The Power of Employee Engagement

Social networking conceptThe most misunderstood metric in collaboration today is engagement. What engagement means within your organization, and how you measure it, depends on a number of factors: technologies in place, collaboration culture, corporate and team goals, measurement tools and reporting, company processes and bureaucracy, and operational oversight, among other factors. The misunderstanding occurs when organizations treat out-of-the-box adoption or activity-based metrics as their engagement measurements, and do not attempt to identify what engagement means within their own unique requirements. The result is often a misperception of what is actually happening on the ground, which can mislead management as to what actions and tools are actually effective.

How big of an issue is measuring engagement? Misreading the level of engagement on your employees can directly impact your bottom line. In one case study of a multinational retail company, Gallup found that improvement in employee and customer engagement generated $82 million in profit growth over a four-year period.

In another example from Gallup, they outlined the struggle that a health care company was experiencing due to low engagement. According to their case study, leaders and staff were disengaged at work, resulting in a high number of safety incidents and workers’ compensation claims. Gallup found that 49% of the organization's employees left within their first year of employment, and that overall, 22% of employees left for other organizations.

While these engagement issues stem from a combination of issues, within the modern workplace, the primary interface for employees — and a major point of failure for engagement — is the company intranet, which is the hub for employee collaboration.

Over the past few years we have witnessed fundamental changes in how the industry-at-large views collaboration. While the lines between the terminology that we use around ‘collaboration,’ ‘social,’ and even ‘communication’ technology has become blurred, certain “truths” persist around how teams connect, share, and collaborate.

Looking back, knowledge management (KM) solutions have traditionally been hierarchical and process-driven, and most enterprise collaboration solutions very document-centric. Within the leading platforms, the user experience (UX) has historically been ignored, with companies instead focusing on rigid collaboration models that meet business requirements, but do not align with user expectations. Management teams have lived in fear of what could happen if end users had more control over how and where they collaborated — but as a result of this fear, there has been a surge in consumer-based technologies inside corporate networks.

With the social invasion, end users got more of what they wanted — cool new features, and solutions that met short-term needs — but often at the cost of security and compliance concerns. In short, with the influx of social tools — collaboration got a lot more complicated for the enterprise.

As the KM and document-centric collaboration tools of the past continue to evolve, and as more and more vendors enter the “social intranet” space, enterprise customers are asking for clarity. Within the Microsoft ecosystem we have Yammer, Outlook Groups, Skype for Business, Teams, OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint. Outside that ecosystem, but in heavy use within many organizations, are Facebook at Work, Slack, Google Docs, Tibbr, and many many others. All of these options mean that now, more than ever, companies need to be very thoughtful about what technologies they put in place — and how the social features end users want align with business needs, and allow teams to identify and focus on the strengths of their employees. The graphic below from Gallup should worry any manager:

Gallup graphic on engagement

In the second case study mentioned above, Gallup identified that the turnaround with the health care company occurred when the company started its journey to becoming a "strengths-based organization" where all employees would "learn, understand, and use their strengths in their day-to-day work." To accomplish this goal, it takes more than the deployment of a new tool — it takes a commitment to understanding the needs and motivations of your employees, and how to integrate and align these things with the needs of the business. The end result is a more engaged workforce.

"Engaged workers are capable of exceptional performance, so managers who successfully engage employees in their workgroups are vital to their organizations' success." — Jessica Tyler, Gallup

Change can be difficult, but change also brings with it opportunity. Social collaboration tools can change company culture. As people connect and share ideas, process and products across the board improve, as can employee job satisfaction. There is a reason why so many companies are moving toward open floor plans — it encourages interaction, can boost morale, and reduces communication barriers.

Enterprise social collaboration has begun to mature. But while many organizations believe they can improve internal communication and collaboration simply by rolling out collaboration tools, it must be a balanced planning activity that also takes into consideration the capabilities and strengths of your employees.

Which reminds me — one of my all-time favorite business books is a must-read for any consultant or team that is trying to solve this engagement issue: First, Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, and the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Lehi, Utah, through which he provides fractional-CMO for partners in the Microsoft ecosystem.