Jasmine is concerned with practical, tactical ways to bolster employee engagement, diversity and ultimately improve organisational cultures. She gives actionable advice to help HR professionals improve their organisations one step at a time and is known as a trainer, consultant and public speaker. Prior to moving to London in 2008, she was a professor teaching international business majors at the State University of New York. Her clients include PepsiCo, CBI, HarperCollins and Prudential. Jasmine’s book, ‘Employee Engagement: a little book of Big Ideas,’ is available to buy.

Back in 2008, I was training a group of employees at a small English financial services company in the Midlands. They had been recently acquired by a big American multinational. Staff from both companies attended the training.

During the training, an interesting discussion emerged. Staff from the multinational wondered why the English company’s employees got random perks that – while they might make individuals happy – seemed to have no connection to work.

They didn’t understand the space devoted to allowing people to congregate and chat. They didn’t understand why people would attend events outside of work. “Why do you have a billiards table?” they asked. “When do you ever do your work?”

That same year, the Sunday Times’ 100 Best Companies to Work For included, among many, many others, these drivers of engagement:

At the time, it seemed that many people thought that employee engagement was about making people happy at work. Looking at that list, if I were the leader of an organisation trying to engage my staff, I wouldn’t know where to begin.

Should I implement everything that worked for other organisations? And if not, how would I know what was important and what wasn’t? How would I choose among the huge variety of drivers of engagement? If I ran a small company, how could I afford all the things big companies provide for their staff? Is it even possible to make everyone happy?

Fast forward to 2015, and you can see a major change has taken place. Now the drivers from the Times’ list include work-life balance, employee health, and being honest. But the big give away is that the Times has added a section called “Mission / Vision,” linking it to the section on “Best Workplace Factors.”

The link between mission / vision and employee engagement simply wasn’t there in 2008.

To come back to the story I began with, the question is – what was the strategic narrative that made having a billiards table make sense in terms of engagement?

As a small company, their mission was to provide the personalised service that big companies could not. Their vision was about humanising the financial service they provided and building relationships over the long-term: human relationships were the core value at the heart of everything they did.

In this context, the billiards table, the socialising outside work, and the spaces built for interaction, not only make sense, but become exactly the right tools for achieving their strategic narrative because they all contribute to the building of relationships.

The evolution of the Times’ list of the best companies to work for is a clear indication that there’s been a lot of progress, and today many people do understand that engagement is about ensuring that employees can see how organisational strategy is linked to what they do on a daily basis.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done in spreading that message.

That’s why, in this column, I will provide practical advice and tips for HR and anyone else interested in doing engagement properly.

Here is my first piece of advice for companies who’d like to engage their staff in a way that will be productive for both employees and the organisation:

  1. Instead of trying to replicate what other companies do, identify your company’s strategic narrative, its mission and vision. In other words, clearly explain the organisation’s story: “this is where we’ve come from, this is where we are now, and this is where we’re going.”
  2. And then, see if the drivers of engagement you have in place will help you achieve that future. If not, they’re not the right drivers for your company.

If you link the tools you use for engaging your staff back to your strategic narrative, you will end up with the right drivers of employee engagement for your company.

I would love to hear from you in the comments below how you have linked your corporate strategy with your engagement strategy.

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