…

The Career Engagement Group from New Zealand recently conducted  an online survey of over 1,000 employed people ages 18-65.  The focus of the survey was to understand the career aspirations, agility and drivers of the current workforce across key demographics such as gender, age and career stage.

Maybe because the survey originated in New Zealand, some different questions were asked than the usual employee engagement surveys we see so routinely today.  It’s always good to get a different take on what’s important.

One of the subjects covered that seemed out of the ordinary was Leadership Aspiration.  Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I’ve ever been asked – in the many engagement and career development surveys I’ve taken – if I wanted to lead at the most senior level in an organization.  It’s a great question.  And the answers surprised me.  How about you?

Leadership Aspirations & Gender & Generations

  • Only 11% of all respondents want to lead at the most senior level in an organization.
  • Women report lower leadership aspirations than men – 15% of all males aspire to senior leadership positions, while only 9% of all females had similar aspirations.
  • Younger people have higher leadership aspirations overall.

Hmmm.  Only 11% of all respondents want to lead at the most senior level in an organization!  That surprises me.  A lot.  I would have loved to have seen the breakdown in responses by age group as well as gender.  Because I might have thought that the younger generations might be less interested in the stress and costs of leadership at the top than their older colleagues, but the results say otherwise according to the Career Engagement Group.

And women being less interested in leadership at the top than men?  That’s kind of a show stopper, don’t you think?  With more and more women entering the workforce around the world, this finding should be concerning.  Many industry-leading organizations are working hard to keep women in their organizations – maybe they should also be more encouraging about the value and rewards of life at the top.  According to this survey, there aren’t a lot of people — male or female –dreaming about being the CEO and making plans to get to the top.

When the demographics are already working against us (see my posts here and here) and the C-Suite is justifiably concerned about where the next generation of leaders is coming from, perhaps what’s needed is a marketing campaign to encourage workers to reach for the top.

What do you think?

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Filed under C-suite, Career Development, Career Planning, CEOs, China Gorman, Connecting Dots, Demographics, Engagement, HR Data, Leadership Aspiration, Talent development, Talent pipeline

Best-in-Class Engagement Metrics

The Aberdeen Group just published a fascinating report, The Rules of Employee Engagement:  Communicating, Collaborating and Aligning with the Business, that looks at what best-in-class organizations are doing about engagement and why they’re doing it.  Author Madeline Laurano takes a pretty deep dive into the subject and her analysis reveals some pretty intriguing conclusions.  What hooked me from the start were the three metrics for performance criteria to distinguish best-in-class companies for employee engagement:

  • 71% of employees exceeded performance expectations, compared to 14% of Laggard organizations
  • 85% of 1st choice candidates accepted an offer, compared to 8% of Laggards
  • 72% of employees rated themselves highly engaged, compared to 9% of employees of Laggard organizations

Most of the statistics we see about the value of engagement focus on tying engagement scores to financial outcomes.  No question:  we need that.  Data about the outcomes of engagement are helpful in building business cases for investing in the employee experience.

But tying other types of outcomes to higher engagement scores can also be helpful – like the number of 1st choice candidates accepting employment offers.  If a talent shortage truly is the number 1 concern of CEOs and their boards around the world, as the latest Lloyd’s Risk Survey suggests, then strategies that effectively raise the likelihood of securing the top talent you go after should be of interest. And it makes sense that A+ talent likes to affiliate with other A+ talent.

And connecting the dots between engagement outcomes and high levels of individual employee performance also makes sense.  I’ve long wondered at the value of trumpeting the engagement scores of every employee — when we all know that it’s the most effective employees’ opinions we care most about.  Linking employee performance and engagement scores makes a great deal of sense to me.

Take a look at the report.  I think you’ll find the data extremely useful.

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Filed under Business Case, Business Success, China Gorman, Connecting Dots, Economist Intelligence Unit, Engagement, HR, HR Data, Lloyd's, Performance Feedback