A working assumption in HR is that a highly engaged workforce produces better results. We analyze engagement data by segment, develop glitzy enterprise-wide programs and, in some cases, push, pull or coerce line leaders into taking an ownership role in how engaged their employees are.
While there are undoubtedly key enablers, HR practitioners would agree there is no silver bullet around engagement. Even though HR has come a long way from the snapshot data produced in first-generation employee satisfaction surveys, it needs to make sure what is measured is tailored to what’s actually important in the organization.
Listening for engagement
Today’s surveys are quite good, and more predictive tools are becoming available. The big survey providers have valid, reliable tools, and they’ve improved user experience, delivery logistics and post-survey action plans; however, very little in those surveys is customized around business drivers:
• How do you ensure company priorities are reflected in the survey design and deployment?
• What depth of discretionary effort is needed from designated groups of the workforce in order to deliver on the business plan?
• What engagement drivers must be sustained to deliver on the strategic plan?
Much of what’s done around engagement isn’t customized — and maybe that’s OK — but we need a deeper level of listening and more organizational alignment to understand the degree to which the workforce is truly engaged.
Addressing hiring bias
I administered my first employee survey as a CHRO in 1996. The results were glowing and we knew our organizational dynamics (such as an exciting industry, leaders who were technical experts and great people leaders, and the latest equipment) were significant contributors to those positive results, even though we were a low-paying industry.
Those positive results painted a picture of a highly satisfied, proud and loyal workforce. But curiosity about some of the comments in the survey stimulated a deeper sentiment analysis on the results. There was an underlying tone suggesting we were all too much the same — that was something that wasn’t on our radar yet. To understand what they meant, we decided to look at another data source.
As a federally regulated employer, we measured diversity through the annual Employment Equity Act requirements. Using a discovery mindset, we confirmed the sentiment found in the engagement survey: We had fairly low diversity when considering the four designated groups. Hiring leaders were unconsciously hiring a particular profile, which is known as “unconscious bias.” While employees were engaged, they were also sending us a clear message to do a better job to ensure diversity and inclusion. They actually helped prepare our company for a growth explosion that would bring operations to four continents in the next five years.
And we were ready with a workforce that truly reflected our customer base.
Accentuate the positive
So often, action plans address the disengaging drivers found in survey results. We jump to program development that can create overload for the HR team and for people leaders. Engagement actions aimed at improved emotional attachment to the company, or increased discretionary effort, become one more thing HR professionals and leaders need to turn their diluted attention to.
While there may be real insights on the disengaging drivers that are worthy of focus, we don’t typically spend enough time on the engaging drivers. Survey results say a lot about what keeps employees feeling positive, connected, loyal and proud — characteristics that inspire them to act like company ambassadors — so why not use an appreciative inquiry approach to the engagement survey results?
Instead of mining data and building action plans for what we don’t want to see in our company, what if we built sustainment programs and supportive tools for what the workforce is telling us they want more of? The key point: If you want more of something, focus on it.
At Economical Insurance, we have done just that. In the last engagement survey, 92 per cent of employees provided accolades related to diversity and inclusion in the work environment. They said we are open and accepting of differences in gender, ethnicity, background, race, sexual orientation/identity and religion.
This particular insight wasn’t a complete surprise as the company had invested significant effort in gender equity in the workplace and had built a Women’s Leadership Network. We benefited from a halo effect where employees saw our investment and positive results in gender-based diversity as an enterprise-level commitment to broader diversity and inclusion matters.
Employees told us the diversity and inclusion philosophy contributed to their engagement, so we began the discussion around what we needed to do to sustain these positive sentiments.
Tapping individual passion, establishing commitment
The first step was to gain a deeper understanding of the workforce’s views about diversity and inclusion. We put out an internal call for employees to tell us why diversity and inclusion matters, and what their personal interests were. The results were overwhelming, with hundreds of thoughtful reflections, so we went deeper still. We invited 50 respondents from across the country to take part in a full-day “Diversity and Inclusion Think Tank.”
The think tank kicked off with a keynote address from Olympic gold medallist Mark Tewksbury, who shared an incredibly moving and inspiring testimonial of his personal journey in overcoming bullying, exclusion and negative stereotypes.
Here is how the think tank was structured:
• Discuss and define diversity and inclusion.
• Provide participants with labour force participation data from Statistics Canada.
• Facilitate small-group working sessions to produce a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis through the employee lens of diversity and inclusion.
• Use the Bersin by Deloitte framework to evaluate our diversity and inclusion maturity in relation to the work environment, industry, community and talent management processes.
• Ask participants to help us prioritize the actions arising from the analysis, which has now served as the foundation for our evolving, multi-year diversity and inclusion strategy.
Having the honest participation of 50 people who are committed to advancing these diversity and inclusion efforts, and willing to invest their discretionary effort to do so, is a sign of engagement like no other. We are on the path to co-creating an even more diverse and inclusive workplace with the support of the think-tank collective and the leadership team across the national organization. By listening to employees, we’ve uncovered how much they value diversity and inclusion in a completely organic way — what a gift.
Louise Taylor Green is senior vice-president and CHRO at Economical Insurance in Waterloo, Ont. For more information, visit www.economical.com.
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