Employee Engagement — Capturing Hearts, Spirits, Minds, and Hands

We see more and more organizations working to “get employees engaged.” On the one hand, it’s good to see most organizations today recognize that the employee experience is at the core of organizational success.

Unfortunately, often these “employee engagement initiatives” consist primarily of throwing perks at engagement woes. Visiting trade shows—Human Resources, in particular—will quickly provide proof that the terms “employee engagement solutions” and “employee experience” have been usurped by providers offering services that range from award and recognition trinkets and applications, to fitness companies, to benefits providers, to people development firms.

Unfortunately, some organizations today fall into the trap of believing that “getting employees engaged” is a matter of out-perking the competition. Conduct an employee survey every year, throw out a few perks, and voilà, we have employee engagement. They assume that engagement is something that is done to employees, something inflicted upon them. But engagement is a choice. The employee’s choice.

Engagement requires that we bring both our emotions and our actions to the table—our hearts, spirits, minds, and hands. These represent a love for our work (the “heart,” similar to the teacher who believes she is making a difference to kids), as well as a burning passion for our work (“spirits,” much like the team spirit felt watching a winning team take the championship). But, simply feeling doesn’t get us very far when it comes to results. Engagement involves action. That’s where the minds and hands come in. Employees whose minds are focused on their work create innovative new products, identify and resolve quality issues, and ask themselves, “how could we switch this process to make it easier for the customer?” Then, the hands take over. This involves getting to work.

And that’s where employee surveys fail organizations. Better said, that’s where organizations fail organizations. For over two decades, DecisionWise has been conducting employee surveys. With over 30 million responses in our database, we have a lot of data about how employees feel. Companies continually approach us and tell us they have been measuring employee engagement for years, but things haven’t improved. They come to us looking for solutions on “how to engage their employees.”

First, measurement doesn’t create employee engagement, although an employee survey is an important place to start. But, even with seemingly endless data at their fingertips, and an ever-expanding number of ways to measure and capture information, many companies have failed to understand that no amount of measurement creates engagement. Employee surveys do an excellent job of measuring the feeling components of engagement, but feeling isn’t doing. They haven’t converted what they know about employee sentiment into action.

In order to engage we must feel something and take action on what we feel. Take one away and you don’t have engagement. We can think of feelings and action as two oars in a rowboat. They are complimentary opposites. Both are necessary. Row with just one and you’ll travel in circles. You might work up a sweat and feel as though you should be getting somewhere, but you won’t. Pull on both at the same time and you’ll make progress.

You Can’t Have One Without the Other

We see wasted effort with a majority of so-called engagement initiatives within organizations. While with good intentions, most of these initiatives row with only one oar. Some target the heart and spirit, while others involve the mind and hands, but few encompass them all simultaneously. The results? A lot of energy spent, little distance traveled.

Sometimes, leaders mistakenly feel that if their people row hard enough with one oar, the other will come along with it. We recently worked with a large technology company that had just acquired its formidable competitor. To the employees of both companies, the acquiring company effectively communicated the steps of the acquisition, the reason behind it, and the actions that would need to take place over the subsequent months.

Employees clearly understood that their minds and hands would be required to make the integration process a smooth one, and they knew that it was financially beneficial for the company overall. On paper, everything looked solid. Yet the integration was failing miserably.

It became apparent that, while minds and hands were active, hearts and spirits were stagnant. When we surveyed employees, we learned that although they were acting, they were not feeling. In short, the company had failed to gain buy-in. Though the process was very solid and clearly outlined, the acquiring company had failed to see that nearly a quarter of its people felt that the integration process would most likely result in the loss of their jobs.

Even more damaging was the feeling we found in employees of the acquiring company that the company they had purchased was built around a “culture of cutthroats.” Talk about a toxic employee experience. They had made little effort to bring hearts and spirit along for the ride, and so the acquisition was doomed from the start.

On the other extreme, we have worked with a number of organizations that had worked hard to attend to hearts and spirits, but failed to engage minds and hands. These companies made great strides in energizing the workforce and even instilling a sense of passion. Yet, there was no accountability for results. Their workplaces attracted talent (who wouldn’t want free lunches, gym memberships, and free movie tickets?), but that talent didn’t stick around. Even more important, they simply didn’t deliver results. While the employees felt great, at least according to the employee survey, they weren’t required to act. These companies invested a great deal of effort and money in creating what they thought was an excellent employee experience when, in reality, it was only a company that felt good about itself.

When you involve hearts, spirits, minds, and hands, your organization is both feeling and acting. You have an engaged workforce that produces its own bottom line improvements in retention, quality, customer service, and profitability. You don’t have to design those outcomes into employee engagement; they are inevitable.

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