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Employee engagement

February 1, 2016

Newly appointed HRDs, like all senior hires, have to make their mark quickly. But before they can frame their plans, each must not only find a way through the inevitable complexities of the organisation they have joined, but also put their fingers on the key issues around which their strategies are to be formed. In this article, I’m reflecting how, in 2015, three such individuals faced this task, generating and making use of employee engagement data.

The three organisations were large, complex and had operations spread across the Globe. They employed between 1,000 and over 6,000 people. Their activities differed widely and involved wildlife conservation, medical software and high volume, precision manufacturing.  None had a previously established HR function operating at Board level, which made the scale of the task even greater. Two of the businesses had grown rapidly by acquisition. Hence key tasks included the constant integration of non-English workforces, the harmonisation of policies and an urgent need to assessing the quality of people management across their organisations.

Evidence and numbers based cultures

Early on, each HRD spent a good deal of time listening and seeking to understand the culture(s) of their organisations. It was clear to all of them that – corporately at least - the businesses were strongly orientated to numbers and evidence based decision-making. Concepts like strategic HR and employee engagement were not well understood, nor were they going to be easily embraced, especially in such widely distributed and fragmented organisations. The questions they each faced were therefore much the same: how best to marshal a case for building and implementing a new, effective and appropriate strategy, and what should it be?

Engagement surveys to generate valid data

Each decided that an employee engagement survey would provided an ideal vehicle for producing the evidence they each needed to build potent people strategies. Two had worked with us previously and understood both the process and the benefits. One had worked with another survey provider and had a similar grasp of the potential.

Selling participation via champions and planned communication

Achieving high response rates is key in any survey, and even more so in larger organisations. By using volunteer survey champions from across their organisations all three HRDs were able both to encourage participation and to promote the idea of engagement among managers and employees at all levels, not just the SMT. Comprehensive communication programmes were developed to support the champions’ efforts to build participation get the message down to the front line.

Some very basic initial strategic priorities  

Each of our clients discovered basic issues that needed to be addressed in the HR infrastructure of their businesses, and these data alone demonstrated the value of the survey process. For example, L&D systems (often a cause of high turnover among skilled, hard to recruit groups) were either lacking or incoherent in some areas; there were big inconsistencies in pay and benefits (even within businesses in the same Group); ineffective internal communication systems which meant in some cases that employees had little or no awareness or understanding of corporate goals and strategy. Recruitment processes in one business unit were so badly managed that some candidates were withdrawing their applications part way through the procedure!For the three HRDs, findings like these provided the framework for the first stage of each strategy. What was of more interest were the engagement maps we were able to provide to each client.

Engagement maps provide vital business overviews

The engagement maps showed, in a highly visual way, the relative levels of employment of each individual business, function, department and team within it. The most and least engaged groups were identified and explanatory data provided.This form of reporting made very clear where the priorities for attention are and is probably one of the analyses most valued by our clients. It then makes it much easier to work with individual management teams to build both corporate and local plans.

Benchmarking and target setting

All three surveys provided baseline scores for improvements, and as such made it possible to set improvement targets for the year ahead.

The result

Strong foundations for HR strategies designed and laid within just a few months.

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