The Evolution of Engagement: From Survey to Strategy

During my early years in the industry, people-minded HR departments had a single weapon at their disposal: the annual employee engagement survey. But as more import has been placed on the entire employee experience, an ever-increasing number of organizations are adopting a holistic engagement strategy.

Turning the Tide

When it comes to employee engagement philosophies, many organizations fall on a spectrum, from centralized authority to decentralized authority. Traditional organizations tend to consider engagement an HR responsibility: a yearly engagement score is their main measure of success, and most of the department’s time is spent maintaining or improving that number. We find that progressively minded organizations, however, entrust managers and individuals to be stewards of their own engagement. This localized approach to employee engagement allows for a more individually tailored program, understanding the unique engagement needs of each employee.

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As more and more organizations see the merits of such a decentralized engagement strategy, it is important that they realize the five types of feedback that must be present to support, and ultimately, ensure the practical application of this strategy. First, employees must be confident that their unique voice is heard and acted upon in the organization. Second, employees need to know that their colleagues value their specific effort. Third, employees should understand the impact they make on organizational progress, tracking that impact in a demonstrable way. Fourth, employees must regularly receive authentic, constructive feedback. Lastly, employees need to forge durable, trusting relationships with managers that facilitate forthright communication.

Rough Waters Ahead for Engagement

The year 2018 will be one for the record books–experts predict one of the lowest U.S. unemployment rates since the start of the new millennium. After hitting a 16-year low in May 2017 with a 4.3 percent unemployment rate, estimates for 2018 are already forecasting rates as low as 3.8 percent. Similarly, jobs are expected to continue growth at current numbers, anywhere from 150,000 to 200,000 new jobs each month.

Regardless of exact numbers, with this trend of low unemployment comes one substantial shift: a loss of hiring power. Since the 2007-2008 recession, organizations have held the upper hand in hiring. They bestowed the jobs that people so desperately needed, and consequently, organizations could drive wages low and provide less-than-ideal work environments. Not so in 2018. As more positions become available (if current trends hold, expect as many as 2.4 million new jobs in 2018) and the economy inches ever closer to full employment, potential hires now have the bargaining power. They demand more, better and faster from employers courting them–and employees needn’t worry about finding a new job, should their employer prove inadequate.

In a situation like this, adding perks to the hiring package might seem like the standard protocol. However, we challenge you to think beyond the foosball table and dedicated barista. If you wish to attract quality talent and retain employees long-term, you must take steps toward a progressive, decentralized engagement strategy.

Predictions for 2018

We’re already noticing many organizations seeking software solutions to help support localized engagement efforts and address the five types of feedback mentioned above. Specifically, organizations are looking for solutions that offer two or more functions, if not all five. As engagement becomes more and more focused on the entire employee experience, organizations want to be able to aggregate all data points in a single place with a simple sign-on experience for their employees.

Although the early 2010s saw organizations almost obsessively concerned with employee/employer fit, many organizations are relaxing their stranglehold on the proverbial perfect match. In line with a decentralized approach to employee engagement, team/employee fit is increasingly important. While employees must still possess some shared, core traits represented in the larger organization, peripheral differences are also embraced.

We see the most decentralized companies turning their focus to engagement drivers rather than engagement scores. Instead of the singular, sacred metric it once was, an engagement score can now function as merely a mile marker along the engagement journey. Organizations on the progressive end of the spectrum focus on providing good inputs–robust manager conversations, OKR tracking, and peer-to-peer recognition, for example–and put less stock in the numeric output of a score.

Engagement Questions to Ask Your Organization

How would our entire company describe its employee engagement strategy? How are we sowing engagement into our organizational culture? How can we use our culture to attract and retain employees in 2018?