Tags: business transformation, organization design, change, engagement

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Employee Engagement - More than Balloons & Cake

The following is an excerpt from our monthly Org Design Digest e-mail. If you would like to receive our update in your inbox each month, let us know.

In honor of Valentine’s Day last week, we highlight “Engagement” in this month’s wisdom.  Not the traditional engagement you typically think about on Valentine’s Day but “Employee Engagement.”

Why bother thinking about Employee Engagement?
Research, practice, and, quite frankly, common sense demonstrate that “head and heart” engaged employees are more productive, work longer, and take extra initiative more often than disengaged employees.  And it’s not just a matter of improving productivity – on the opposite side of the engagement coin, disengaged employees cause companies significant losses in productivity, turnover [knowledge and expertise] and costs associated with initial investment, including recruiting, on-boarding, training and development.

But WAIT… there’s more!

As if you needed more incentive to take Employee Engagement seriously, disengaged employees have a huge negative impact on customer and consumer loyalty and repeat business.  These negative experiences can end up being fatal to your business! This reason alone makes employee engagement a critical issue for leaders to address and take a deliberate, strategic approach to -- beginning with a hard look to see if a culture of real engagement is sustainable given the underlying design and operating model of the company.  Consider this: if a business’ design and operating model is not right, event and program-level efforts at engaging employees will fail over time.

Design for real engagement... 
For many businesses, employee engagement amounts to programs and events, layered on top of a poor business design and operating model that doesn’t embrace “engagement” at its core. In fact, the flaws in the design itself may be the single greatest source of disengagement. Working in businesses like this is akin to rowing in the bowels of a galley.



“The roots of employee disengagement are often embedded in an organization’s design and made real in the operating model.”  These design elements are too fundamental for programs and events to offset their negative impact.

For a quick, informal self-assessment, ask yourself the following questions:

·         Are your employees told what to do and how to do it?

·         Do your employees have any idea the direction the business is heading? If yes, do they know how their day-to-day work is connected to that direction?

·         Are your employees blind to the effect their day-to-day work has on the customer or consumer?

·         Do your employees have real input to and control over their work? The quality? The amount?

·         Are your employees an integral part of solving REAL problems in the business?

To compensate for an underlying business design that disengages employees at its core, it is common for leaders to invest significant amounts of resources and efforts into programs and events intended to “engage employees.”  Examples include

·         Recognition events (such as employee of the month, cake and balloon parties, etc.)

·         Providing training for and even certifying managers and line leaders be more effective with their direct reports

·         Wall posters and pictures proclaiming the importance of employees

·         Employee improvement teams created to address and solve negative feedback from employee engagement survey results

While these examples [not an exhaustive list] can be useful in continuous, ongoing efforts to maintain employee engagement progress, most are used in an effort to compensate rather than address disengagement caused by the core design of the business. A better manager/employee relationship working within the constraints of an organization design that does not address employees relationship to their work is not a sustainable solution.

So, what’s to be done?
To assess and resolve the core business design problems causing disengagement, consider these actions to start:

1.      Organize your people around whole work rather than fragmented activities.  This is about restructuring talent into multi-skilled teams focused on and responsible for whole work. This requires leaders to stop organizing people functionally, which only serves to fragment work into sub-optimal parts, and start to think of the end-to-end value stream and complete outputs.


2.      Be sure every employee has a clear line of sight that connects their work directly to the customer and/or consumer.  This is akin to the “rowing in the bowels of a boat” video from above.  The criticality of employees seeing and experiencing the results of their direct work on the customer is intimately related to our basic, primal need to make a positive difference in the world in which we live.


3.      Ensure employees have control over and input to decisions that directly impact them and their job.  The principle here is simple:  in order for people to take responsibility for outputs, they must have control over inputs.  This applies to both real work that comes to them from other parts of the business AND decisions made about what/how/where they perform their work.  The less control they have – the less they will take responsibility for their work.


4.      Get outside help if necessary. Understanding if your organization is fundamentally designed to engage employees or not takes experience, objectivity and having zero investment in the status quo.  While we are glad to assist you in that capacity, the message here is to start by getting your organization’s design right before turning to events and programs!  At the minimum, do the informal assessment mentioned above to identify the sources of disengagement at the core.

In closing...
You have two choices in building an organization that engages employees:

1.      You can build your engagement house on sand by investing effort, time and resources into programs and events that may not stick and continue to chase substantive employee engagement; OR

2.      You can take the steps necessary to design your organization for real, comprehensive engagement that is part of every employee experience.

The choice is yours. The former zaps you of resources, efforts and energy – but you look like you are doing something serious.  The latter guarantees to deliver a more productive workforce that will stay with you longer. Your employees will thank you and more importantly, so will your customers.


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