From guiding their people to nurturing high performance teams, the responsibility for employee engagement often falls on direct managers. Yet, Aon Hewitt’s research shows that a high proportion of managers strongly believe they cannot influence the action plan to improve engagement, as organizational strategies and budgets are determined by the executive team.
It’s down to HR professionals to overcome the biggest challenge—engaging the managers themselves, building their engagement capabilities, and developing an engaging organizational culture overall. So how can the HR role be a proactive, and effective, one in driving HR initiatives to increase employee engagement?
Focus on business outcomes
Effective HR managers start with the end result in mind. They understand that the HR role can enhance the value of employee engagement by delivering positive impact on organizational performance. Rather than resigning themselves to the fluctuating interest of the management in engagement matters, they work hard to demonstrate the business value of engagement by developing and implementing HR initiatives such as:
• setting an annual ‘people strategy’ meeting to discuss the business approach, impact on employees, risks, employee segments, and requirements of each staff member.
• compiling data to link engagement scores to business outcomes, as well as qualitative data such as stories/testimonials from employees and managers.
• keeping engagement on a steady course even when the organization is engulfed by unexpected waves, such as changes in the economy, loss of key customers, mergers or acquisitions.
Communicate well with leaders and managers
While the engagement survey is the ‘scientific’ part of the process, HR professionals must craft a narrative that speaks to business priorities while bringing the employee voice to the fore. It’s also important to engage managers in the way forward by:
• developing a communication plan to cover all planned HR programs and initiatives, ensuring that activities don’t overwhelm employees and managers throughout the year.
• avoiding the temptation to go it alone. Engage managers in annual people-planning milestones, such as setting up of annual HR programs, deciding how to measure engagement, and action planning from the survey results.
• engaging key managers on their teams’ unique challenges, while raising their understanding of the overall business challenges.
Develop management strength
It’s no use assigning engagement objectives to managers without providing them with consistent support. Frequent communication fosters awareness, motivation, and desire in managers to engage people, but more is needed to develop their skills for effective people management by:
• reviewing recruitment, selection, development, and reward processes for managers.
• assessing their strengths on engagement.
• helping them understand the relationship between their engagement levels and their teams’.
• ensuring that leadership and management development programs address employee engagement capability.
• creating manager communities where they can safely discuss and share their achievements and challenges in raising employee engagement.
• encouraging experienced and capable managers to serve as coaches/mentors.
• celebrating the accomplishments of managers who achieve breakthrough or important results on people management.
While managers are an important link in the engagement process, the responsibility is on HR professionals to have the expertise and capability to integrate engagement objectives into daily HR practices and drive its alignment with business goals. It’s only by spending valuable time and energy on building solid foundations, planning carefully, and executing mindfully that HR can master the art and science of effective employee engagement.