Human Resources

Employee Engagement—Avoid These 3 Fatal Flaws

Engagement—it’s the key to employee growth and development. Moreover, engagement drives results, right? It’s not that easy, says Vice President of Training Nicole Price of Cy Wakeman, Inc. Personal accountability must be a part of the engagement equation.

Price offered her tips at the 2014 Advanced Employment Issues Symposium (AEIS)—register now to attend this year’s upcoming AEIS.

Why Do We Care About Engagement?

We care because we want positive business results, says Price. Among other things, we want to improve:

  • Productivity
  • Retention
  • Morale
  • Satisfaction
  • Recruitment
  • Growth
  • Brand

Unexpected Results

Unfortunately, engagement doesn’t correlate perfectly with performance. Price reported the experience of one of her clients: The company implemented an engagement program, and the first year, performance improved and engagement improved. Good, right? But the second year, engagement fell and performance continued to improve.

Not what was expected, says Price. Why? There are three faulty assumptions employers make about engagement and engagement surveys.

The Three Faulty Assumptions

Price says that the following flawed assumptions commonly interfere with understanding what engagement is and what it does for the organization.

Flaw #1—All employee responses are equally credible.

Flaw #2—Perfecting employee circumstances will drive engagement.

Flaw #3—Engagement alone drives results.


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Flaw #1:
All employee responses are equally credible.

Surveys, and more specifically survey analysts, tend to assume that all responses are equal, but it’s just not true, says Price. In fact, in most companies there are some people so good you’d like to hire 20 more like them. Their responses are important. And then there are employees who go on vacation and company productivity goes up. You know the ones, Price says—the ones who make you cringe when you see them on your caller ID. Their responses are not as important.

Driving Your BMWs

As an aside, Price says, HR managers tend to spend their time with Vickie the Victim, whom you’d just as soon see leave, rather than with Deb the Driver, whom you want to keep. Most HR managers spend about 2 hours a day driving their BMWs (that’s the Bitchin’, Moanin’, Whinin’ employees), says Price.

Are all employees created equal? NO, says Price. We differentiate between employees all the time, she adds. We “play favorites” in:

  • Pay
  • Hiring
  • Development
  • HiPo programs
  • Bonuses
  • Wellness
  • Training
  • Promotions

Our favorites—the ones who get results—get the rewards.

So, as far as survey responses are concerned, all employees are NOT equally credible. Treating their opinions as equal is insane, Price says. When you have survey results, take your top-performing 20 percent of employees and turn them into a focus group. Ask them, do these survey results sound right?

Flaw #2:
Perfecting employee circumstances will drive engagement.

Employees say:

  • Get this.
  • Change that.
  • We want better coffee.
  • We want to wear jeans.
  • We need a concierge.
  • Pool tables would be nice.

And those in HR run and try to fix it, to perfect the employees’ circumstances.

Actually, perfecting employee circumstances drives entitlement, not engagement, says Price.

How about we tell employees, if you want something, be willing to give something? We should ask, “What are you willing to do to get that?”


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Flaw #3:
Engagement brings results.

This is an example of mistaking correlation with causation. Price uses the example of the stork bringing babies. (This legend likely arose because storks returned from their migration at the same time that a large number of babies was born—9 months after the midsummer festival and its merrymaking, explains Price.)

The basic issue, Price says, is personal liability. That is, the mindset that results happen because of one’s actions, not in spite of them. Accountable people believe that they choose their own destiny—“What happens is up to me.” That means:

  • Commitment—the willingness to do whatever it takes to get results.
  • Resilience—the ability to stay the course in the face of obstacles and setbacks.
  • Ownership—the acceptance of the consequences of our actions, good or bad.
  • Continuous learning—the perspective to see success and failure as learning experiences to fuel future success.

So, if …

Treating all employees’ responses the same is insane, and
Perfecting circumstances creates entitlement, and
Personal accountability is the true driver of performance …

Then …

It’s time for a different approach to engagement.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, Price provides tips for driving better engagement and accountability in your company.