Making engagement happen – what HR needs to do now

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Joe has been with his company for six years. He works hard, has recently gained a promotion and is popular with his peers and management alike. He enjoys his job and rarely has time off sick. But he isn’t highly engaged. He is a ‘Saver’.

‘Savers’ v ‘Investors’

Look around your organisation and you will spot many more ‘Savers’. They are usually hard working, diligent employees who are committed to the company. Thanks to corporate communication programmes and initiatives, they often have a clear understanding of the business and know what is expected of them. It’s a good place to start but I don’t believe this is where long-term, meaningful engagement actually happens.

Employees like Joe are the bedrock of many companies but whilst every organisation needs ‘Savers’, they alone are not enough to create the performance levels that a business needs to excel and deliver exceptional results. If companies are serious about increasing engagement for performance, HR needs to up its stakes and create a strong community of ‘Investors’. 

‘Investors’ are employees who are willing to invest more of themselves in an organisation. Just like ‘Savers’, they are clear about the aims of the organisation and are committed to its success. But, crucially, they also feel a sense of genuine attachment to their employer because of a deep sense of value from their relationship with them. Waitrose have it in a true sense, as their latest advertising expresses; people that work in their stores are owners of the business. However, there are plenty of other examples where ‘Investors’ don’t actually have share certificates.

What I’m talking about are people that see a deeper connection between their own personal values and purpose with that of the business. In day-to-day terms, they are the employees who are more willing to be an advocate for the brand and will demonstrate this, for example, by offering better customer service.

So how can HR create a culture of ‘Investors?’

HR often owns the employee communication remit and that activity goes a long way to creating ‘Savers’. However, true engagement and the creation of ‘Investors’ requires managers and leaders to be masters at engaging. They need HR to give them the processes and infrastructure but also the development, confidence, coaching and counsel.

For example, a strong performance management system that doesn’t get tangled up in process and complexity is crucial. It’s also important to ensure that any performance measurement really does have the performance of people at its heart. The message will be loud and clear: we measure people performance because the performance of our employees is the most significant measure of our business success.

To create ‘investors’, HR has a responsibility to ensure the right level of development for every line manager – not just senior leaders. It’s line managers who are the game changers on a daily basis so they need proper investment. That development needs to help them be proficient in the five roles of Manager as Culture Builder. Where managers are strong in each, they will unlock tremendous potential in their people and high performance will follow for their teams, the business and the entire organisation. Senior leaders, too, need to be super-charged across all the roles – great role models that unlock the potential of their direct reports.

Five key roles to create more Investors

Here’s a quick overview of the five roles needed to be a great engager:

  1. The Prophet – this role is all about passion, vision and inspiration. Prophets paint a visual picture of the future in a highly emotive way that others can get hold of and want to be part of. The vision should pack an emotional punch, resonating with all employees and leaving them with no doubt about exactly what the values and vision of its leaders are. HR professionals can work with their employee communication colleagues to help coach leaders to be great Prophets through their personal communication. They can also help managers to see the importance to keeping that vision alive day-to-day.
  2. The Storyteller – this person uses an emotional and logical mix to bring the story to life about how we will achieve the vision and live our purpose. People need to know from the Storyteller what it looks like, what it feel likes, what the journey will be like, what destinations we will pass and, crucially, what does it mean for me as an individual and as a team? Consider how you tell the story about your people strategy or changes in the way you work with your businesses and how you could strengthen it to lead by example.
  3. The Strategist – this person has a plan to engage every person in his team or under his or her influence. He or she knows who the talent is and has a retention and development plan for each of them. The Strategist is the logical, rational part of being a manager that takes intention about engagement and makes it a reality. This is where HR can really play a role. This is one of the lowest preferences for most managers so HR can help them to see the value of planning and making engagement work.
  4. The Coach – as a coach, a manager understands what makes the individual’s heart beat. He or she works with that knowledge and helps them grow and deliver more value. This is a deep and meaningful part of being an engaging manager and, as such, is exceptionally rewarding. Let’s remember that, at its core, engagement comes from treating people as individuals and a coach has an amazing opportunity to ensure people feel their own needs are being met and valued. For a culture of ‘Investors’, it is essential. HR can have a huge impact by coaching managers to have better coaching-style conversations with their people. They can also invest in training to boost skills.
  5. The Pilot – the goal of the Pilot is to be the respected role model, the ‘parental’ adult with one hand on the tiller. The Pilot is the measured, calm component of being a manager. Solid and trusting, he or she can mindfully balance the need to be authoritative and when to be facilitative. 

My research shows that the Strategist is one of the lowest preferences for managers across the globe. The Coach is also a low preference for many. This means that not only can HR have an impact by role modelling the five roles; they can also look for more managers with skills of Strategist and Coach during the recruitment process. Influence on engagement can also come from considering these preferences in organisational design and development programmes. So, to create a culture of ‘Investors’ – not just ‘Savers’ – start by asking which are you? 

Jane is the author of The Culture Builders; Leadership Strategies for Employee Performance, see Gower Publishing website.


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