How Do You Know Your Employees Are Engaged?

We All Want Employee Engagement, But True Engagement Is Hard To Measure.

A big part of my career has been spent trying to bridge the gap between what managers perceive their employees are thinking and the reality of what employees are thinking. It would surprise you how often managers’ perceptions are quite different that what the real scoop is.

As a leader, you must understand that people will often tell you what they think you want to hear versus what the truth is. It does not make people bad or evil when they do that, it is actually pretty normal behavior for subordinates when talking to their bosses. I am pretty sure you cover some bad news issues from your boss from time to time also.

One area that a lot of managers are somewhat blind to is whether their employees are truly engaged on the job. We all know that engaged employees tend to perform better and are more motivated. Given those realities, a lot of companies invest a great deal of money, time and energy into pursuing employee engagement at all levels of their organization. They implement attitude surveys, get managers to coach employees more, set up formal recognition programs, enhance growth and development opportunities, etc. If you and your company have been doing similar things, my question to you is – are your employees more engaged now, and if so how do you know?

Clear Method

When a company makes huge investments in the pursuit of employee engagement, it is imperative that they have some clear method of measuring how successful those investments have been. The following are some ways to be clearer about the true level of employee engagement in your organization.

Watch for performance improvement. Everyone has key metrics that they monitor on a regular basis. Quantity, quality, timeliness, cost, customer service are just a few. If employees are truly engaged, you should see measureable improvement in your key metrics over time. Not right away, because employees are naturally skeptical of new initiatives. However, after 6 months to a year, you should begin to see some solid improvement trends. If you are not seeing substantial improvements, you need to start asking tougher questions of the rest of your management team.

Employee Attitudes

Find out employee attitudes. I have seen companies who point to improvements in employee attitude surveys as an indicator of engagement. I have also seen managers really turn on the praise, feedback, involvement, etc. just before the survey is done to hopefully influence the scores. You do not want spikes in attitudes like that. You want long-term, sustainable positive attitude and motivation across the workforce.

In addition to surveys, do some skip level meetings to hear from employees first hand. Walk around and get anecdotal evidence of morale yourself. If employees are not comfortable talking to you that is not a sign of an engaged workforce. Get a professional to facilitate some focus groups, armed with questions that you want to know answers to. Surveys are great, but are only one tool to help determine true employee engagement.

Engagement Reviews

Hold regular employee engagement reviews. Just like you have budget reviews, strategy reviews and sales reviews, have regular employee engagement reviews with all the managers. Have everyone report on employee engagement in their part of the company.

Be careful that they do not just report on activities. Make sure they show measureable improvement in key metrics and how employee engagement is tied to those improvements. Just like any other part of the business, if there are gaps between where engagement truly is and where you think it should be, do some action planning and hold people accountable for implementation of those plans.

Have your managers review other departments. One of my clients has had great success with this tool. A manager from one plant will spend a week at another plant with a set agenda to review. That agenda includes all the elements that should be happening to achieve employee engagement.

It is kind of like an operations/employee engagement audit, but it is done by a peer not a corporate department. Since the visiting manager knows what to look for and how it can go wrong, he/she can get right to the issues and not have the wool pulled over their eyes. Reviewing progress this way gives a much more comprehensive view than a quarterly 2 hour meeting reviewing employee engagement when the regional vice president is in town.

Seeking employee engagement, buy-in and ownership is a worthwhile endeavor for all leaders in your organization. Achieving high levels of engagement will show up on the bottom line, absolutely, but only if you know what you are looking for and do not settle for anything less.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].

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