What is Employee Engagement, Anyway?
Employee engagement is a lot like beauty, we all know perfectly well what it is until somebody asks us to define it. If you’ve researched it, you know that the available literature on employee engagement presents a dizzying array of HR constructs in an effort to describe human behavior. From motivation theory to power asymmetries, group dynamics to organizational anthropology, one can easily get lost in the weeds.
So, rather than muddying the waters with yet another definition of engagement, let me simply give you a description of it: Engaged employees are people who love coming to work and who love what they do. Period. And, like beauty, you absolutely know it when you see it.
Why should employee engagement be Important?
Because, at the end of the day, an organization is simply a collection of people. The people make the organization. To the extent that your people are engaged in their work, find meaning and value in their work, are aware of and aspiring to achieve the company’s Big Vision through their work, will you be a success as an organization. In fact, it is arguable that employee engagement is the essential condition for a company to achieve its goals, because the company is the people.
Three ways OKR Engages Your Workforce
Meaning & Purpose Shared By All
Studies have repeatedly shown that employees are more likely to engage when they can ‘see’ true meaning and value in their work, that what they are working on is contributing to something big and bold and larger than themselves. One of the many reasons why OKR has become so popular is because OKR creates ‘line of sight’ between what your employees are doing and working on, with what the Company is trying to achieve. This is called Alignment, and we studied that in detail last week. OKR creates a framework for transparency and alignment to the company’s Bold Vision, connecting work (action) to strategy (purpose). This inspires your people to give more, try harder, be more creative, and to, well – engage.
Involvement & Participation
Studies have also shown that employees – people – are much more inclined to support and strive to achieve ideas and initiatives that they have had a role in creating. The agile concept of bottom-up engagement in the creation of Team OKRs gives voice to the workforce and empowers them to create their own Objectives that link to, connect with and align to the company’s Big Vision. Participation facilitates engagement because your people ‘own’ the product, therefore they share ownership in the results.
Old top-down strategic frameworks – we learned the hard way – do not work with this increasingly independent, autonomous and mobile workforce as it robs your A-players of their ability to contribute, create, innovate, and, here it comes – engage! Give constant top-down dictates to your employees and your best talent will find work elsewhere, a place where their unique contribution is respected.
In all my years as a strategy consultant, I would argue that the single most destructive dysfunction an organization struggles with is competition between functional groups with shared missions. In other words – silo thinking.
‘Silos’ are created by the natural need to distribute labor across an organization; it’s the way we organize structurally and functionally in order to get the work done. In other words, they are a necessary by-product of organizational life. The problem arises when a team, or ‘silo,’ cannot see how their work influences, and is influenced by, work that is going on elsewhere in the organization, and in time their worldview becomes narrow, and they tend to compete with, rather than work to support, other silos. This can be a real buzz-kill to employee engagement.
OKR fixes that by creating transparency across the entire enterprise, allowing teams to see how their work is but a facet in a broader spectrum of efforts to achieve the company’s Big Vision. Transparency helps you to capitalize on synergies across the organization, but most importantly, it engages your employees by showing them that they are part of a Big Picture.
Results Beget Results
Lastly, nothing drives employee engagement more than success! Objective and Key Results is about creating ambitious results metrics around what we need to be working on most. Watch what happens to your people when they begin to see how their efforts are contributing to the achievement of clearly articulated and thoughtful Results Metrics. Hint – they will want more!