Improving Employee Engagement Part 3

In the first installment of this blog on employee engagement we took an extract from a recent employee engagement survey conducted by Changeboard in partnership with Oracle. The results are real food for thought, leading us to the question, what can we do about it? Each week we will look at the major blockers to employee engagement, with solutions that will lead to great improvements when implemented.

Often misunderstood; the term Performance Management is not all about tackling poor performance! It encompasses the whole performance spectrum. Cited by 38% of those involved in the survey as a reason for poor employee engagement was poor performance management. Organisations that have poor performance management are those who not only fail to set and communicate clear expectations of employee behaviours, standards of work, productivity etc., with clear ways of measuring and improvement processes to follow in the event of unacceptable performance; they are also the ones who fail to acknowledge good and great performance, probably do not have recognition and reward programs, may well have a culture of ‘well that’s what they get paid to do’.

So let’s look at these two sides of the performance spectrum. We are more comfortable knowing what is expected of us than trying to guess it. Good standards are achieved when in the first instance, clear and reasonable expectations are agreed and communicated. Standards do deteriorate without them, as employees may unconsciously try and find the lower limit of acceptability. This situation can be awkward for managers who may also be unsure when to take a stance and make an intervention, with employees often upset at the challenge or the complete lack of consistency, potentially leading to accusations of bullying or harassment and the possibility of future action at an employment tribunal. A lack of clear expectation leads to disengagement and disillusionment for positive high performing employees, who struggle to keep high levels of motivation when they see standards not upheld around them. Altogether a poor state of affairs.
What we can do is work with organisations to design or improve their existing Skills and Behaviours frameworks and then incorporate them into their job specifications/ descriptions. We can deliver training with line managers on how best to communicate expectations, deal with performance matters, conduct successful appraisal meetings with their team members, helping them to identify development opportunities and implement plans to meet expectations.

On the other side of the spectrum, if we fail to recognise good and great performance, we fail to grasp the opportunity to inspire; not only the employee demonstrating high levels of achievement, but also the opportunity to inspire others. Everyone likes to be a part of success and the most successful organisations are ones whose culture recognises achievement and celebrates success. Often this culture starts with recognising small green shoots, it’s about keeping an eye out to catch people doing it right and then recognising that in an authentic and sincere way.
When we miss that opportunity to acknowledge not just performance, but participation, challenge, innovation etc., we risk extinguishing the flames of passion and engagement. One of the most interesting stories I came across on this subject was of a manager, who without budget to reward good performance, bought a ‘Bart Simpson’ figure and dyno taped ‘ for going above and beyond the call of duty’ to the base. This was duly presented to an employee the next week, who had done more than they had needed to, ensuring a customer was satisfied following a complaint. To much laughter and applause, along with a heartfelt thank you from the manager; the figure found a prominent home on the low dividing wall in the office by the employees desk. Hasten to say, there was much competition to have the ‘Bart Simpson award’ as it became known on your desk. No monetary value, but a representation of ‘I have been recognised and I am proud to display it’.
So what we can do is, influence cultures, be change agents and start each time we go into a business by being appreciative of what people are already doing as they go about their job. We can help organisations develop appreciative programmes; include success stories and achievements by colleagues in briefings, team meetings and in staff magazines and newsletters. We can demonstrate though our behaviours that appreciation and recognition help gain employee trust and improve engagement levels.