By Andrew Kupperman, Employer Services and Workforce Technology Consultant
If you’ve watched an organizational effectiveness related webinar in the last 5 or 6 years, you’ve undoubtedly come across one of the terms I wanted to talk about in this blog post. But the one thing that’s likely lacking in whatever webinar you watched, is how these terms relate to each other to provide a bigger picture in how you can truly lead an effective organization. My goal in this blog post is to better define these terms and help you understand how they relate and flow between one another.
The first term, which has become a nauseating buzz word in business, is engagement. Even before the struggles of the pandemic organizations across the globe have been trying to wrap their arms around how to engage their workforce, because they’ve been told relentlessly by business support vendors, if your employees are not engaged, they will leave. There has been a myriad of solutions presented to “engage” the workforce – gamification, innovative technology, new benefits, etc.
But one thing most organizations fail to think on and realize as part of this process is what engagement really means to an organization. Engagement is something that is subjective, and defined by the organization, not employees. Most organizations liken engagement to the sense that an employee is keyed into the work they’re doing, and maybe even going above and beyond the duties and tasks laid out in their job description. I’ve also seen some organizations define an engaged employee as one who kind of acts like a robot, but I also know most organizations don’t intend it to be characterized that way.
Moving on to the next E, one of the reasons why organizations might struggle with engagement is because they fail to understand the experience they create for their workforce, which can shape how engaged (remember, as defined by the organization) an employee may end up being. Often organizations think providing a new platform or benefit is the way to shape a better experience, but experience is so much more than the tools and benefits you provide your workforce. Experience also includes (but not exclusive to) things like culture, leadership, relationship with a direct supervisor, interaction with other team members, and training. Everything someone encounters during (or even outside) the hours of work can shape an employee’s experience. Even something like texting an employee after hours plays into their experience. Not knowing the experiences employees have while working for an organization puts the organization at a disadvantage in understanding what an ideal engaged employee looks and feels like.
This brings me to the next E, expectations. Most organizations want their employees to have a good experience while they are working for them. Good employee experiences lead to good client experiences, which leads to organizational growth and positive branding. Setting clear and visible expectations is the critical link between engagement and experience. In doing so, you are providing a roadmap for the employee to understand what their experience is going to look like, as well as how expect an employee to engage in the work that is being done at the organization.
Clear expectations also help when something goes wrong, which despite all efforts to set clear expectations, will happen from time to time. Expectations can let the employee know if something goes wrong or wasn’t supposed to happen, that there is way for the employee or the organization to recognize what went wrong (policies and procedures 😊), and how the employee and organization are going to engage in correcting it. This creates trust between an employee and the organization and will hopefully lead to mitigating the employee falling out of engagement, or even worse, making the decision to leave the organization.
So far we’ve learned that setting clear expectations can lead to better experiences, which results in more engaged workforce. This type of environment can foster the next E, empowerment. Truly engaged employees who are trusted and reciprocate that trust are imbued with a sense of empowerment to do better. Through clear expectations and good experiences, psychological safety is created within an organization where employees aren’t afraid to speak up when they see something that can be done a different and better way. Who wouldn’t want to work for an organization where you are empowered to make the work you and your coworkers are engaged with continuously better? An entire workforce of truly empowered workers sounds like a team of superheroes for an organization.
To the tile of this blog’s point, I’ve talked about the 4 Es, but really there are 5. The last E is employees. Remember, employees are not just engaged robots. The experiences you provide them impacts their entire lives. They are there to help the organization, so setting clear expectations will let them know how they can do that. And lastly, everyone should have a sense of empowerment in whatever they do, to make it a little bit better. This will truly create an effective organization.