Who’s accountable for employee engagement?

My previous post about corporate values, Employee Value Propositions (EVPs) and employee engagement inevitably led me to ponder the question of accountability and my quest led me to an excellent research report produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU – another great source of informed insights) from 2010 entitled “Re-engaging with engagement”.

The report makes interesting reading, not least because of the divergence in views between the C-suite (or Board level) respondents and other respondents.

For example, 21% in the C-suite believe that their firm’s employees are “much more engaged” than employees in rival firms, compared with only 7% of respondents outside the C-Suite.

Is this mismatch due to an element of wishful thinking perhaps, or ivory-tower-syndrome, or is it down to cynicism outside the Boardroom?

However, despite this relatively rosy view, 87% of the C-suite respondents believe that “disengaged employees are one of the three biggest threats facing our business”.  This response rate is slightly higher than the percentage of total respondents at 84%.

There are a number of slightly puzzling results about where accountability for employee engagement lies and what should be done to improve it.

63% of C-Suite respondents believe that they themselves are “chiefly responsible for employee engagement”, but only 38% of the other respondents agree.  While only 13% of C-suite respondents believe that line managers or middle managers are “chiefly responsible” for employee engagement, 39% of other respondents selected “the motivational ability of one’s line manager” as the option most likely to contribute to employee motivation.

In my experience, this latter finding is regularly reinforced in employee surveys. It seems self evident to me as everyone has different motivators and you need to know a person quite well to appreciate what will inspire them to go the extra mile and feel emotionally attached to the company / their job.

There are many common themes between the EIU report and the more recent Towers Watson Clear Direction in a Complex World study.  The latter specifically highlights the key role played by line managers in “building trust and engagement in the organisation” and both reports focus on the need for line managers to receive appropriate skills training.  This has been on the HR agenda of every company I have worked for in the last 10 years or more but, in between identifying the need and the delivery of a programme, it seems to morph into something other than the basic people management skills training that is required.  It’s almost as though the company is embarrassed to be offering such basic training.

I can’t recall a company that makes this training mandatory for any employee promoted into a line management position and yet, more often than not, people are promoted because they have achieved a level of technical competence, not because they demonstrate any people management skills.  Any such training is offered in an ad hoc, just-in-time fashion, e.g. once a year to support the annual performance management cycle, so it’s not surprising that this becomes a dreaded box-ticking exercise rather than an inspiring element of day-to-day management.

Communication is a fundamental people management skill that is frequently overlooked which is why the communication cascade appears to get stuck at mid management level.  The Towers Watson report sums up the value of ensuring line managers are well-supported in their critical role as frontline communicators and employee engagement ambassadors very nicely:

In many ways, managers are the face of the organisation for employees — translating mission, values and strategy into behaviour and words. The best companies recognise this connection and go beyond simply providing managers with information to pass along to employees. They prepare managers to move away from cascading corporate messages and toward sharing the meaning of these messages with their team. This requires engaging with managers, listening to their reactions, supporting their personal change journeys and crafting content that can be delivered in a manager’s own voice.”


About madeleinekavanagh

Internal comms specialist with a career spanning advertising, car sales and management consulting. My greatest legacy (so far) - my son!
This entry was posted in Business Leadership, Employee Engagement, EVP, Internal communications, Middle management, People management / motivation. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Who’s accountable for employee engagement?

  1. ian johnson says:

    My immediate thought is “Is the chairman responsible for ‘CEO engagement’? Is ‘engaging employees important at all levels, and if not, why not”.

  2. ian johnson says:

    I find myself now pondering what engagement means.
    I would say I’m personally very engaged in what I do, though it might wander considerably beyond the ‘usual’ parameters of my role, and would certainly raise a few eyebrows if the extent of my ‘meddling/influencing’ were made transparent. It’s not what my role profile calls for (strictly speaking) and it’s not always what my own management would say that wanted and maybe not in line with the espoused values. Does that mean I’m ‘unengaged’, or just an independent thinker?
    Our company was in the news last night for giving bank accounts to James Ibori. That’s also not in line with the espoused values, but must have been lucrative enough to pass the onboarding hurdles and probably helped a few people meet target/get their bonus. Was that banker ‘engaged’?
    You can do very little to tick a few key boxes, and a few key relationships, to appear ‘engaged’ come performance appraisal time, does it mean you are engaged?
    I remember back in my IT days upsetting a rather po-faced manager who accused me of being disloyal to the company (can’t have been anything important as I have no idea now what the issue was). I explained that I was loyal to my team, loyal to the skillset I’d developed and even loyal to the technology I worked with, but the company was completely replaceable if the work got dull. I felt very engaged, just not with the company.

  3. ian johnson says:

    I should probably go on to explain the reason for my diatribe is that we should not make anyone responsible unless we can clearly define what ‘engagement’ is and we are really sure that’s what we want. There are plenty of books out there that suggest homogeneity is not what a dynamic organisation needs.

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