Frontline Intelligence: What does it take to be an engaging organisation?

by 16 Apr 2012

How to engage our people and create the organisational change that drives business results – that is a central issue for organisations, large and small. This perennial question emerges in a range of contexts, but one of the most prevalent is our response to employee surveys. Too often, surveys tapping into Employee Engagement, culture and other related factors end up simply being an exercise in gathering numbers – a tremendous missed opportunity – especially since an engaged workforce is critical to performance.

In a column published here a few months ago, I shared some of our experiences of driving effective change and performance based on the insights provided by employee surveys. Since that article appeared, Kenexa has concluded a major piece of research with a cross-section of our clients that simply asks one question: what do the organisations with the most engaged workforces do that is so different from everyone else?

This research draws on the experiences of the clients with whom we run employee surveys – targeting, from a list of over 270 organisations, those with the most engaged people. The industries involved include healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, hospitality, pharmaceuticals and IT. Nine of the organisations are global, but some were much smaller. It can truly be said that this research represents best practice across the world of work, not merely conclusions that apply in one industry, country or type of organisation.

When considering what successful organisations actually do to drive engagement, there is no single list of actions that we could all take, since every context, culture, workforce and strategy is different. The specifics vary – but there is, nevertheless, a set of approaches that highly successful organisations adopt from which we can learn.

Culture on Purpose – the most engaging organisations actively manage, communicate and measure their culture as their people actually experience it, ensuring that culture is something they nurture in a purposeful way

Mission and Vision is Personal – engaging organisations have a strong sense of purpose and mission, and devote resources to helping people to connect on a personal level with that vision, so that it is real, authentic and theirs

Define Engagement for Themselves – although the management of engagement is vital, it is better to use language that is linked to what people actually do and experience in their day-to-day lives; the focus is on the real-world factors that drive people’s sense of being valued and successful, not the language of the survey

Customer, Not Profit – employees are usually more sincerely motivated by meeting their customers’ needs than the profit that the company derives from its work; engaging organisations help employees to find meaning in their work through ‘the customer experience’; if this is done well, profit will follow, and in even greater measure as a result of your engaged workforce

Visible Leadership and Ownership – trusting and knowing your leaders is a vital underpinning of engagement and performance; it is a crucial ingredient of believing in your work and feeling inspired; one important way of supporting this ethos is the way that business leaders take accountability for engagement, treating it as crucial to their success rather than a peripheral, HR issue

Open Communication – the most engaging organisations communicate often, openly and honestly, even when the message is tough; a genuine enthusiasm for this is critical

Right People in Meaningful Jobs – believing in what you are doing, having a meaningful work life and doing something for which you have a talent are all vital to engagement, demonstrating the clear link to assessment, selection, development and your talent pipeline; if we get these things right, engagement is ‘baked into the work’

Innovation and Growth – the most engaging organisations have clear, long-term goals for growth that are based on their people as the ‘growth engine’; this is linked to genuine investment and a culture that is not afraid of failure

Create Own Best Practice – these organisations consistently look for best practice from within themselves and learn from their best performers; although looking outside is important, there is a sense that, in engaging organisations, success comes from making the most of your own people

Never-Ending Journey – vitally, these organisations see engagement and improvement as a perpetual journey, every day, every year; it will never be ‘done’ or saved for better times; it is at the heart of their purpose all the time and we can always do better!

Consistently and effectively applied, these principles allow organisations to move from simply measuring engagement to driving it forwards – something that is critical to achieving business performance, whatever industry, region or organisation you work in.

For this research, I am indebted to the clients involved and to my colleague, Dr. Jeff Jolton.


About the author

Ed Hurst is the Managing Director at Kenexa Australia. Phone (03) 9602 3899 or email


  • by Yolk Recruitment 17/04/2012 6:53:43 PM

    You've also got let your employees define what the act of engagement - let them be involved in the process rather than telling what you're going to do.

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