Why Employee Engagement Is Dead

 Why Employee Engagement Is DeadWe all know that the corporate culture, the core values and the vision are key. Of course, if employees feel good at work, if they feel that they ‘belong’ (understanding of the purpose, mastery, recognition, etc.) they will be more likely to come to work (vs. absenteeism), to actually add-value (vs. lost productivity), to stay and perhaps even to recommend the firm to their friends (vs. recruitment, re-training).

Creating a high-performance organization is a serious and complex business; market conditions change; competitors emerge and new business models and go-to-market are needed for businesses to stay relevant. Clearly, culture is a living creature and employees are the ones who feed it. Employee engagement is, as a result, a big deal. In fact it’s a key differentiator and a clear source of competitive advantage.

Not engagement, but commitment

The measure of employee-engagement that exists today has been in use for a while. And whilst taking the pulse of the organization with a survey – once or twice a year – might be useful for benchmark purposes it has obvious limitations. In fact, it is no longer “the best predictor of employee and workgroup performance.” Maybe it was when data was not as pervasive as it is today. But with the advancement of technology, with the new demographics (GenYers for example who are slowly taking over the organization) the meaning of Work has changed – and with it ‘Employment Engagement’ as it is so narrowly measured today has ceased to be valid. Sorry Gallup.

An alternative to employee engagement

If indeed employee engagement is the master key to organizations’ competitive advantage it cannot possibly be something we derive from a snapshot twice a year at best. I would not go as far as Bersin to suggest ‘marriage’ as a replacement to ‘engagement,’ but certainly ‘commitment’ – because commitment implies passion, it moves hearts and minds.

Case in point, when we talk to leaders (regardless of their cultures national or organizational, regardless of their industries) what we hear is the following:

  • Need to see increased business results, and preferably faster.
  • And to achieve the above, they need commitment through the ranks for important initiatives. Commitment is measured in demonstrated ‘actions’. These actions must be pertinent to the context of course. The beauty with ‘actions’ is that they are easy to measure and their results are plain, quantifiable.

Measuring employee commitment

Employee Commitment in turn cannot be measured by situational hypothetical questions; it needs to be real-time. It needs to be contextual i.e. connected to the business initiative of the moment; it is the only way to gauge success. When a leader goes out and demands people to get onboard a particular initiative, the only thing that matters to her and her executive team is ‘how are we doing right now?’ and ‘how fast can we get the ship to move starboard?’. In other words, are people ‘moving fast enough’ and how good are we at making them ‘move’?

For example, for one of our clients, years of negative conjuncture, including increased commoditization and competition, had created a mounting pressure on the HR function of this global leader in traditional manufacturing. With low moral and high attrition amongst employees and a less than envious internal ‘branding’ of the HR function vis-à-vis business leaders, the need for Change was clear. A full-fledged program got designed to turn this global HR-support community into a global Business partner with activities ranging from ‘activation’, to ‘Best Practices sharing’ to ‘Process simplification challenges’ and much more. The analytics functionalities of the tool (the Change-platform) allowed the project team to measure-analyze and report in real time on the Employee-commitment throughout the transformation.

When measuring ‘commitment’, a totally new world opens-up—one where you are no longer living with the hope that people are ‘engaged’ in your purpose but one where you clearly see if and how committed they are (or are not for that matter). Measuring ‘Employee-Commitment’ is a game-changer and the reason is evident: as a leader or project manager you see how initiatives are unfolding, how they are being embraced by employees across functions, across regions, across silos. You also witness where the traction is coming from, where it’s working and where it’s not. You are now fully in control and finally can connect the dots – see the correlation between employee-commitment and business results.

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