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By now, we understand that employee engagement is one of the keys to corporate success. It allows us to reduce our employee acquisition and replacement costs. It provides additional discretionary effort from our best employees. It helps create a culture where companies are able to focus employee efforts on key strategic goals.

Everybody loves the idea of having better employee engagement within their own organizations. But are companies truly willing to make the investments necessary to actually improve?

The employee engagement problem is readily apparent. Gallup shows that the vast majority of employees are disinterested drudges simply working for a paycheck or for another hour of overtime rather than truly inspired employees who are creative, helpful, and true advocates for the company.

Plenty of Tools

To solve this problem, we often turn to technology solutions that supposedly improve employee engagement. Intranets. Social networks. Community management. Gamification. Innovation software. Human Resources policy management. Compensation management solutions. Process management. Document management.

All of these technologies are supposed to help us with this core problem of employee engagement. Many of these technologies get purchased with this problem in mind, only to find that they don’t end up making a whole lot of difference.

Why not? Typical challenges include a lack of technology adoption, the inability to fully deploy the technology, or a lack of executive support. Although all of these challenges are valid, they skirt around the true problems that prevent technologies from improving employee engagement.

To understand why, first consider the true keys to employee engagement. To get employees truly engaged in their jobs, they need to feel like:

  • They are in an environment where their own personal goals are supported
  • They both agree with and are a part of the company’s goals and objectives
  • They are allowed to find and implement solutions for their problems
  • They have timely and appropriate access to the resources and managers they need
  • They work in a company where the rules are held fairly and equally across all employees

These statements are common sense. Employees want to work at a competent company with integrity that also allows them to do their best in pursuit of a common goal. Behind all of the management books, actualization gurus and highly paid consultants, you will find these few tenants.

Integration is the Key

So, here’s the problem. Simply throwing an “Intranet” at the problem isn’t going to solve anything. Or a “social network.” Or an “employee feedback” application. What you really need to do is create an integration of HR, procurement and social technologies that will allow employees to do the following five things:

Provide an environment where employees can pursue their goals in conjunction with your corporate goals. Sometimes this is as simple as providing a discussion board where new moms can give each other tips, runners can get together, musicians can form bands and volunteers can find good charity causes to work on together.

Work does not have to be completely separated from play or leisure. There’s a healthy balance. It’s important not to cross the line and invade employee lives too deeply, but there’s no reason that employees shouldn’t be able to gather together based on common interests.

And these don’t have to simply be personal interests. Your employees may also be looking for like-minded marketing strategists across the company, Hadoop proof of concepts, predictive and statistical analysis experts, customer care tips, or sales campaign discussions. Allow your employees to speak with each other and find each other as “birds-of-a-feather.” This is a classic example of a social network or community implementation, but companies cannot simply put out a social network and expect all of these categories to come up by themselves. Seed the ground by creating an initial list of metadata tags, categories, and discussions so that employees don’t have to unnecessarily recreate the wheel.

Align personal and corporate goals and incentives . Where should an employee look to figure out if and how her daily or weekly efforts are aligned to corporate goals? This is where leadership comes in. Every employee’s efforts should be aligned in some way to a key initiative. And once that initiative is seen, the employee should have visibility to the individual, departmental and corporate contributions to that initiative.

For instance, a customer service rep should be actively told that her efforts are directly related to customer retention and subscription income. Based on that, she should be able to see her own operational metrics, her contribution to the team, then the key business metrics of retention and income.

Without that knowledge, a representative cannot be expected to put her efforts in context of the company as a whole. Companies unwilling to provide that level of detail (or similarly appropriate detail) are more likely to have an engagement issue, since employees will be unable to see how their efforts directly relate to the fate of the company.

This is an analytics issue where employees should have appropriate dashboards. If executives need dashboards to contextualize the business, every employee needs similar dashboards to contextualize their role in the business.