Articles

Are Your Employee Survey Results Plateauing Despite You Going Overboard On Engagement?

March 25, 2022 - By Tony Flannigan, Associate, BSc (1st Hons) Naval Architecture MSt Manufacturing Leadership

There is a difference between Engagement, Enablement and Empowerment!

A lot of employers are becoming increasingly frustrated that despite having comprehensive engagement plans, their employee survey results are firmly stuck in the mediocre position.

The three ‘E’ words are bandied about frequently in today’s business environment – but are we using them interchangeably and confusing the intent behind each one?

In the Legitimate Leadership Model each of these words has a specific meaning.

The first thing to recognise is that they are all good and are to be encouraged!

Arguably they form a hierarchy towards building very capable people who are willingly to go the extra mile and be held accountable for their contributions.

Engagement is the basis of good communication.

At the highest level it encompasses all the good practices of co-inventing, or at the very least cascading, the company’s vision, mission, strategy, goals, etc. Having alignment, so people can see that what they do as individual contributors has a direct impact on the bigger picture, is an essential part in generating motivation to do a good job. However, this often goes wrong when managers think they have achieved this by cascading objectives. Even if this is done by expensive professional ‘marketing’ comms including posters, t-shirts, caps, mugs, emails, team briefs, etc, if this is one-way communication it is doomed to failure. Real engagement happens when people feel properly consulted – you have asked their opinion, and found out what excites or worries them about the messages/changes etc. That is, successful engagement is a two way dialogue in which people really understand what is happening and the implications for them. They know what is happening, how it is happening and why it is happening.

However, being engaged doesn’t necessarily mean they are able to do what is required of them.

Enablement is about setting people up for success. Now that they are engaged with what, how and why, they must be allowed to actually contribute. To do that they need Means and Ability. The obvious Means are things like tools, equipment, materials, time, budget. Less obvious Means issues are things like Standards (what does ‘good’ look like?) and Authority (permission to act). Ability is about How and Why, which is largely covered by the Engagement activities above, but will also includes Training and Coaching.

But if you Engage and Enable your workforce are they Empowered? Not necessarily! Until you also hand over control for decision-making to them, the manager remains accountable for the quantity and quality of output and the morale that goes with it.

Empowerment only happens when the manager hands over the decisions that go with a job or task and lives with the consequences of the employee’s decision even if it is different to the one he would have made. This requires the manager to take a risk and trust that the employee (when properly Engaged and Enabled) will make the same, or actually an even better, decision than the manager would have made because the employee is closer to the real time issues and information. The risk is that the employee may fail; but, more often than not, empowered people meet and even exceed the standard expected of them.

The killer link back to Employee Survey results is that low employee results are essentially saying to Management, “We don’t trust you – and the reason that we don’t trust you is that you don’t trust us, because you won’t let us make decisions that we are perfectly capable of making.”

The price of low trust is a much slower business as decisions have to go up and down the line. Worse still, there are much lower levels of loyalty, commitment, creativity, passion and initiative.

Never mind getting better Employee Survey results – how would your business perform if you could unlock all of that?

Tony Flannigan
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