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It Takes Effort, Then Technology

If you have ever worked with me you know that I have a paradoxical relationship with technology.  On the one hand, I have grown up with and embraced impactful technological advances in the workplace over the past 20 years.  From e-mail to enterprise solutions, HRIS,  ERP, data analytics, engagement platforms, and social media, I’ve been fortunate to experience their inception, evolution and usefulness.  

Now for where the paradox comes into play.  I’m equally dispassionate about organizations, leaders and employees who believe that technology is the sole solution to what ails them.  Poor workforce engagement is a great example of a problem that cannot be solved by technology alone.  Yet we encounter organizations that have made this good-intentioned mistake regularly.

High levels of engagement and belief do not come from a technology platforms and never will.  Instead, it comes from the soul of the organization.

There are numerous exciting engagement platforms that can help organizations understand in real time what the engagement level of their workforce looks like today.  Most of those same platforms can then help you communicate with the workforce.  But those tools, no matter how beautifully designed or well implemented, cannot fill the critical gap with engagement today: leadership communication and transparency. 

So when considering whether to implement an engagement platform, we recommend you first ask these questions:

1) What is driving the “need” for this platform?

If this is merely an HR project, then stop (drop and roll, because you just lit yourself on fire).  If this is an initiative that is shared by cross-functional leaders with a genuine interest in measuring and improving engagement, then proceed. 

2) Is there a clear understanding amongst leadership around the definition of engagement?

To ensure expectations are clear and supported, everyone should be on the same page when it comes to what engagement means.  Many managers believe this is “happy,” but it’s not.  We’ve found that even in the most engaged workforces, there can certainly be times of stress where the workforce is not happy.  Instead, we suggest you adopt a more robust definition centered in belief in the organization.

3) Are leaders clearly aligned on purpose, mission and meaningful values of the organization?

Thanks in large part to Jim Collins, most organizations these days have a mission statement and a set of generic values.  We’ve found that innovative talent will not reach a high level of engagement (or stick around long) if only this standard threshold is met.  Instead, focus on defining your purpose and meaningful (unique!) values, then communicating them to the workforce before going down the technology solution road.  Better yet, let them be a part of the process. 

4) Do leaders regularly, transparently and effectively communicate with employees now?

It doesn’t matter how awesome the platform, if the leaders in the organization do not believe in or participate in meaningful communication with employees then it won’t work.  Worse yet, you are going to waste valuable time and resources implementing a product that will be viewed as a failure when it is not.  If this is the boat you’re in, we recommend focusing on leadership development training and a communication initiative first. 

5) Is there a current perception of engagement level in the organization?

From our experience this is important because you could be in for a shock.  If leadership is expecting very high, off the chart, engagement levels but they don’t communicate, then things could get ugly.  If you think this is a possibility, we recommend doing an informal internal survey or focus groups yourself internally.  We’ve done this in the past and it’s as simple as asking 5-10 questions through a survey monkey.  It won’t take long for you to get a flavor for the results so you can share them with leadership.  We’ve even used the results of this informal survey to address some significant engagement issues (low hanging fruit!) with little to no cost.

6) Is there a plan and support for action and communication from leadership after implementation?

There is nothing worse you can do for engagement than to implement a platform, collect valuable insights…then do nothing with it.  You know what that tells your employees?  It says that you didn’t like what you heard, so you threw away the results, and that the organization and its leaders are not authentic.  To avoid this, be sure to have a communication plan for post implementation, share the results with everyone and be prepared to make some changes.  This is how you get an engaged workforce, by showing them that their voice matters. 

7) What are the anticipated business outcomes?

As mentioned before, if this is purely an HR exercise then stop.  Instead, if you do have a cross functional team supporting this initiative, you have the requisite leadership understanding and communication commitment (and plan) then be sure to identify what business outcomes the organization will experience once this platform successfully executed.  This needs to be more than “raise engagement level by ___%” (sorry).  Instead, think more in terms of if/then rules.  For instance, “if we raise the engagement level by 10%, then we should experience an increase in customer retention by 5%.”  What are the business drivers that are directly affected by your employee’s believing and caring in what they do every day?  Those are your metrics and by identifying them you can develop a plan to capitalize on the increase. 

You see my paradox isn’t really with the technology, it’s with individuals using those platforms as solutions to problems that they are not intended to address.  These products are the tools for you to create highly engaged cultures and organizations, but like a fancy Best Made Axe, it’s not going to chop the wood by itself.  If you want to build a fire, the wood chopping is the hardest part, not buying the axe.  To do the hard part, you need a plan, commitment and fortitude to see it through. 

Chad StricklandComment