In my previous post, I explored some of the key findings from CIPD’s latest survey on employee engagement. I shared the report’s identification of three core practices that can help managers lift the bar on employee motivation. The study identified three major deficiencies in the practices of UK managers. Firstly, 61% of employees are missing out on career development discussions. Secondly, 70% of employees receive no on-the-job coaching and, lastly, 54% get little to no feedback on their performance.

These systemic deficiencies are a true indictment of the state of management in the UK. I hence applaud the UK Government’s initiative to lift the level of engagement throughout the UK with their special task force on employee engagement set up last year.

Clearly, management can and should do a lot to have the right systems and processes in place to raise the level of employee motivation and job satisfaction. However, as the latest CIPD report points out, it is a two-way street. Employees are not passive, empty vessels just waiting to be filled with the employee engagement magic elixir.

It can be difficult for a manager to support someone’s career aspirations when they make little or no effort to support themselves. Similarly, it can also be a real challenge to inspire an employee to rise to the next level in their performance when they are perfectly contented where they are. This situation illustrates well the crucial importance of your recruitment practices. If you want highly-talented, self-driven people in your organization, you’d better make sure that your recruitment methods can find and attract them.

There are some employees in every workplace who want nothing more than to be left in peace and aren’t interested in improving themselves or the way they do their job. I have worked with many such employees in my career and being “neutrally engaged” is a safe place for them. Such employee attitudes may be rooted in factors beyond management’s control or influence. However, we have enough tools at our disposal and with the right understanding, commitment and focus we can shrink the size of this “neutral” group down to a less debilitating size.

Once an organization sets itself the objective of lifting employee engagement levels, how should it go about this task? I think we can take some lessons from line management. Throughout industry and the services sector, line managers are practiced at setting standards for “deliverables”; the standards that must be met for the product or service to be credible in the marketplace. When their standards aren’t met, they take corrective action because the marketplace is competitive and intolerant.

However, when it comes to the so-called “softer” side of managing people, such as holding career development discussions, coaching and performance feedback, many managers lack the will and competence to do so. This reluctance is no great wonder. The “soft” stuff is really hard.

Add to this mix the fact that some managers remain unconvinced about the importance of soft skills and the human dimension of business. Some managers still don’t understand well enough, or believe, the validity of the relationship between the factors influencing employee engagement and actual employee productivity and retention.

No doubt, however, in making employee engagement a core focus of the business, it becomes a core goal in the average manager’s life too. The actions that build engagement will be treated as a “deliverable”. Organizations will find managers measuring, analyzing and constantly working on engagement practices to improve the employee engagement metrics. I have even seen some managers seek out training in these areas voluntarily.

The measurement of people-management practices is a daunting task for many. Do you have some insights based on your own experience that would contribute to this discussion? Please let us hear from you.

CIPD Employee Outlook, Summer Edition 2012