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Engagement best practice

Recent surveys by Gallup indicate that 82% of Australians are not fully engaged at work. What are the top companies doing in terms of employee engagement? Kellie Warta, head of human resources at Hilti, says her company has seen great business benefits by looking at engagement, but she warns it’s crucial to assess leaders and their impact on engagement – and for them to take ownership of the issue. Alec Bashinsky, partner, people & performance at Deloitte, adds that it’s not up to HR to drive engagement; it must be leader-driven. Ganesh Chandrasekkar, general manager, HR, Westpac Institutional Bank, advises that looking solely at engagement can be misleading; some people can be highly engaged but not productive. He suggests taking a multi-lens approach to performance, as well as pulse surveys throughout the year. Finally, Ben Willis, director of social product strategy at SABA, says that not all companies assess engagement, so it’s critical to firstly measure it, and secondly to benchmark it against peers.

Video transcript below:

Ian Hoskins, Human Capital Magazine
Ian Hoskins:
 A Gallop Research paper indicates that in Australia 82% of employees say they are not fully engaged in their current role, but worse still 21% say they are actively disengaged.  I am interested in your thoughts around the table here.  I mean how much effort are you putting into I suppose engagement efforts.  Kellie you’ve already mentioned that that is a preferred focus for you guys.

Kellie Warta, Head of Human Resources, Hilti
Kellie Warta:  Yeah.  I mean it’s some, we actively at the moment we are surveying our people for a global employee opinion survey that we have been running for in excess of 5 years within Hilti.  And this is a measure of our leadership ability and so it’s a direct, every year our leaders get exposed to this and it’s really great for us to be able to start to look at action plans in specific areas of our business.  I think that we really tap into with that leadership ability and a leadership ownership and the ability for them to look at themselves in the mirror and identify what impact they are having on their level of engagement.  How close they are to their people?  Are they actively coaching our people regularly?
Ian Hoskins:  It’s interesting that engagement is usually considered to be the primary responsibility of the HR team, but you’ve said that your managers, you take some ownership for this and that makes sense, because the old saying that people join organisations and leave managers, so they do have a massive impact.
Kellie Warta:  A lot of the reasons people leave, you know the primary reason if you really delve in, is really about how they are being managed in terms of their career development, investing in engagement has really great business results, but it is really an important thing that leadership take ownership of it.
Alec Bashinsky, Partner, People & Performance, Deloitte
Alec Bashinsky:  I’d like to challenge your comment here because tend to disagree with it.  I don’t think it’s HR’s responsibility at all to run engagement.  It’s clearly a leadership [here].  Our role is very much facilitate through some of the retention tools, but you know I have a very clear view and as does our business that the engagement process is very much around the business leaders.  In fact we measure along with a lot of other people metrics, we measure the engagement, we drill it down by business unit and then down by regional areas and you know it’s one of the key things of, “am I going to get a good score or not for the engagement?”  It is a critical measure because to your point, you are starting to see that if they are not engaged, they do leave and your whole issue is around retention and turnover and everything else.  So I think you know you know organisations shouldn’t be downplaying engagement because it is a critical people measure.
You know we participated in a [bit like you] to see what the bench marking was like on great places to work.  We were the only organisation in the top 50 that had more than a 1,000 employees that was listed as a great place to work.  So I think the challenge for organisations like ours, like yours of large employee groups and a dispersed work force, it’s hard to keep them all engaged.  You can do that in a smaller hub, but trying to get that same engagement what’s the direction and vision is a real challenge.
Ian Hoskins:  Sure, sure.  Ganesh what are your thoughts?
Ganesh Chandrasekhar, General Manager, HR, Westpac Institutional Bank
Ganesh Chandrasekhar:  So couple of, I absolutely agree, I think engagement is a leadership responsibility, HR provides the tools.  So I think there is no disagreement there.  I have got a couple of broader perspectives on engagement.  I think as a construct it’s a really good construct.  But I have seen over the last couple of years across and looking at surveys, there are six, kind of six odd questions, three different categories that they ask the questions and the biggest turning point over the last few years has been around that stay or intention to stay question.  I have found that as times have become uncertain or the job market becomes uncertain, people tend to answer in a positive sense, you know people intend to stay in an organisation.  So the engagement results can be inflated because of uncertainty, not necessarily because of management action necessarily.  So it’s important you know, engagement is important, absolutely you need to focus on it, but it’s important to understand the component parts that are driving it, because you can become complacent just looking at the score.  So that’s the first point.  
The second point and I think this is similar to the [As One] tool which is multiple lense not just engagement which is important to factor in.  So I would say at a minimum you want to have a look at productivity or performance on one axis and engagement on the other.  And you know in the article that you referred to in the Human Capital Magazine, they talk about disengaged employees being 21% and working against the organisation.  On kind of that 2x2 basis, there are people who are highly engaged who are not productive, who are equally costly to an organisation that you need to focus on.  So I think a multi lens approach, engagement being an extremely important aspect, but performance factoring in, because I also know there are a number of people who are you know disengaged when you just look at their scores, but highly productive, highly performing employees, that you need to focus on turning around.
Ian Hoskins:  Ben do you have any first thoughts?
Ben Willis, Director of Social Product Strategy, SABA 
Ben Willis:  Yeah, just to kind of state the obvious, we have got a lot of sort of leaders in the HR space here right, so it’s sort of a given that we are measuring employee engagement and I think actually that’s not a given in a lot of cases.  So step number one, just to kind of state the obvious is that it is really critical that you actually be measuring the staff right.  For a lot of folks I may not be measuring it yeah or they may be measuring it but they are not actually bench marking themselves against their peers or against other sort of industries and that’s equally critical obviously because it’s not just that you have the scores but you know relative to your industry or your peers kind of where you stand where we have all seen the studies that if you are in that top 25% that there is a direct impact on your bottomline and your earnings per share, so it’s obviously critical and you know step number one I would say is that you be measuring it.
Ganesh Chandrasekhar:  I would just say as a measure I think engagement is great, but there are some downsides to it, right.  It happens you know typically once or twice a year, just because of the time consumed in running the survey etc. and it’s important to have multiple check points, so run in pulse type measures through the course of the year, I think I find is important, because you can get [emotional touch], a year is a long time and engagement moves pretty dynamically depending on what’s happening within the business and in the market.  So I think that’s important.  The second piece is I think, a lot of the HR surveys have kind of followed the marketing pattern if you like.  You know, so we have got to move to kind of a point of sale type method of surveying people.  So looking at actual behaviours and working back as to how we can drive those behaviours rather than asking people how they feel about the organisation, does that makes sense.  Because engagement is still a self filled service.  So you know I ask you how you feel about the organisation whether you think you are doing a great job, whether you intend to leave, I think we need to move to a stage where we are actually measuring people leaving the organisation who are high performers and see what behaviours they display to try and map that back, which I don’t think we do a great job of.  I think Deloitte is again starting to look at that with their As One process which seems like the direction in which this will move eventually.
Alec Bashinsky:  Yeah, it’s interesting.  And we have three measures in there, broader As One, diagnostic and they are looking at an organisation and its direction and how aligned are the people to the vision or the direction, so it’s called directional intensity and the next thing is how do they relate back to their business units, their leaders, associate identity and again looking at the correlation there and then we start to look at the way we manage.  In other words there are times they are getting too technical.  There are times when we need to be a more general [and social] style of individual, because the business needs fixing or needs addressing and there are other times when we need to be conductor and orchestra.  How do we harness the talent and all focusing towards one goal.  So we are seeing a lot more of that.  But the only comment I have got around the engagement surveys and I think I am not sure about your organisations, but we survey our people to death on anything and everything and views and comments.  So you know it’s a timeliness aspect of when you go to your broader work force what you really want to get out of it.  Because I know
Ian Hoskins:  Is there a danger of overload?
Alec Bashinsky:  Oversurveying, I would say yeah on a whole range of things.