Employee engagement had been a popular corporate buzzword the past few years. I've been a bit leery of how the term is applied, since it appeared to mean whatever a given organization wanted it to mean. I've seen engagement used to mean productivity (Productivity has decreased, it must mean employees are less engaged). I've also seen where employee satisfaction surveys were used to measure engagement (Employees hate working here. They must not be engaged). Engagement has frequently come to mean the attitude of the employee and how they feel about their direct supervisor.
I just came across an interesting article from Forbes titled, "CEO News Flash: If Your Workers Aren't Engaged, It's Your Own Fault", which gives the most useful context for engagement I've seen. The idea is that humans are intrinsically motivated to be a valued participant in the workplace. The message being that corporate culture is what most frequently squelches that intrinsic motivation, and leaders have the responsibility to reestablish it. The author suggests we start by looking at two key aspects of leadership:
- Setting high standards
- Creating a culture of recognition
IT in general and many ITSM initiatives in particular can work against these tactics. Who is more recognized for achievement in your organization? The diligent engineer who always plays by the Change process rules, or the maverick who puts out the dramatic IT fire, often created by their own sloppiness? I hope it's the former; but in many organizations I've worked for and with, the latter unintentionally receives the accolades. And don't assume your organization doesn't reward the arsonist/firefighter. Rewards can come in many forms. Some obvious, some not.
What about SLAs? Are they used to measure individual performance in addition to organizational adherence to agreements? Too often they are. We must remember that SLAs are minimally acceptable targets when it comes to individual performance. It is the equivalent of earning a C grade. Meets expectations. If all employees strive to merely meet your SLA targets, that leaves no room for the occasional task that fails to meet minimum expectations. In order to meet organizational SLAs, we need the performance on individual tasks to exceed minimal expectations more often than not. Do your expectations around employee performance reflect a culture of high standards? Look carefully at how you set expectations around individual performance. If they are the same as the standards around organizational performance (ie., SLAs), you may be unintentionally creating a culture of low employee engagement.
Think of it this way. Performance against the standards you set on an individual basis is a key leading indicator of overall organizational performance. Make your standards high, clear, and reachable.
Provide reinforcement. Publicly recognize performance excellence, focusing on the "why" and "how" over the "what." The "what" of recognition just says "well done". "How" takes it a step further and indicates how the performance enables a greater goal or outcome. Most important, "why" personalizes the experience to say "I get why you are good".
Engagement doesn't have to be a nebulous concept. Managed purposefully from the top, it can create tremendous value. At a time when IT departments continue to struggle for the favor of business partners, we need all the employee engagement we can muster. And it starts with you.