Facilitating Employee Engagement


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Enhancing and Facilitating Employee Engagement through Appropriate Technology and Strategic Human Resource Management By Colin G. Gallagher, RPCV

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Facilitating Employee Engagement

  1. 1. Enhancing Employee Engagement 1 GOLDEN GATE UNIVERSITYEnhancing and Facilitating Employee Engagement through Appropriate Technology and Strategic Human Resource Management By Colin G. Gallagher, RPCV EMPA 307 – Cohort No. 5 March 1, 2008 Instructor: Prof. Tim Loney
  2. 2. Enhancing Employee Engagement 2 AbstractThis paper presents an argument that active employee engagement on the part of the employer isvital to organizational success in difficult economic circumstances, and discusses how publicagencies can enhance the level of employee engagement in a public agency setting. Appropriatetechnology relevant to employee engagement is described, and the strategic human resourcemanagement model is linked to engagement through descriptions in the literature. Descriptionsof group techniques are provided to show how public agencies with large numbers of employeescan move efficiently and effectively through an enhanced engagement process while ensuringalignment with the organizational goals and mission. Introduction and Definition of Terminology Many definitions of employee engagement have been developed and published. For thepurpose of this paper, employee engagement is defined as the process by which employees“apply discretionary effort to help the business achieve its vision and objectives” (Abraham, etal., 2007, p. 40) “in the form of extra time, brainpower, and energy” (Northeast HumanResources Association (NEHRA), 2008, Definition of Employee Engagement). The meaning of strategic human resource management is more straightforward: In thismanagement model, according to Ban (2005), “the role of the personnel office is to support thestrategic mission of the organization or agency as a whole. To meet that goal, human resource(HR) leaders are urged to act as full members of the management team, linking personnel andHR policy to agency mission, goals, and policy” (p. 19), and this involves “vertical alignment ofpersonnel policies and practices with an agency’s mission and strategic objectives and thehorizontal integration of personnel policies and practices with each other” (p. 26).
  3. 3. Enhancing Employee Engagement 3 The concept of teams working using the increasingly available technology of the internethas been explored by Gloor (2006), who has defined collaborative innovation networks (alsoreferred to as COINs) as groups of persons whose members “self-organize as cyberteams, teamsthat connect people through the Internet – enabling them to work more easily by communicatingnot through hierarchies, but directly with each other” (p. 11): The individuals in COINs are highly motivated, working together toward a common goal – not because of orders from their superiors (although they may be brought together in that way), but because they share the same goal and are convinced of their common cause (…) usually assembl(ing) around a new idea outside of organizational boundaries and across conventional hierarchies. (Gloor, 2006, p. 11) Argument for Active Employee Engagement Many public agency employers utilize a generally passive form of employee engagement,in which the line employees occasionally develop a concept, idea, or work to further the goals ofthe organization through some special effort. When management solicits these efforts, this canenhance the quality of the new ideas and efforts coming from employees, because acommunication has developed which helps employees across the organization realize that awelcoming environment is being prepared for their ideas. Individual employees’ ideas are criticalto obtain, yet if employees are not provided with an avenue for ongoing group collaboration inthe work setting apart from regularly scheduled staff meetings, the practical effect of ideassubmitted through suggestion processes or programs will not generally produce the higher-quality idea generation that can come from group collaboration. Public agency staff meetings inmany jurisdictions often have information sharing as their primary purpose, but are not oftenstructured with the intent to develop innovation and change. Collaborative innovation networks
  4. 4. Enhancing Employee Engagement 4(Gloor, 2006, p. 11) will enhance organizational capacity to generate valuable ideas. Asindicated by O’Connor Vos and Callahan (2007), (s)ocial networks can (. . .) play an important role in identifying--and advancing--high- potential employees by offering more frequent connection than, say, the monthly meeting. The fact that online is always "on" allows for ongoing communication and more diverse responses and reflections. Given time, participants who may not drive the agenda at a formal meeting can share their particular expertise and keep a valuable idea moving forward. (p. 140) Another element of the problem of passive employee engagement processes is that indifficult economic climates, the ideas that employees rally around and ultimately support, interms of meaningful savings concepts for the organization, may primarily come from the processof collective bargaining. In times of consistently decreasing revenue, this process generallyserves to ratify, with minor modifications, savings and cost avoidance ideas which are notoptions or innovations, but concepts for which adoption and approval is necessary to avoid joblosses. It is therefore critical to take a more active approach to employee engagement by movingbeyond traditional hierarchies and reporting relationships which ordinarily govern the generationand movement of new ideas in an organization. Organizations that have set goals for employeeengagement and retention should employ a strategic human resource management model anddevelop an active employee engagement program. The active approach will require tapping intoinformal networks and setting roles and positions at the door when collaborating in groups. Cross, Borgatti, and Parker (2002) developed an understanding of the importance of this use ofinformal networks, when they, along
  5. 5. Enhancing Employee Engagement 5 with a consortium of Fortune 500 companies and government agencies (…) assessed collaboration and work in over 40 informal networks from 23 different organizations. In all cases, the networks (…) studied provided strategic and operational value to the embedding organization by enabling employees to effectively collaborate and integrate disparate expertise. (p. 2) How can these informal networks result in an active employee engagement that isproductive to the organization – one where a public agency can ensure that the process does notabandon alignment with the legislative body’s goals and objectives? The best way to focus thedeliberations of groups which for all intents and purposes are informal networks is to directemployees to form and convene their own group by developing a project orientation for thegroup. Managers and line employees alike should set aside their roles and allow theirorganizational peers to be innovative – to define the projects which have the purpose of costsavings or cost avoidance, without being directed or informed what those projects should be.This process requires a temporary suspension of judgment regarding the ideas being generated,as well as trust and a significant readiness on the part of the public agency officials and managersto have confidence that employees will, outside of their ordinary role and reporting relationships,be able to innovate and create strong, significant ideas without the need for confinement of thecreative process. Such an approach also requires an understanding that the group dialogue whichproduces the ideas, while unpredictable, ultimately will result in refined and vettedrecommendations – not all of which will be able to be adopted by senior management, or by thelegislative body. Intranet and internet technology tools, which will be discussed later in thispaper, should be used to facilitate both signup and idea documentation processes for employeeswho see an opportunity to join a group. This will facilitate an organizational strengthening
  6. 6. Enhancing Employee Engagement 6through the development of collaborative innovation networks (Gloor, 2006, p. 11). It is alsocritical to ask the employees that when they are forming the groups, that they select specificpurposes for the groups in alignment with the legislative body’s goals. In this context, there is noset starting point for when the groups will convene or when ideas will begin to flow – thereshould, however, be opportunity for employees to engage with others in groups and convene todiscuss improvements at least once per year if not more frequently. Ideas which flow from thesegroups would thus be designed to address effectiveness and efficiency of work processesnecessary to fulfill a particular goal or subset of objectives under the goal. According toO’Connor Vos and Callahan (2007), (s)ponsored social networks can improve employee engagement by creating a trusted place for the staff to go to be heard--and where honest dialogue is part of the culture. In contrast to traditional gripe sessions, where bad feelings seem to multiply, properly planned and moderated employee social networks can serve as an early-warning system for disruptive issues and a source of buy-in for corporate change. (O’Connor Vos & Callahan, 2007, p. 140) Limitations on group size and limits on the maximum time allowed for convening arealso suggested. At least one but no more than three hours per week should be utilized by eachgroup as it goes through collaborative idea generation, and dates should be developed that closeout groups which have formed and dissolve them after one to two months, depending on thecomplexity of the issues that each group is trying to address. The role of dialogue in enhancing employee engagement Bhatnagar (2008) described the experience of Organization Sense and that company’sdialogue technique involving the line employee and manager, which was designed to allow
  7. 7. Enhancing Employee Engagement 7employees to set “work targets that are aligned to the business strategies, develop theircompetencies required for the current and future positions, (and) understand how they are beingassessed and rewarded for their career growth with the company” (p. 25). Indeed, carefullystructured dialogue, if included as part of routine organizational operation, is beneficial to theorganization not only because it enhances and encourages an open communication, but because itrequires that participants set their ordinary roles and aside and communicate as equals. Thisenhances the quality of employee engagement. Martel (2003, pp. 30, 42) stated that “in order toobtain high performance in postindustrial, intangible work that demands innovation, flexibility,and speed, employers need to engage their employees [. . .] Engaging employees – especially bygiving them participation, freedom, and trust – is the most comprehensive response to theascendant postindustrial values of self-realization and self-actualization” (as cited in Bhatnagar,2007, p. 645) Dialogue is now increasingly being utilized to formulate and foster conditions forthe development of high-performing organizations, and in fact procedures have been establishedfor its use in private and public sectors alike for this very purpose (Sustained Dialogue, 2009).How is employee engagement successfully realized in the context of a group with a projectorientation, where managerial and line employees are leaving their roles at the door andcollaborating through dialogues? Per Borgatti et al. (2003), Cross, Parker, Prusak, and Borgattipresented findings based on interviews with forty managers in which they asked the managers“where they obtained information critical to (a) project’s success” (Borgatti, et al., 2003, p. 209).These findings revealed the importance of the person sought out for information being willing to cognitively engage with the information seeker. People who were willing to engage in problem solving helped seekers to create knowledge with sufficient understanding and clarity that
  8. 8. Enhancing Employee Engagement 8 they could take action on it (…) these people taught rather than dumped information on the seeker – a behavior that if developed among a network can improve the effectiveness with which people learn from each other. (p. 223) Developing a high-performing organization thus requires enhanced employeeengagement, and a willingness on the part of employees in the organization to engage incollaborative problem solving. According to Wall et al. (1992), in such a process “we are movingto a high-involvement HR model (. . .) in the workplace, which will not realise its potentialunless operating workers are more highly engaged in technical problem solving” (as cited inBoxall & Macky, 2009, p. 5). Some employees may find themselves ready to conclude theirparticipation in the group effort sooner than others, or may be compelled by external reasons(e.g. a public works employee who is called out to respond to flooding, or a police officer who iscalled back to provide support to an evolving situation). In these cases, the intranet and internettool set becomes a particularly useful part of the process, because the employee may not be ableto participate in-person throughout the full scope of the dialogue, but may have contributionswhich could be submitted through a computer at a time better suited to the employee’s needswhich would enable the larger group to view and understand all employees’ contributions, albeitwith some of the ideas being provided through asynchronous communication. The intranet andinternet, if properly utilized, provide tools that can enhance employee engagement through amode of communication which may be asynchronous due to individual considerations, but whichpresents clear opportunities for a highly transparent collaboration. Intranet and Internet Tools for Enhancing Employee EngagementResistance to technological innovation is being overcome as a younger generation of workerswith new skills and readiness for technological inclusion look toward internet-based technology
  9. 9. Enhancing Employee Engagement 9as a means of increasing efficiency and effectiveness of organizations. The increasing use of theinternet as a platform for new applications and services presents an opportunity to enhanceemployee engagement and to realize collaborative innovation networks (Gloor, 2006, p. 11).MixedInk (MixedInk, LLC, 2009), a free online tool, allows groups of individuals to writecollaboratively about an idea, draw from each other’s concepts, and rate the collaborativelygenerated ideas in an asynchronous manner, online – enabling innovation to occur in an ongoingway, with clear and measurable results. Google Docs (Google, 2009) allows users to selectivelyshare and co-author documents online, either in real time or asynchronously. Jute Networks (JuteNetworks, LLC, 2009), another free online tool which is in development, provides an onlineenvironment where users create discussions around issues. The online framework is designed toencourage an evolution of discussion and a transfer of information about events, and theconversation can be changed from “discussion” to “project” status, clarifying the purpose of thecommunication phases. SurveyMonkey (SurveyMonkey.com, 2009) is another free tool whichallows users to develop and customize online surveys with a rich variety of features.SurveyMonkey has been used in the County of Monterey to facilitate employee surveys (T.McCormick, personal communication, 2009). Keyhubs (Keyhubs, LLC, 2009) is a free onlinetool which enhances the ability of individuals in a group with a well-established hierarchy ofreporting relationships to unveil the informal networks in small or large groups – particularlyuseful for visualizing how members of an organization interact and exchange knowledge wellbeyond the organizational chart. The intranet of the public agency should not be ignored, either,as it can be used to inform employees across the whole agency of the results of the work ofgroups or departments. Additionally, the intranet can be used to limit the advertisement of an
  10. 10. Enhancing Employee Engagement 10internet-based survey to the employees of the public agency, or for other group-specificadvertisement needs. Tying it all togetherThis paper has thus far presented a brief overview of the argument for an active and enhancedemployee engagement program, the importance of dialogue in the employee engagementprocess, and has presented some tools which could easily and without cost be put to use tofacilitate documentation and tracking of ongoing group communication. In order to properlyanalyze and synthesize the ideas covered in this paper, it is important to observe what theexperiences of others have been who have already evaluated engagement processes. Francis andD’Annunzio-Green (2005) found that increasing levels of engagement corresponded to higherlevels of performance in the organization (p. 79), but also found that there was a tension in theorganization in evaluating short-term results versus long-term benefits of organizational efforts.Xarchos and Charland (2008), in their experience with Innovapost’s successful utilization ofWeb 2.0 for employee engagement, found that there are “three key organizational attributes thatare important to ensure success” (p. 17): 1. Organizations need executives that allow experimentation. There must be a willingness among top managers to allow their employees to experiment with new technologies and business models. In turn, this experimentation can help uncover hidden talent within your organization and present business opportunities you never knew existed. 2. Discipline around IT portfolio management and funding allocations. Because of the pressure brought on by earnings targets, it is often difficult for management teams to support initiatives that do not produce an immediate return on investment. Management must look beyond their current needs to set aside part of their budget to fund strategic
  11. 11. Enhancing Employee Engagement 11 investments and innovation that will support long-term growth. 3. Involve all your people. Our experience has shown that the more people that get involved, the better it gets. Companies that make an effort to interact with their people via Web 2.0 initiatives can gain an enhanced understanding of their employees’ wants, needs, and concerns. This knowledge can lead to improved communications, HR program development and employee engagement. (Xarchos & Charland, 2008, pp. 17-18) Gagnon, Jansen, and Michael (2008) found that “the relationship between strategiccommitment and engagement in strategic supportive behavior was positive and significant” (p.438). Agnvall (2007) provided examples of senior human resources professionals at HendrickHealth System who developed an employee talent show as part of the process of developinginterest in a “web-based employee engagement survey” (p. 85), and of Driscoll’s employeesefforts -- although some employees had never used a computer, those employees also completeda similar survey, and “the company had a 91 percent participation rate” (p. 88). However, all ofthe effort will be for naught unless the organization “acts on results” (p. 89) of the surveys,particularly if the surveys solicit employee suggestions on a given issue. As Osborne and Plastrik(2000) have pointed out, “To be successful, an employee suggestion program must meet twostandards for credibility: Employees must believe that managers really want suggestions. Suggestions that are made must lead to change.” (Osborne & Plastrik, 2000, p. 487) Personnel policies and procedures can help in setting the tone for enhanced employeeengagement. Some jurisdictions have already taken the initiative in developing procedures whichcommunicate to employees that ideas are welcomed. The City of Salinas Personnel Manual has asection on employee suggestions, which reads in part:
  12. 12. Enhancing Employee Engagement 12 (. . .) It is essential that supervisors protect the important investment the City has in its employees. Therefore, a supervisor is responsible for providing employees under his or her supervision with the following: (…) Encourage Suggestions. Be receptive to employee suggestions by showing the employees that the department is interested in them, thus bringing fresh ideas into the organization. (City of Salinas, 2007)In order to facilitate idea generation, training in technological methods often will need to beoccur, and line employees who use technology in their daily lives should be encouraged to leadtrainings for other employees who want to enhance their familiarity with new technology.According to Singer (2003), “(s)everal competencies identified through ICMA UniversitysPractices for Effective Local Government Management clearly apply to leadership andmanagement in a tech-enabled workplace” (p. 8), including “(t)echnological literacy, by which aleader ensures appropriate technology uses that will improve service delivery, informationsharing, and citizen engagement” (p. 9). Conclusion and RecommendationsProviding opportunities across an organization for groups whose work leads to the formation ofcollaboration innovation networks, utilization of intra-organizational group dialogue, andselective use of web-based technologies to facilitate both real-time and asynchronousconversations as part of an active employee engagement program will enhance the ability ofmodern public agencies to adapt to changing economic circumstances as well as increaseretention and the sense of empowerment throughout the organization.
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