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Employee engagement is the same for every organisation – it’s a question of managers communicating the strategic narrative to employees, and employees communicating their fears and concerns, as well as their suggestions for achieving the strategic narrative.
It’s a virtuous circle. Simple, right?
But the truth is that the way in which engagement is implemented won’t work in the same way for everyone. It won’t even work for one organisation in the same way all the time. The engagement strategy needs to be adaptable.
Why is that?
There actually is a simple answer, which is that the world is constantly changing and so companies constantly have to adapt to those changes – the triggers for change are numerous. They can include new technology, changes in the geopolitical landscape, access to resources, what customers want, and what the competition is doing, to name just a few.
So, change is the other ingredient in the mix that has a huge impact on how employee engagement is achieved.
Communicating the strategic narrative and employee voice don’t change, but everything else might depending on all the real-world constraints and challenges that might make this process difficult. For example:
- The size of the change – will it take a few months or a few years? Does it affect a few people or many?
- The impact it will have on employees – is it a shift change, a pay-freeze or pay-cut, or redundancy?
- The size of the company – is it a multinational or a start-up?
- The number of changes that have happened in recent memory – if it’s a lot, people might be jaded; if it’s a first, they might be shocked and scared
- The way change has been managed in the past – has it been managed well or poorly?
- The way in which change has been communicated in the past – even if change was done well, if that wasn’t communicated properly, it will hardly matter to employees
These are just a few examples of the real-world constraints and challenges companies might face in engaging with their staff.
Let’s look at some examples of how engagement might look different in two different organisations going through the same change process.
I work with many companies who go through TUPE (transfer of undertakings protection of employment). You might think, same legislation, same engagement process.
The first was a big multinational private company, in the food and drink sector, with offices all over the UK as well as in the US.
A small team of less than a dozen men were being transferred to another company. These men had never been TUPE’d before. They would remain in the same office with their former colleagues, at the desks they had been at before. Essentially, the only thing that would change would be the company name on their paycheques.
The second is a large British third sector construction and infrastructure organisation.
Because they are dependent upon government contracts, they often TUPE workers in and out. As a result, they are used to being TUPE’d. They may work in the same place, they may move. Their job descriptions may vary a bit (under the law, the role has to remain “essentially” the same).
In both cases, employee engagement must be comprised of communicating the strategic narrative, and of listening to the employees’ voice.
But, the emphasis changes in each of these examples. In the first case, the engagement strategy focused heavily on listening to the men, even to the point of bringing in a representative from the new company to be trained, and trying to understand and address their fears and concerns. It focused on ensuring that they understood TUPE itself, and how this was part of a bigger picture.
In the second company, employees really understood TUPE; they are old hands at it. Generally speaking, they tend not to be upset by it. Employees who have been through it before can help those who are going through it for the first time understand the process. Here, the engagement strategy centres more on helping employees understand the kinds of questions they might ask the new employer. It might focus on training employees in terms of changes to the legislation.
Even in one organisation, no two changes will be the same, and again the strategy will have to adapt. As I noted, a shift change and redundancy will bring up very different issues for staff and management.
The essential facts remain the same in all these cases.
Management need to share their strategic thinking and they need to listen to their employees. Equally, employees should share their fears and concerns, and any ideas they have with management, and they should try to find ways that their voice can be heard. This can take many forms – building relationships with their managers, as well as, for example, using an employee representative forum.
But once you add change into the mix, be prepared to adapt your engagement strategy for each situation.
Jasmine Gartner © 2015