Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Broad Answer to Improving Engagement is to be More Specific

Organizations are increasingly coming to understand the value of a highly engaged workforce. They know the benefits, but frequently ask for the keys to a quick fix. While it's true that there are some common factors among organizations with well-engaged employees, it's critical to understand the specific factors of the organization and mindset of the employees within the organization to find the most effective strategy and tactics to increase engagement levels. Bob Lavigna, Director of the Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement shares his insight in his article in PA Times Magazine, Hitting the Bullseye to Improve Employee Engagement. Read the full article.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

How HR Can Champion the Engagement Survey Process

By Chris Atkinson, HR Consultant, Organizational Strategy, CPS HR Consulting

HR is an important part of the equation when it comes to facilitating the employee engagement survey process and creating a culture of engagement. At one point in my career, I worked at a software organization in HR where we actively worked to re-vitalize the employee engagement survey process and create a culture of engagement. We were able to accomplish a few key steps that began to move the organization towards that goal. We all learned valuable lessons through the endeavor. Notably, there are three things HR should keep in mind when trying to create a culture of engagement: champion engagement, facilitate the process and identify organization-wide issues and lead action.

Champion engagement: HR must take the lead in creating the business case for employee engagement. This involves gaining senior leaders’ buy-in for the engagement survey process. This is critical to the process because senior leaders have a large role in translating the importance of creating an engaged workforce down to the line level managers. Due to the greater level of interaction, the line level managers have some of the strongest influence on creating engaged line-level workers. However, if no one at the top of the organization understands why engagement is important, this trickle-down effect will never happen. Employee engagement can’t be seen as just “another HR thing” to be effective. Employees also want to hear directly from senior leadership as well about the importance of creating an engaged workforce. One example of how we did this at the software firm I worked at was to create a three-minute video of the CEO talking about the importance of the engagement survey and why creating an engaged workforce was integral to our overall business strategy.

Facilitate the process: HR must have a clearly outlined process for pre-survey, mid-survey, and post-survey activities. Not just from the technical survey administration standpoint, but from a communication and action planning standpoint. One key thing that we did was to craft a communication plan for the senior leadership team and for HR. We prepared email templates to communicate the importance of the survey process that senior leaders would edit and send to their employees during each of the pre-survey, mid-survey, and post-survey activities. You must make it easy for busy leaders to promote the engagement survey. 

Identify organization-wide issues and lead action: HR as the survey process owner has the responsibility to help the senior leadership team decide what to focus on across the organization. As part of creating a culture of engagement, it is important to identify areas of the survey that can be addressed from an organizational standpoint. This is important for a few reasons. First, to create a culture of engagement, it’s helpful to create some consistency in how that culture of engagement is being built. If every different part of the organization was doing something completely different to promote engagement, there could be mixed messages sent to employees about what is important. While it is still important for different parts of the organization to address specific issues that are inhibiting engagement, it is important for all parts of the organization to be working together towards at least one common aspect that can promote engagement. Second, having a single issue that is addressed across the entire organization gives employees something to point toward as proof that the organization listened to what they had to say in the survey. This will subsequently promote more survey participation in later years of the survey. Communicating what is being done to address engagement also increases levels of engagement because employees feel they are being heard. At the software company I worked at, one year we identified training and development as a key area for improvement based on survey responses. As a result, we decided to take a number of actions. We created a development plan toolkit that all employees were required to complete in which they set goals around career development areas. We also had training on the importance of the toolkit and how to use it as well as training for managers on how to support their employees in this process. We also had a weeklong event that included courses on how to develop in your career and Q&A panels comprised of senior leaders who shared how they advanced in their careers. Finally, we had an internal career fair where employees from departments across the organization had tables where other employees could come up and talk with them about their department.

By making a high level of employee engagement part of the company strategy, we realized not only improved engagement, but also a higher level of employee retention, and increased productivity. It didn’t happen overnight, but by all accounts, it’s a successful portion of the company strategy.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Connecting Transformational Leadership and Employee Engagement

Recently, I interviewed my colleague, Dr. Aisha Taylor, on the topic of transformational leadership. Effective leadership is essential in promoting a culture of engagement, and transformational leadership offers a compelling and practical paradigm for leaders. Be sure to watch the recording of Dr. Taylor's webinar on this topic.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Read the interview here.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The National Association of Counties Recognizes Employee Engagement as a Key Differentiator

By Chris Atkinson, HR Consultant, Organizational Strategy, CPS HR Consulting

At NACo’s 2017 Annual Conference in July, the Counties Futures Lab hosted a workshop with Bob Lavigna, the Director of the CPS HR Consulting Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement, on how county officials can harness the engagement of their employees.

The National Association of Counties (NACo) is a professional association that unites America’s 3,069 county governments. Founded in 1935, NACo brings county officials together to advocate with a collective voice on national policy, exchange ideas and build new leadership skills, pursue transformational county solutions, enrich the public’s understanding of county government and exercise exemplary leadership in public service.

Among the topics Bob spoke about was the importance of employee engagement in today’s government environment, and a recent national survey conducted by the CPS Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement that focuses on engagement in the public sector.

One of the reasons that Bob was asked to speak was because of the interest of NACo’s members in employee engagement, given the current difficult government environment. Leaders in all levels of government, including counties, are under pressure to perform well while also doing more with less. One proven strategy to effectively address this challenge is to improve the engagement of government employees. When public sector employees are engaged, they are more likely to perform well, thus enabling government to perform well. As a result, the public will likely have greater confidence in and support for government.

Research and practice have shown that focusing on public sector employee engagement, using a data-driven and action-focused approach, can result in: 

• Higher rates of success achieving strategic goals
• Better customer service
• More innovation 
• Higher employee retention 
• Better employee attendance 
• Fewer equal opportunity complaints

In addition, the national survey conducted in 2016 by the CPS HR Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement found a positive relationship between engagement and perceptions of organizational performance. Fully engaged employees are significantly more likely to believe that their organizations are successful, compared to their somewhat or not engaged colleagues. In other words, according to the survey, fully engaged employees are more likely (up to three times more likely, depending on sector) to believe their organizations are performing well.

NACo’s Futures Lab division, the research arm of NACo, recently published an article about Bob’s presentation. The NACo Counties Futures Lab brings together leading national experts to examine and forecast the trends, innovations and promises of county government with an eye toward positioning America's county leaders for success. The Lab delivers research studies, reports and other actionable intelligence to a variety of venues in collaboration with corporate, academic and philanthropic thought leaders to promote the county government of the future.

“Employee engagement is about performance. It is not another HR thing… It is about improving the level of commitment that our employees have to their organization so that we can deliver better, high quality performance and services to the citizens we serve.” – Bob Lavigna

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Build Your Strengths, Manage Your Weaknesses

By Chris Atkinson, HR Consultant, Organizational Strategy, CPS HR Consulting

At work, do you think it is more important to focus on improving your weaknesses or leveraging your strengths? The conventional wisdom would indicate that truing up your weaknesses would lead to higher employee engagement and productivity. However, research from Gallup would indicate the opposite. They found that people who use their strengths every day are three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, six times more likely to be engaged at work, 8% more productive and 15% less likely to quit their jobs.

The employee engagement survey question that Gallup used to assess the extent to which employees were using their strengths was “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day." Having an opportunity to do "what I do best," every day, is tied to the integration of a person's talents (naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that can be applied well), skills (what he or she is able to do), and knowledge (what he or she knows). Talents are the patterns that can't be turned on and off at will; they are ingrained in us. Without natural talent, a lot of hard work will yield little return. Therefore, when considering where to invest one's focus, Gallup research indicates that the best place to start is in an area of strength.

When employees are using their strengths at work the work itself is naturally more intrinsically rewarding. This intrinsic reward leads them to work harder which in turn leads to higher productivity.

To the extent possible, leadership needs to create a culture where employees can regularly be working in their areas of strength and further developing those strengths. Here are some things that leadership can do to help employees live in their strengths:

  • Create an inventory of employees' abilities, experiences, and goals to better understand the needs of individual employees.
  • Ensure that managers/supervisors discuss with their employees how their skills and abilities can best be used. This can be part of a performance management/evaluation discussion.
  • Consider approaches such as reorganizing work groups to better use the unique skills and abilities of employees. 
  • Provide opportunities for employees to work on tasks that are slightly outside of their job description if they have skills they would like to develop, and there is an organizational need. 
  • Provide opportunities such as job rotations to allow employees to use their full range of skills and abilities in different jobs.

While the focus should be on encouraging employees to work in and develop their areas of strength, weaknesses should not be forgotten entirely. Weaknesses should be managed so that they do not sideline employees. 


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Flextime May Be Low-Hanging Fruit to Improve Employee Engagement

By Janelle Callahan, Principal Consultant, Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement, CPS HR Consulting

Flexible schedule, also known as "flextime," is a work arrangement allowing employees to decide their own start and finish times. Part of the workday is required (e.g., 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), and the other hours are “flex,” when the employee may decide work times (e.g., 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.). Flextime employees still work the total hours required. The only difference is that they have some freedom of choice at the beginning and end of the day. For example, flextime can be helpful to employees who would like avoid heavy traffic during a commute. Employees who are care givers may also appreciate flextime to help meet those personal obligations.

In our national poll of public and private sector workers, we found that 40 percent overall say they have a flexible work schedule.* Private sector workers are more likely to report having this flexibility. Forty-four percent of private sector employees surveyed use flexible schedules, compared to only 37 percent of public sector employees.

Workers who have a flexible schedule are also more likely to be “fully engaged,” with an average score of 4 or higher (out of 5) on our employee engagement index. In the public sector, only 34 percent of those with no flextime are fully engaged, whereas 44 percent of those with flextime are fully engaged. Likewise, in the private sector, only 39 percent of those with no flextime are fully engaged, in contrast to those who have flexible schedules, where 50 percent are fully engaged.

This finding lends support to the notion that workplace flexibilities are likely associated with higher levels of employee engagement. Although flextime may not be feasible for all types of positions, our results suggest that offering flexible schedules when possible may be low-hanging fruit for an organization striving to improve employee engagement.

*Driving Employee Engagement: Results from a National Survey, 2016 Report. (In Press). CPS HR Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement: Sacramento, CA.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Tracking to Employee Engagement on the Road to Mastery

What Drives Employees? A look at how Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery at work leads to increased motivation and employee engagement - Part 4 of 4

By Chris Atkinson, HR Consultant, Organizational Strategy, CPS HR Consulting

In this series, we have been examining three factors at work that can lead to increased engagement and motivation: purpose, autonomy, and mastery. These factors, identified by Daniel Pink in his book Drive, also align with items in our nation-wide employee engagement survey. Check out the first three segments in the series here. In this segment, we will examine Pink’s third factor, mastery, which aligns with our survey item “I am sufficiently challenged by my work”. 

An important aspect of employee engagement is helping employees find their work interesting and challenging. Related to employees’ desire to be sufficiently challenged is the urge to master their work and improve their skills. As a means to support this objective, employers should create an environment where employees feel that they can pursue mastery. Pink suggests that there are three laws of mastery. These laws can help frame our understanding of mastery and how it relates to employees’ pursuit of mastery in the workplace.

The Three Laws of Mastery

Mastery is a Mindset
The first law is “Mastery is a Mindset.” Pink discusses the work of Carol Dweck who describes the differences between a “growth mindset” and a “fixed mindset.” People with “growth mindsets” believe that their intelligence can be increased with effort whereas those with “fixed mindsets” believe that their intelligence is fixed. People with “fixed mindsets” typically choose goals more easily achieved, since they believe that when they engage in “hard work”, the fact that the work is difficult for them is indication of their lack of intelligence. In contrast, people with a “growth mindset” believe they can improve if they work hard and achieve mastery. Not surprisingly, mastery is difficult to attain for those with a “fixed mindset.”

Mastery is Pain
The second law is “Mastery is a Pain.” Pink discusses a research study that examined why some cadets passed basic training and others did not at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The research revealed that “grit,” perseverance and passion for long-term goals, were the most important factors. “Grit” was also a stronger predictor of college grades than IQ or standardized test scores. Achieving mastery requires people to endure challenges. Employers can play a part in ensuring that employees feel challenged by allowing them to work on projects that are challenging enough to stretch their abilities. If employees feel that their work is too easy they may not feel the sufficient levels of challenge necessary to be engaged.

Mastery is an Asymptote
The third law is “Mastery is an Asymptote.”  An asymptote is a straight line that a curve approaches but never quite reaches. Mastery can never truly and finally be reached. The joy is in the pursuit of mastery rather than the attainment of mastery. Employees that are pursuing mastery of a skill, or their work in general, will be more likely to be engaged. The balance is in giving employees assignments that are challenging enough, but at the same time not overly challenging. 

Action Planning for Mastery

So, what specific steps could your organization take to meet employees’ needs for challenge and the pursuit of mastery in their work? We typically recommend our clients consider the following actions:

  • Have conversations with employees about how they can best use and develop their knowledge and skills and then support them, even if it means transitioning them to other jobs or even to different work units.
  • Help employees create development plans that focus on growth areas. Include specific time frames and milestones.
  • Provide employees with opportunities to work on projects that align with their strengths and interests.
  • Provide cross training opportunities for employees.

This is the last segment in the series examining how purpose, autonomy and mastery drive motivation and employee engagement. It’s important to remember that purpose, autonomy and mastery are just three factors that along with others, drive employee engagement. To develop, improve and leverage the many benefits of a well-engaged employee base, your organization should aim to conduct a survey to uncover the other key factors that may be driving engagement. Our recommended four step process that was outlined in part two of this series was:

  1. Conduct an employee engagement survey so that you can accurately capture the level of employee engagement in your workforce.
  2. Identify the questions that focus on factors that influence employee engagement the most in your organization through some type of statistical analysis, such as the key driver analysis mentioned in the first article in this series.
  3. Have conversations with employees to uncover root causes behind the responses to survey questions identified in step two.
  4. Create a plan of action to address and improve scores on the targeted questions.

High employee engagement is strongly linked to high organizational performance and a variety of positive specific outcomes. It’s important for organizations to create a culture that provides the necessary conditions employees to be engaged and remove barriers to employee engagement.