The "Focus" of Employee Engagement | Emplify >

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(October 19, 2016) – In my last blog post, I discussed how a very large component of employee engagement is centered around work tasks and the degree to which employees can immerse themselves in their work. The hope is that employees experience the pleasure of working and even reach the nearly euphoric state of flow while doing so. You could describe this state of flow as “work engagement.”

However, employee engagement is not just assessed by the level of focus reached while working. The object of that focus is critical to effective engagement as well.

The reason is that work directionality matters. Imagine you have two teams within your organization:

  • One is fairly normal. They don’t seem to go above and beyond what is required of them and they don’t express a great deal of passion for the organization, but at least their work is aligned with business objectives. By all observational evidence, they are not very engaged.
  • Now imagine another team that demonstrates all of the behaviors of a team intensely focused on their work. They’re absorbed in their tasks and working with great vigor and commitment. However, the work they are doing is not closely aligned—or worse, not helpful at all to the business.

That extreme scenario is not likely, but it makes for a nice object lesson. The point of the comparison is to recognize that employee engagement is about an employee engaging with the organization and not just their work. The engagement with the organization gives focus and directionality to the work. If the work is pointed in a direction that isn’t aligned with the company, then what is the point of the effort and immersion in the work? It’s wasted from an organizational standpoint. I’d argue that the absorbed, but directionally misguided team won’t be able to sustain any sense of engagement in the long run.

That’s why we need to consider engagement beyond work engagement. Over long periods of time (years), work engagement alone is likely a good way to capture and measure employee engagement. But like anything you measure, if it can be understood and influenced in shorter cycles, it can be improved more rapidly. When trying to capture and act on shorter interval assessments, it’s important to consider the relationship with the organization because it can provide assurance that the engagement you see is directionally accurate and not wasted.

I think we all want our fellow employees to love the organization that we’ve helped shape. There is something inherently human about wanting others to like the things we like. But in this case, the benefits to this natural desire are significant. It is about ensuring that efforts dedicated to improving engagement result in efforts that are focused correctly. If we think of employee engagement as a force multiplier, we want to ensure that force is applied in the most accurate direction possible.

A fundamental component of our Measure methodology is that the engagement behavior we look for is directionally aligned with business goals and focused on the mission of the organization.

We see this as a non-trivial distinction. The most effective organizations are those who can inspire each team member to push in the same direction in support of the organization’s mission.

This happens at multiple levels. We see it break down in three big buckets:

  1. The “why” of the organization
  2. The goals and objectives of teams and time
  3. The individual’s competency and clarity in their role tasks

The “Why” of the Organization

At Emplify, we spend a great amount of effort trying to help organizations find the meaning behind what they do and articulate it to their teams. At the end of the day, this is why the organization exists. We find that employees are extremely capable at connecting to a big mission without a ton of specifics. If you are going to do one thing right, figure out why your organization exists and articulate it clearly to everyone so they can buy in.

Goals and Objectives

The next level of alignment is timebound goals and objectives. There are many frameworks the best organizations use here. At Emplify, we’re partial to the OKR framework created at Intel and popularized by Google. It helps strike a balance between company-guided initiatives and bottom-up goal setting. No matter what framework you choose, the important thing is that employees know where the company is headed and can have some influence on guiding their day-to-day work to help reach those goals. And obviously, if these don’t in some way connect with the “why” of the organization, they will have a weaker impact.

Role Tasks

This speaks more to the “work engagement” discussed in the last post, but it is still relevant here. If the work that an employee does day in and day out has little to no connection to the direction of the organization, you just won’t reap the benefits of employee engagement that you want. There are many things that influence what makes role tasks relevant and engaging for an individual. We’ll discuss this more in future posts, but what we hope for here is an expression of organizational alignment captured by the famous story about a NASA janitor:

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy toured the NASA space center. He saw a janitor carrying a broom and asked him what he was doing. This was his response:

“Well, Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

Now THAT is an engaged employee focused on the right thing. Your job as a leader is to help employees see their role this clearly. If you want help doing that, it is why Emplify exists. We’re here to help everyone experience that clarity in their work. In turn, you get an inspired and engaged workforce.

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