Getting Managers to Actively Improve Employee Engagement: Is Your Approach Data-Informed?

January 31, 2019 | Justin Black | Glint
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Let’s face it: Employee engagement programs often fail. In fact, they fail a disheartening amount of the time. The most common reason is because far too few people are doing what the whole initiative was designed for: using data to take effective action to help people be happier and more successful at work. There are big opportunities missed when managers lack the tools and accountability to act on insights from their people data. The unwanted results: employee attraction, performance, and retention suffer; speed and quality of decision-making are sub par; and people feel undervalued and disengaged. This is a critical problem worth solving, and many companies are turning their focus and efforts to doing just that — igniting meaningful, visible action.

Listening to and following up on employee input is more than a byproduct of effective people data utilization — it is inherent to the process. Glint’s data shows that when people feel involved, valued, and heard at work, perceptions of growth improve, innovation increases, and KPIs like performance and productivity are higher. A virtuous cycle ensues. The more you use feedback, the better you become at using it, and the more of it you get. Any survey expert will tell you that the number one driver of response rates is action-taking.

Research Supports Action As Critical to Employee Engagement

Managers who take action on people data create environments where people trust that their input will be used effectively. Consider these three findings from a recent study led by Glint Data Scientist Alexander Radnaev:

  • Teams where individuals believe that meaningful action will be taken based on employee feedback tend to be significantly more engaged. Work teams that scored in the top quartile on perceptions of action taking within their organization had 25% higher engagement scores on average, and were 25% more likely to recommend the company as a good place to work, than the teams that scored in the bottom quartile on Action Taking.
  • A single quarter is enough time to see meaningful increases in scores across teams of varying sizes and initial score levels, when action is taken by the managers. Teams where the manager used the action planning features in the Glint platform (a proxy for action-taking) showed 7% higher increases in scores on average within one quarter relative to the changes in the company, in those areas where action was taken.
  • Regardless of the area on which action is taken, there is a high likelihood that confidence in leadership increases when action is taken, and this has an indirect, positive effect on engagement. An indirect effects structural equation model showed that besides the direct improvement to the area on which action is taken and the area’s impact on engagement, there are indirect positive effects on engagement through increasing confidence in leadership.​

HR’s Primary Role is Data-Informed Coaching

Let’s take a moment to underscore and emphasize the critical role Human Resources plays in driving accountability. Armed with real-time data as to which teams are taking action and which teams are making progress, HR partners can identify action-taking leaders versus laggards. From there, it’s possible to replicate the approaches used by the organization’s top action-takers and identify the teams that need immediate support.

The best way to support managers and teams depends on whether they are 1) taking action and 2) making progress in terms of both engagement scores and business goals. Pay attention to the following metrics to understand how to better support teams:

  • Teams that are acting and improving. Be sure that senior leadership recognizes these teams and their leaders, and learn as much as you can about why they are succeeding. Otherwise, leave them alone.
  • Teams that are acting and not improving. Help these teams evaluate the effectiveness of their actions. Why did they not translate to better scores and business results? Does the team expect the actions to pay off in the near future (perhaps they got started late or took on a big problem) or is it best to try another solution? Is there a new engagement priority that is more closely tied to business results?
  • Teams that are not acting and improving. Often times these teams areacting, they are simply tracking their progress outside of the system. Dig in to see if that’s the case, and from there, it’s up to you whether you steer them into the system. Again, if it’s working, may be best to leave well enough alone. For teams that are genuinely not making any concerted effort to improve engagement levels and still seeing improved business results, there is a high likelihood those business results will not sustain themselves. Ask these teams to think long-term, about what they need to do now, and how they will need to evolve, in order to be successful 2–3 years down the road.
  • Teams that are not acting and not improving. These teams need immediate exploration and support. Are they in a tough situation or poorly led? Are they over-committed? Use the stories of other teams’ triumphs to boost their confidence.

To learn more about engraining people data into the culture of your organization, listen in to hear how Dropbox has successfully navigated through three of the four phases of the analytics maturity curve to build out their employee engagement strategy and process.

Igniting Action with Managers

Even with the knowledge that manager action-taking is a critical driver of employee engagement, most organizations struggle to help managers prioritize it. How do successful organizations make the shift from under-utilizing employee input to helping managers build muscle for ongoing conversations that drive continuous improvement? Here are four things worth investing in:

  • Make it easy. Narrowly focus insights to be relevant to business decisions managers need to make in the next 3 to 6 months, and deliver them in real time so that the data’s impact on decision-making is clear and relevant.
  • Make it last. Talking about engagement and performance with your team once or twice per year is woefully insufficient for aligning to goals, course-correcting, motivating, and developing your team members in a dynamic and fast-moving business environment. Get in the habit of discussing the team’s progress on engagement and performance in regular conversations with team members.
  • Hold each other accountable for action with visibility and behavior modeling. Managers are busy, distractions abound, and it’s easy to get off course on action plans. Without visibility into action-taking, HR cannot identify those team leaders who are doing little to nothing with their team’s input. Further, absent effective modeling from senior leaders, there is no urgency or pressure for managers to focus on this instead of the dozens of other things on their plates. Coaching senior leaders to act in a quick and focused way on people data sets the expectation for the rest of the organization. People see and do what their leaders do — regardless of what their leaders say.
  • Create a feedback loop. You might hear from managers, “How can people say we are not taking action? We did X, Y, and Z to address that issue!” The miss in this all-too-common situation is that the manager failed to connect the action to the feedback. Try this: “You told us this was an issue and gave us great suggestions for improvement. Here’s what we tried and why we think it’s working (or not), and here’s what we plan to do next.”

Action-taking is an under-emphasized and highly impactful piece of the employee engagement puzzle. Be different; don’t let your employee engagement program fail. Improve action-taking in your organization by making the business case for action, deploying a simple process for igniting and sustaining action, and enabling HR to support teams as they work to continuously improve.