Many organizations seeking to improve the performance of their workforce often conduct engagement surveys to help plan strategy. Does the following scenario sound familiar?

The organization conducts an annual engagement survey.   The numbers come in, and maybe they show some increase since the last survey.  Managers in business units meet with their teams and decide on one or two priorities they will tackle.   Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief, since the engagement issue has been addressed once again and we can now leave this issue until the next survey comes around.

So what’s wrong with this picture?  “Isn’t this how most of the world operates?” you’ll ask.

The survey is indeed the main activity most organizations undertake in their efforts to increase employee engagement, and it provides useful data.  However, if you look at this practice more closely, you will notice there are some negative issues inherent in this process.  Very simply, anonymous surveys don’t engage individuals.  If you are focusing mostly on organization-wide surveys and not enough on individuals, your engagement efforts are not going far enough.

Each person has a unique set of personal motivators.  Engagement is a personal, decision based on the degree to which the individual’s personal motivators are addressed.  Large scale surveys are effective to the extent that they “hit” some of each person’s personal motivators, albeit only at a high level.  But they cannot drill down to each person’s unique “engagement story”. Surveys do not expand and deepen the understanding of what is of unique value to each person.

Surveys tap into motivators such as challenge or recognition, but what’s challenging to Mary is not what might be challenging to Joe.  If challenge is indeed vital to Mary and you’d like to motivate her through challenging work. In order to do so, how Mary wants to be challenged needs to be understood and acted upon.  To engage Mary, you need a results-oriented, one-on-one conversation – a conversation that allows her to identify her unique motivators followed by one (or a few) simple actions that help make her work a bit more challenging.   Anonymity won’t cut it; face-to-face will.  The manager is in the best position to deliver this personal touch.

It’s these conversations coupled with actions that are in short supply in too many organization.  Everyone understands the importance of engaging individuals, yet when you talk with HR people or executives they’ll often admit that more can be done to engage individuals.  The insufficient work on individual engagement is the “elephant” in the engagement room.  Couple this with lack of assigned manager responsibilities and accountabilities along with no support or training on how to initiate and conduct these conversations and the inability to increase engagement and the improved performance that it brings it is no surprise that the challenges we have seen with engagement continue.

Here are five keys to ensure managers support improvements in engagement to increase performance levels:

  1. Hold regular conversations with each employee in your department where you discuss personal needs, interests and goals.
  2. Develop a career development plan that the employee agrees to and has confidence in that outlines how they can build their skills and abilities to bring added value to their company and achieve their career goals.
  3. Identify actions that you as a manager can take to support the plan and what steps the employee will take.
  4. Meet regularly to discuss progress, review challenges and successes and then update the plan and actions accordingly.
  5. Assign responsibilities to every manager in the organizations in terms of what is expected of them as a leader regarding engagement of their employees. Hold managers accountable for what is expected of them and reward the managers that make this a priority and focus on achieving results.

Let’s turn this over to you.  What are you doing now to engage individuals?  How can you help managers improve their abilities to manage and engage employees to ensure the organizations maximizes the value and contribution they bring to the company?