One size doesn’t necessarily fit all

When nurturing engagement, one person’s junk may be someone else’s treasure
By Sean Conrad
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/07/2012

Companies with higher employee engagement have better financial results and there’s lots of data to prove it.

Organizations with high engagement levels see a two per cent to four per cent improvement in operating margin and net profit margin, whereas those with low engagement show a decline of about 1.5 per cent to two per cent, according to a three-year study of 41 multinational organizations released by Towers Watson in 2011.

Engaging and retaining skilled employees is imperative to organizational survival, let alone success. Employees are more likely to stay at an organization where they feel connected — to other employees, their manager, the organization’s purpose and the resources they need, according to a 2007 Deloitte report.

And “actively disengaged employees” cost an organization $3,400 for every $10,000 in salary, according to 2002 data from Gallup. When a key player leaves, it costs an employer between $5,000 and $7,000 per day if that person is in a strategic position.

But it’s important to make a distinction between employee satisfaction and engagement — they are not synonymous. Satisfaction is a measure of an employee’s happiness with her company, particular job or co-workers.

And while there are many definitions of employee engagement, most of them boil down to this: It’s an employee’s contribution to the betterment of an organization.

Different strokes for different folks

How can HR professionals, executives and managers nurture employee engagement at their own organization? First and foremost, be mindful of the differences among employees. What may be completely acceptable to one employee may be a deal-breaker for another. It’s important to recognize employee engagement cannot be one-size-fits-all.

What motivates one employee might be the opposite of what inspires another. Mary might want to trade a cubicle for an office with a door. John might want a more flexible work schedule and Carrie might crave a new type of project that gives her additional responsibilities.

Mohammed might find it hard to concentrate because of chatty co-workers while Sophie is not very productive because of having to attend frequent meetings.

Additionally, what motivates an employee fresh out of university could differ vastly from what motivates a 55-year-old baby boomer who’s five years away from retirement. Then again, age might have nothing to do with it — it could be more about personality, motivation or something else entirely.

Organizations need to find out what motivates, inspires and instils passion in employees — and what has the opposite effect. To effectively retain valuable staff, managers need to know what’s important to each individual and work diligently to remain an employer of choice for them.

Connect with employees at new level

Given that managers aren’t mind readers, options are limited when it comes to determining what engages each and every individual. But there are ways to eliminate the guesswork and get down to the heart of what motivates them.

One best practice includes getting to know employees as individuals through regular, and ongoing, two-way dialogue — not just through a formal employee review. It sounds simplistic but, too often, organizations overlook the importance of making conversations about performance a day-to-day priority.

Creating a climate where this form of manager-employee relationship-building is encouraged helps to ensure expectations, performance levels and development needs are understood and addressed, as required, on an ongoing basis.

Professionally developed tools such as the Motivation Self-Assessment Worksheet developed by Henryk Krajewski, vice-president of Toronto-based Anderson Leadership Group, are also highly effective for managers to determine employee’s top motivators (such as achievement, affiliation, autonomy, power, security or intellectual stimulation).

Giving employees reasons to stay

Once you get to know your employees, it’s easier to tailor successful strategies to motivate them. Keeping in mind what drives individual attitudes, behaviour and outcomes, here are some talent management practices to increase engagement, satisfaction and retention:

• Provide training and coaching for managers to enhance their ability to motivate and inspire employees which, in turn, will help improve engagement scores. This is critical since managers have such a direct impact on engagement.

• Support employee development at all levels of the organization. Provide learning and mentoring opportunities and a culture with regular, ongoing discussions about career paths.

• Ensure employees receive the regular coaching and constructive feedback they need to direct their work and improve performance. Make sure managers have the skills to do that effectively.

• Ensure all employees have clear goals aligned with the organization’s high-level goals.

• Put a succession planning program in place to give high-performing, high-potential employees opportunities for development and career progression.

Sean Conrad is a senior analyst at talent management vendor Halogen Software in Ottawa. He can be reached at or, for more information, visit his blog at or

Tip for leaders

Engagement success stories

Are engagement strategies really effective? Many Canadian employers that have taken a proactive approach to talent management have witnessed a direct link to improved employee engagement.

Sun-Rype Products: After implementing a development-focused approach to performance management as part of an overall talent management strategy, fruit product manufacturer Sun-Rype saw an increase in employee engagement and a subsequent decline in employee turnover. Turnover rates decreased from 20 per cent to four per cent.

“People feel really good about what they do and what they contribute knowing there are a lot of different promotions and leadership roles that have evolved through our leadership development program, which is part of our performance management and career development approach,” says Michelle Reid, HR manager at Sun-Rype in Kelowna, B.C.

“Sixty-four per cent of the company’s leadership positions are now held by individuals promoted from within.”

Bell Aliant: When Bell Aliant implemented a new approach to talent management, the company experienced a cultural shift in terms of corporate-wide communication and performance-based coaching.

“Open communication is the key trait, improved performance-based coaching is the key outcome. Every single employee has goals and understands what they’re supposed to do — and how their work connects with our overall strategy at Bell Aliant,” says Alana Patterson, vice-president of HR at Bell Aliant in Halifax.

“Additionally, they’re having conversations about their goals, regularly,”

AGF: AGF has provided employees with a greater sense of where the organization is heading and how everyone contributes to helping it achieve its corporate goals with talent management programs.

Employees are now more focused on the achievement of their business unit’s goals and have an understanding of what they are working towards and why it is important.

“By linking employee goals to overall corporate objectives everyone understands what they need to achieve on a day-to-day basis so AGF can meet its strategic objectives,” says Leena Malik, director of organizational development at AGF in Toronto.

Source: Halogen Software

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