Both Engagement and Change

Everyone loves employee engagement. It’s not only common sense, but repeatedly demonstrated in research that employees who are engaged perform better.

CIPD finds that high employee engagement is associated with a range of positive outcomes, including better performance, more innovation and higher retention rates. The Corporate Leadership Council reports that highly engaged employees work 57% harder and are nine times less likely to leave than highly unengaged employees. They also demonstrated that engaged organizations averaged 20.1% revenue growth over three years, compared to 8.1% growth in a control population.

And yet and yet and yet… When it comes to change, the text book goes out the window and all the value is forgotten. Accenture suggest that 57% of organisations experience a downturn in productivity during change initiatives.

Why? It is well accepted that the most powerful driver for engagement is employees finding meaning in their work. Thus engagement is fundamentally linked to an organisations core purpose and values. Any change which is perceived as a challenge to this purpose is liable to have a negative impact on engagement and performance.

For employees, organisational purpose and values are manifested every day – in how co-workers are treated, in how customers are served; in the factors considered when making any decision in the orgainsation.

When re-designing a process has an impact on these surface-level manifestations, it is highly likely that the change will also impact employees’ interpretation of organisational priorities and direction. Thus, while changes to organisational structure or personnel may be conceived to impact financial metrics, they can have unforeseen knock on effects on employees’ identification with organisational purpose and thus on their engagement.

So how to do better? Again, this is where co-creation of plans, strategies and meaning becomes so valuable. Rather than planning a change in a small team, then communicating the fait-accompli to the organisation at large, invite the whole system to contribute ideas and thoughts to the change. McKinsey offer some interesting examples of large organisations looking at this already. Letting go of control like this is incredibly hard to do – especially in a traditional, large, command and control organisation. Then again, 20.1% revenue growth over three years, compared to 8.1% is a devilishly persuasive argument.