New Survey Reveals Employees Still Not Feeling the Love

As an employee-owned company, engagement carries special significance for ITA Group, which helps companies drive employee loyalty through rewards and recognition programs.

“Because of the work we do for customers, it is critical that our own employees be highly engaged. Essentially, we try to eat our own dog food,” says Jaimee Chism, employee loyalty practice leader at ITA, based in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Emphasizing engagement has helped the privately owned company post double-digit revenue growth each year from 2004 through 2011.

Engagement measures an employee’s level of commitment and loyalty, Chism says, but that is only half the equation. Putting employees in control of client relationships, including responsibility for customer service, billing and satisfaction metrics, is equally important.

Empowering them to think critically and, when appropriate, respectfully challenge ITA’s long-standing practices or policies also drives engagement, Chism says. “Our leadership constantly asks: ‘Are we putting people in a position to be successful? Are we enabling them to be engaged?’ “

ITA can boast about its engagement levels, but a majority of employees give their organizations a failing grade. Some 63 percent of U.S. workers are not fully engaged. They are wearied by a decade of doing more work with fewer resources and rewards, according to a July global workforce study of 32,000 workers by New York-based consultancy Towers Watson & Co.

Among employees who aren’t fully engaged, 43 percent say supervisors don’t remove performance obstacles, and only 26 percent believe management involves them in decisions that directly affect them, according to the survey.

Engagement is often broadly defined as an employee’s intention to stay or willingness to exert extra effort. Missing from the definition, however, is the concept of shared ownership, says Kevin

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Sheridan, senior vice president of HR optimization at Avatar HR Solutions Inc., a Chicago-based consulting firm whose clients include ITA Group. He is also the author of Building a Magnetic Culture.

Sheridan says his company is the first to pioneer the idea of shared accountability for engagement. Besides providing tailored engagement surveys, Avatar recently unveiled a Personal Employee Engagement Report, or PEER, for employees to monitor their own engagement levels. By answering its 16 questions, an employee receives a numerical rating of engagement, along with suggestions for boosting the score.

Companies for years have surveyed engagement and analyzed the findings, dumping responsibility for improvement primarily on managers. “But no one stopped to ask what the employees’ role is in all this. That’s the ultimate irony: trying to drive employee engagement without ever involving the employees themselves,” Sheridan says.

On the flip side, slower-than-anticipated job creation has lulled other organizations into a false sense of security, Sheridan says. “Most companies are way too complacent about engagement. They appear to be resting on the idea that the job market stinks and their employees will stick around.”

In fact, companies face a potential exodus of top performers at the slightest glimmer of job growth, according to recent survey data. Fifty percent of workers who report feeling devalued at work plan to hunt for a new job in the next year, according to an online poll of 1,700 U.S. adults by the American Psychological Association, a trade group in Washington., D.C.

Companies also are receiving mixed results for their engagement efforts. According to data produced by Princeton, New Jersey-based consulting firm BlessingWhite Inc., engagement among North American workers ticked up to 41 percent through the second quarter of 2012 compared with 33 percent in early 2011.

At the same time, BlessingWhite found that one-third of engaged employees do not believe their current employer provides ample opportunities for career growth—widely considered an influential factor in engagement.

“In light of the fact that engagement is a hot topic, one might expect it to be discussed during annual performance reviews. It’s not,” Sheridan says.

In a recent poll by his company, Sheridan says only 5 percent of 1,000 North American managers acknowledge doing so. “Chief executives are tired of telling managers to build action plans every year. What they’re asking now is: ‘When does the employee start to accept responsibility for engagement?’ “

About the Author:

Garry Kranz is a Workforce Management contributing editor. Reprinted from

Hands Off the Talent: Tread Carefully in Shuffling Employees

Jim Collins’ best-selling book Good to Great was published 10 years ago and quickly became a major force in leadership development, not to mention the catch phrase of the decade. It contained a number of insightful, refreshing and enduring ideas that inspired business leaders and talent development professionals everywhere. For awhile the buzz was all about Level 5 leadership, hedgehogs and bus drivers.

I am happy when a newly appointed leader aims to take an organization from good to great, applying many of Collins’ principles. But I counsel the leader not to put on the bus driver uniform too soon.

Collins used a public transportation metaphor to describe the importance of a leader selecting superior talent with his “first who, then what” principle. He asked readers to imagine organization life as driving a bus. Using this metaphor, the task of leadership is to get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off and then the right people in the right seats.

In today’s talent management parlance, that would be selection, outplacement and assignment management. The Good to Great proposal was to pay attention to the talent before just about anything else.

And that’s where new leaders can get in trouble.

When a new leader arrives, there are a number of early challenges. I’ve seen leaders become bus drivers too soon and mindlessly start kicking current team members out and adding back their old teammates to the short- and long-term detriment of the organization. Of course, there are teams in need of upgrading or that could benefit from removing a negative, blocking employee. But moving people out of or around an organization or team without the right context will make the wheels fall off.

There are two critical items on a new leader’s start-up agenda. Assessing the talent is an important one but it needs to be considered in concert with other early challenges. In observing new managers who get off to an impressive start and build long-term momentum, I find they first have a good handle on establishing task clarity or getting clear on where the bus needs to go. This means assessing and developing a longer-term view of where they need to take the organization — usually a two- or three-year perspective.

Of course, they also focus on the practical near-term actions of the first 12 months. In some situations, circumstances such as a day-one crisis or a difficult turnaround dictate a singular spotlight on the present where timely actions are necessary to provide breathing room before more strategic thinking can take place. Successful leaders usually make the best use of current team talent. In other words, the bus driver needs to start heading out in the right direction with the current riders, even if the map route is only for a few miles.

The second start-up agenda item is appraising the organization’s capacity to deliver the tasks identified from the long- and short-term framework. This is where most leaders take on the bus driver role, thinking about what seats are needed on the bus — organizational structure; who needs to occupy the critical seats — position skills and experiences needed; and motivation to go along for the ride, matched against the current and available bus riders.

Good to Great thinking makes sense here, but should include a broader view of what talent systems and processes best align with strategy. Changes in talent practices can have more of an impact than just changing out the people.

Compelling, fresh approaches come around from time to time, and Good to Great was an exciting contribution to our field. But any new lens to view organizational life can be oversimplified and misused. Talent shuffling is an important way a new leader can drive the organization to great, but good driving includes following the right route and making sure the organization’s practice — in addition to its people — is in good working order and ready for the journey.

About the Author:

Kevin D. Wilde is the vice president and chief learning officer at General Mills and author of Dancing with the Talent Stars.

Reprinted from Talent Management magazine

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