Employee Engagement to Commitment


A recent report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development CIPD Factsheet July 2010 defines employee engagement as ‘a combination of commitment and organisational citizenship’. It is founded on a two-way relationship between employees feeling valued and giving their best and employer efforts to promote this.

As a customer you will quickly spot disengagement, a glazed-over eye when you ask a question or want to make a complaint and employees only doing the minimum. However, if disengagement is easy to spot, the opposite is not easy to consistently encourage and develop into whole-hearted commitment. Those who manage employees day-in, day-out regularly report how hard it is to retain positive momentum, often in the face of workload, when fatigue or boredom can set in from dealing with similar issues throughout day.
So what can you as a manager do to invigorate and sustain engagement so it becomes positive commitment? The first thing is to recognise are the signs of engagement and when it starts to ebb away. These can add up to an organisational outlook, either positive or negative.

How do committed employees benefit both individual and organisation?
Employee engagement can have a significant effect on business performance and employee commitment, and numerous organisations have found that it brings greater effectiveness: resourcefulness in resolving problems, responsiveness to the customer and generally greater energy.  At its best, engagement and commitment mean that every individual uses his or her abilities and energies to meet organisational goals and fulfil their potential.. 

In an engaged organisation, individuals are respected for the important part they play in its success.  In an engaged company employees don’t hide when problems arise.  People outside the organisation recognise engagement through the way they are treated. 
Engaged employees feel inspired by their work, they are customer focused in their approach, they care about the future of the company and are prepared to invest their own effort to see that the organisation succeeds.
There are no magic formulas as each culture and environment is different. W L Gore for example is the three-time winner of the Sunday Times/DTI ‘Best Companies to work for’ list. Staff positive scores for belief in the values of the organisation, pride in working for Gore, being able to make a difference and loving their jobs at 93%, 93%, 92% and 90% are all top results.  Yet it would be difficult to replicate the Gore approach. Gore is a Scottish based company whose products range from bagpipes to dental floss, spacesuits to guitar strings. Gore-Tex is its most famous creation. The pioneering fabric is both watertight and breathable. Gore employs 425 personnel in two sites in Livingston and one in Dundee.
Launched by American couple Bill and Vieve Gore in 1958, all employees are associates, not directors, secretaries or managers, and teamwork is so important that colleagues’ rating of each other is one of the things pay is based on.  The high satisfaction rates reflect the positive response to the non-hierarchical environment created by Bill Gore, who believed this would encourage creativity. This is a title-free organisation. Quoted in the Sunday Times, John Kennedy, the company’s UK representative says: “It makes us a very productive place to work. We believe in the individual. If you treat them right they will do good things.” 
John Kennedy, who has no job title but is responsible for all UK associates, thinks what differentiates Gore from everyone else is its culture. He explains: “It’s a belief in the individual. We try to let people do things they are good at as opposed to forcing them into things they are not good at. A lot of why we have been successful is down to the way we treat people and how people react to that. It works for us and makes us a good place to work and a very productive place to work.”
Would-be-associates can expect to spend up to eight hours being interviewed over as many as three days. Careful selection appears to pay off; more than half the staff have worked at the company for at least 10 years and Gore gets another top score of 75% for staff saying they have their dream job.
Innovation is the only constant at W L Gore and that suits staff; they would strongly recommend the company as a place to work (with a 95% positive score) and think their job is good for personal growth (92%); they feel they are trusted to do their job by their leaders (90%) who are excellent role models (80%).
The firm, which made profits of £14.6m last financial year on its UK revenue of £105.9m, spent £48,000 on social events and supports workers in charity events. Benefits include a final-salary pension scheme, 26 weeks’ fully paid maternity leave and private healthcare. There is a share-option scheme and profit-related pay. Flexible working allows staff to balance responsibilities at home and work. Few feel they are taken advantage of; the 80% positive score here is the highest, as is the 91% score for health not suffering because of work.
What to look out for to determine the level of engagement

There is no silver bullet when it comes to increasing levels of engagement and commitment. The challenge for companies seeking to improve engagement levels is to determine the unique elements of the work experience that are most likely to influence engagement in the organisation in which they operate.

To help better understand how to determine the level of engagement in a business, we have developed a model called WIFI. This looks at the factors that can determine engagement. Like a wireless network, the WIFI model is invisible to the eye but once connected it allows you to work efficiently and where ever you are. This state of ‘flow’ – the term used by the American Psychological Association to describe the state of mind in which people become completely involved in an activity and become so immersed that they lose track of time – is when an employee is highly engaged. When the network is down the employee becomes quickly disengaged and disaffected.
The WIFI model
In our research of best practice organisations there are four key elements that drive employee engagement and commitment:
• Well being
• Information
• Fairness
• Involvement
Well Being
Engagement is often built on a degree of regard that employees feel for the organisation, with engaged employees feeling aligned to the values and culture of the organisation and in empathy with its overall objectives.  This is a process which builds over time and has a mutual element: respect and regard on both sides builds a sense of "we're all in this together.
Employees want to be associated with a company that has a positive external image. There has been a rise in applications to organisations in recent years that are perceived to be socially responsible and conduct their business in an ethical way. Sometimes called employer branding, this is about the external face that organisations project in order to attract and retain employees.
But Well Being is also what it feels like to work within the organisation; does the organisation live up to its espoused values? Research indicates that engagement is more likely than not to be associated with a good work-life balance. HR policies such as flexible working hours and family friendly policies go some way to generating a level of engagement.  Likewise Well Being encompasses equality and diversity policies that go beyond compliance with antidiscrimination legislation and can lead to greater levels of employee engagement.
Job design and structure, having sufficient challenge in one’s job as well as sufficient resources to do a job well are equally important in helping employees feel fulfilled in their roles. A further aspect of this element is genuine care for the employee as expressed by their immediate line manager.

Having a clear vision of where the organisation is going and what it wants to achieve and communicating this effectively is an essential element in binding employees together. Having clarity around organisational goals appears in many studies as essential in helping the employee to know where they are going and why and how they fit into achieving those goals. The regularity and appropriateness of information at all levels is a key driver of engagement.
The degree of clarity over what is expected in a role and the certainty in understanding the way the organisation is heading are important elements for many people in freely engaging with the organisation.  Different people are able to tolerate ambiguity to a greater or lesser extent.  However, it is generally acknowledged that certainty concerning expectations and goals will lead to greater engagement. 

Fairness can be seen in many aspects of the employee journey, starting with recruitment and selection. Hiring the right people for the right jobs is fundamental to ensuring that the individual begins their working life with an organisation in the most positive way.
Fairness also manifests itself in the performance management process a business adopts. Being clear about what is expected of individuals in a job, as well as receiving regular and timely motivational and developmental feedback appear as key factors in all research on employee engagement.
An individual's career aspirations need to be met in terms of their career goals and their developmental needs.  For example, how much is the individual given help to grow and develop in their role?  How much does the individual see career prospects ahead?  These are powerful motivators that the organisation has a substantial hand in helping to fulfil.
Ready access to training and development that meets individual needs has been proven to be important for many organisations in developing a culture of engagement. Research into employee engagement by Blessings White demonstrated that career and talent management rate high on what makes a difference to employees.
Finally businesses with high levels of employee engagement provide appropriate and fair reward and recognition.
There is a correlation between employee engagement and the degree to which people feel they are involved in decision-making, the amount and type of communication and the degree of trust they experience.  People who feel a greater involvement in decisions are more likely to identify with those decisions. 

Organisations with high levels of employee engagement encourage two way communication. They actively engage in conversation with their employees. According to a recent study by Watson Wyatt Worldwide, organisations with effective internal communications have a 19.4% higher market premium and deliver 57% higher shareholder return. The study also found a strong correlation between a company’s communication and its employee engagement and retention levels. Firms that involve their employees effectively are 4.5 times more likely to report high levels of employee engagement than firms that communicate less effectively. They are 20 per cent more likely to report lower turnover rates than their peers.
Involvement also manifests itself in the degree to which team work is actively promoted and encouraged






The Impact of Engagement & Commitment
Figure 1: The impact of Engagement and Commitment
Promoting and maintaining engagement

Engagement is at its most effective when it is linked to achieving the organisation′s goals and, for full effect, is likely to require a review of an organisation’s culture and practices. Engagement needs to take place within a supportive framework, with management buy-in at all levels, teams encouraged to work together on issues, and a culture of feedback, reward, recognition and responsibility. An organisation committed to enhancing engagement certainly requires the backing of senior management both to its intent and the practice, and managers need to be developed to facilitate and enhance the engagement process.
 An engaged organisation will have to work at listening in a systematic way. This is likely to involve managers accepting responsibility for engagement, with such changes as: greater emphasis on gaining commitment; responding more flexibly to change; encouraging ownership and responsibility down the organisation; practising more openness and communication and integrating engagement into measurement systems.

Steps towards promoting engagement of employees

Step one: By management example, encourage involvement and participation.

Step two: Promote flexibility and choice for employees, for example a menu of benefits

Step three: Foster local innovation and greater responsiveness at the customer interface

Step four: Encourage discussion of alternatives, rather than top-down ‘there is no alternative’.

Step five: Foster a climate of learning and development and knowledge sharing.

Step six: Agree common values which people can live by.

Step seven: Clarify business purpose and ways of working, to which people can contribute and make them their own.

Step eight: Give managers the tools to make engagement happen.

Step nine: Start by giving individuals respect, offer encouragement and feedback for improvement and personal development.

Step 10: Encourage teams to put forward suggestions, thereby promoting innovation and change throughout the organisation.

Case study

National Australia Group Europe (NAGE) has made a remarkable increase in its levels of employee engagement to win the accolade of best contact centre (250 plus seats) in the world. With annual attrition rates at 65% it recognised that it needed to undertake radical change to make it world class. At one point the company was training new staff faster than they could recruit.

The business introduced a number of initiatives to improve levels of employee engagement. These included firstly a leadership development programme to improve the skills, knowledge and behaviours of managers. At the same time a new measurement process, called Scores on the Board was introduced. This measures performance against a set of key indicators: engaged staff, satisfied customers, increased productivity and increased revenue. It is the basis of the improvement initiative and is used by managers every week as part of one to one discussions. The idea is to encourage individuals to view the organisation as their own business. Each team analyses employee and customer feedback and devises their own plan of action to address any gaps. The peer review of goals that are related to aspects of work that are within workers control has helped created an environment of empowerment. In addition to the leadership development programme and the setting of new performance measures, the HR department did a considerable amount of work to develop well-being and career development programmes. For example the centre has provided additional product knowledge and skills training as well as ensuring that everyone has a personal development plan.

During the course of the programme levels of team motivation, self management, engagement and performance have increased. In 12 months attrition plummeted from 65% to less than 40% and absences from 12% to under 5%.
Creating high levels of employee engagement and commitment involve long term commitment from senior leaders and managers. It is not something which can be increased overnight. However with a concerted plan that is implemented systematically across the organisation, businesses can capture the hearts and minds of employees so that they apply discretionary effort for the benefit of the business and the customer.
Steve Macaulay and Sarah Cook are development specialists who focus on helping managers and organisations to achieve change in a customer-focused way. Steve is a Learning Development Executive at Cranfield School of Management, Sarah is Managing Director of The Stairway Consultancy. She is the author of “The Essential Guide to Employee Engagement” published by Kogan Page.  Steve can be contacted via email on s.macaulay@cranfield.ac.uk; Sarah on sarah@thestairway.co.uk
Sarah Cook and Steve Macaulay. Sarah Cook is Managing Director of the strategic leadership and customer management specialists, The Stairway Consultancy. Steve Macaulay is a Learning Development Consultant at Cranfield School of Management, Steve can be contacted by email   on s.macaulay@cranfield.ac.uk;  tel.++(44) 01234 751122. Sarah can be contacted by email on sarah@thestairway.co.uk; tel. ++ (44) 01628 526535.
© The Stairway Consultancy Ltd                                                             June 2011

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