Here today, gone tomorrow. Or perhaps, in a month.
This is the unfortunate fate of many corporate engagement programs—from mission statements to employee surveys to improvement initiatives. Focus fades quickly after fanfare-laden rollouts fall victim to everyday routine, and attention shifts to another POM-POM (Program of the Month, Program of the Minute).
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The demise of an engagement program is avoidable, with the help of a disciplined measurement system that keeps managers and employees accountable for being engaged and supporting the program’s success. Forward-thinking organizations see and seize the value of capturing, tracking and reporting real-time engagement data.
So what do you measure, and how do you measure it in order to sustain engagement and achieve your organization’s goals? Here’s a three-tiered approach you can follow:
First, evaluate current employee engagement. Look at things like whether people are completing tasks on time.
Next, examine the impact of this engagement on individual and team performance. Specifically, look at employees’ knowledge and levels of interest in the work they do.
Finally, measure outcomes. What is the impact of engagement on aspects of business performance such as productivity, quality or cost?
Developing an employee engagement program
Here’s an example from a client of mine: a high-tech, global organization. Faced with breakdowns in employee communication and trust, we developed a major engagement program that included a new practice for senior leaders. The practice—called a workplace walk-around—was designed to increase leaders’ visibility and approachability, as well as to improve direct, two-way communication between company executives and frontline employees.
Under the new walk-around practice, each week, all members of the senior leadership team were assigned a different building or department to visit in order to meet with employees. The new program got leaders out of their offices and into real work areas. Employees now had the opportunity to meet, on their own turf, with leaders—a rare occurrence. They also had the opportunity to give filter-free feedback directly to leaders—another rare occurrence. Conversations, not PowerPoint charts, guided open discussions about business goals, initiatives and performance.
Managing an employee engagement program
The program wasn’t managed by a communication or HR department. Rather, a diverse team of frontline employees ran it. This action team managed scheduling—a daunting task as assignments changed weekly. For instance, one week a leader would meet with loading-dock workers, and the next week with accountants in the finance office. Leaders traveled alone to their walk-around destinations—no entourages were allowed. In addition, they were given guidelines and some coaching on how to act and engage in informal conversations about the business and what was on employees’ minds.
Once the 30-minute, informal session was over, a trained, designated associate completed a brief summary assessment and filed it with the action team. The program operated with a closed-loop process, an asset for designing measurement for engagement programs. Closed-loop cycle processes thrive on feedback and data to validate actions that are planned and then executed. With real-time data in hand, a practice can be evaluated for what’s working and what’s not, and then corrective actions can be developed and applied to improve the practice as well as to ensure accountability. Operating with real performance data is a tremendous asset for improving practices (versus simply repeating them as routine), and for holding people accountable.
During the walk-around program’s initial month, nearly 100 percent of leaders actively participated. However, as the weeks went by, momentum stalled. Sizzle was replaced by fizzle. Participation rates dipped below 60 percent. The fast-fade factor was taking over.
Implementing a disciplined measurement system
Enter a disciplined measurement system. Good intent wasn’t enough to keep engagement robust. Actions and accountability needed to be tracked. A three-tiered measurement model was applied. Here’s how:
1. A program scorecard was created to measure leader engagement. The scorecard was formatted to include the names of the senior leaders on the vertical axis and the program time line on the horizontal axis. Each week, the results of leaders’ actions were posted on the scorecard using a color-coding system: Green indicated the leader was fully engaged and successfully completed the walk-around; red—the leader didn’t show up; yellow—the leader was late to his/her assigned walk-around area and/or didn’t fully finish the activity. This first step involved getting leaders onto the field and engaged in a new, two-way communication practice.
2. Periodic checks were conducted to assess workforce engagement. The next opportunity for measurement was to evaluate the impact of walk-arounds on employees’ attitudes through brief surveys called pulse checks. These just-in-time measurement tools were introduced at quarterly town hall meetings to evaluate the impact of leaders’ communications and engagement on employees’ knowledge of and interest in the business. Quantitative and qualitative data was gathered and analyzed by demographics and for overall workforce trends.
3. Employee actions toward business goals were evaluated. As the walk-around program approached its first anniversary, a new measurement dynamic was added to evaluate the program’s impact on workforce performance. Metrics were developed to monitor the volume and nature of employee feedback. Over time, dramatic changes occurred. Feedback about the program increased tenfold, and the tone became more positive and constructive. Issues and concerns, which once dominated discussions, were eclipsed by improvement ideas. The impact of those ideas on business performance was soon tracked. Not every idea could be acted on, but they were captured and acknowledged. This responsiveness to employee’s suggestions in turn boosted morale. Employees felt they were being listened to. Measurement data revealed this truly was a win-win situation for employees, leaders and the company. Ideas that were converted to implementable actions generated impressive cost savings. In a year’s time, savings exceeded US$1 million. Now, that’s testimony of an engaged workforce.
Through the use of a disciplined measurement program, operational and organizational initiatives can realize their full potential through an engaged workforce. Clear metrics and regular pulse-taking can go a long way toward driving the performance of people and, ultimately, the business.
Linda Dulye is internationally recognized for helping many of the world’s most admired companies go spectator-free. A former communications leader for GE and Allied Signal, Linda founded Dulye & Co. (www.dulye.com) in 1998 with a practical, process-driven approach for improving communications and collaboration through an engaged workforce— the formidable competitive advantage, that she calls a Spectator-Free Workplace™. New York-based Dulye & Co. is a repeated winner of the highest awards presented by the International Association of Business Communicators. Industry Week recognized the firm’s 2-Way Communications Program at Lockheed Martin as a best practice. Incentive Magazine showcased the firm’s Winning Workplace engagement program at Rolls-Royce for delivering signficant bottom-line improvements, and Dulye & Co.’s change management practices earned nomination to Fast Company’s Fast 50 Roster.A dynamic speaker and published writer, Linda speaks regularly at global industry conferences and leadership forums. Her expertise has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Quality Progress, Forbes.com, PR News, HR Executive, Ragan Report and Total Communications Measurement.Follow Linda Dulye at: Twitter.comBlog: Spectator-Free Workplace