Dear CEO: This is why you need to care about engagement

We’ve known for a long time that organisations with highly engaged and enabled staff perform better than organisations that don’t. But more recently, the importance of engagement has taken on a sharper edge.

As CEOs are looking to achieve their ambitious growth plans, they’re confident that they’ll be able to attract and retain the talent they need. And the numbers are big: 86 percent of leaders expect to increase their revenue by 2020, and 64 percent of them expect to increase their staff by more than 20% by 2025.

But think about it – the numbers simply don’t add up. If the majority of businesses are looking to increase headcount to meet their targets, there won’t be enough good people to go around – our research on the global talent crunch tells us as much. This approach to growth is based on a dangerous assumption that will put success at real risk.

In this environment, CEOs can’t continue to ignore this talent reality. They need to lead new efforts to engage their people internally, creating a strong employer brand (with the added bonus that these efforts will catch the wandering eye of external talent). Sticking to the status quo risks not only losing the benefits of engagement internally, but damaging the organisation’s brand externally in an increasingly tight talent market.

The dangers of disengagement in today’s talent market

The ongoing importance of engagement has become more acute in today’s talent market. Low levels of unemployment and the scarcity of skills needed to thrive in the digital economy mean organisations need to do everything they can to keep their best talent. They can no longer rely on the external market to fill critical roles or skill gaps.

Engagement efforts need to focus on upskilling and developing people internally, while helping them see the opportunities that exist within the organisation. Without this, employees can quickly disengage and our research shows that the impact of this disengagement will hit home fast. Unless a disengaged individual finds a way to work things out with their leader and re-engages, there are two possible pathways: either they stop trying, or they leave within 12-24 months. To state the obvious, both options are bad news.

The external market conditions and impact of technology mean engagement has evolved as a business issue. And it needs to be taken seriously - beyond the confines of the HR department.

Elevating engagement

To take engagement efforts to the next level, leaders at all levels of the organisation need to get to know their people - and themselves - better than ever before. Here are three key ways to do just that.

1. Create talent intimacy

Leaders need to get to know their people as individuals. They need to talk to them - often - not just about the work that needs to be done or the classic “strengths and areas for improvement”, but about what really drives them. At the deepest level, leaders need to understand each individual’s purpose.

This is only possible when leaders can comfortably set aside assumptions and the convenient boxes that talent systems have relied on in the past. Instead, they need to speak honestly and often with their people, constantly building on their understanding of where each individual is at and where they want to go.

2. Make frequent feedback work

Alongside the important work of getting to know people on an individual level, organisations need to deploy tools and technologies to monitor levels of employee engagement and identify potential areas of improvement across the workforce at a systems level.

Today’s tools offer organisations the chance to gather more feedback, more easily and frequently. But this must also be matched by new and improved ways for processing and responding to feedback. Otherwise, these engagement efforts will in fact contribute to disengagement.

3. Engage through purpose

At its heart, engagement is about unleashing the energy of your employees. Without an understanding of purpose, these efforts will almost always fall short. Engagement requires a deep sense of “why is it so important that we exist? Why is it so important and urgent for us to impact the lives of people?”

And CEOs need to make it personal. They need to find ways to show how they are engaging with these questions in their own lives to inspire and bring the organisation along on the journey.

Understanding the answers to these questions will inspire your people to connect their own purpose with the organisation’s, creating the internal and external energy necessary to outperform the competition.

Learn how companies with high levels of engagement enjoy outstanding talent retention and attraction, productivity, safety and customer experience outcomes in our paper, Winning with Enthusiasm.