If we spent less time measuring how engaged our employee are, we could spend more time simply engaging them.
The statement might seem obvious, but reality is never quite so simple. There are plenty of reports, such as the State of the Global Workforce, telling us that employees are not only ‘not engaged’ but in many instances are actively disengaged. These same reports tell us that this lack of engagement hurts our businesses and our bottom line.
And so, what is our response? All too often, we trot out our annual ‘Employee Engagement’ survey and ask our employees how they are feeling. The problem with this approach is that at best it is a point in time view of how employees are feeling. Perhaps they were feeling angry that day – because of something that happened at work or the fight they had with their partner that morning, a bad commute, an unpleasant encounter with a store clerk. Or maybe they were feeling unusually positive because they had gotten an unexpected happy surprise or unexpected praise that day. In any event, the answers don’t really reflect how ‘engaged’ employees are with the business but how engaged or happy they were feeling that day. These survey results give us a ‘pat on the back’ when they show that we are different, that our employees are happy and engaged, or a temporary wake up call to do something new or different to get them engaged. But mostly, the results end up in a metaphorical drawer gathering dust until the next survey comes around and we want to determine whether we have improved, have become more engaged.
In addition to the fact that the results can be biased and unreliable, there are many other reasons not to rely on employee engagement surveys to measure the health of our businesses. Perry Timms discussed this in his post proposing a People Powered Index, and a recent article in the Harvard Business Review demonstrated that engagement and productivity, which is really what we are after, are not the same thing. So, rather than doing a yearly survey that may or may not provide actionable results, what can we do?
What if instead of trying to measure the elusive engagement, we actively engaged our employees on a daily basis? What if we asked the people on the front lines what issues they are encountering? What if we asked everyone to not only identify and bring forth problems, but to also suggest the solutions? And, more importantly, what if we followed through on those suggestions? We say we want an engaged workforce, but are we doing everything we could or should to encourage and reward engagement?
Google is famous for their 20% time, and many other companies have followed the lead with similar schemes. But what I’m suggesting is different than these schemes. It is great to tell employees that can set aside a certain amount of their time to innovate and work on projects ‘outside their day job’, but therein lies the problem. By design and definition these schemes are not about getting the current job done, but about doing something beyond the job. Which makes it extra.
Employees already are being asked to do more with less, and even if we offer them the freedom, it doesn’t mean that the normal day-to-day work can slip while they are engaged in these side projects. Someone still needs to do the work – either the employee engaged in the ‘other work’ or someone else who must pick up the slack while the special projects get done. For many employees, who already feel pushed to the limit with their current responsibilities and personal commitments, taking on ‘more’ is just too much.
What I am proposing is not to give employees the freedom to do ‘extra’, but to make innovation part of the job, every day. This is a shift, in thinking and in culture. We all know that change can be uncomfortable, for employees but also for leaders. True engagement, that loosens the reins and gives employees more say in not only the solutions implemented but the problems tackled, can be disconcerting. This is not to suggest that all structure be removed – leaders must still frame the strategic objectives and drive the areas of focus, but within that framework, what if innovating became part of the everyone’s day job, every day. What if we as businesses truly embraced this concept and asked everyone to contribute daily – to make their jobs easier, to improve the customer experience, to make our businesses better.
If we stopped measuring engagement annually and started engaging daily, we wouldn’t need employment engagement surveys to tell us how engaged our employees are. Instead, we would be able to see the engagement, and more importantly the results, every day. At Wazoku we call this EveryDay innovation, where everyone, in every job and every department, is called upon to raise the problems and find the solutions. By embedding this concept in the company culture and daily life, innovating is not a special project or side job, it is the job.