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Six Talent Practices that Boost Employee Engagement and Market Performance

Employee engagement surfaces in every aspect of an organization--in its productivity, culture, brand--but the quest for deeper engagement is especially evident in a firm's talent management practices. The engagement-boosting practices of two i4cp member organizations--Microsoft and Black Hills Corporation--are offered below.

A recent study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) examined 26 practices in the areas of staffing, learning/development and rewards and found six that provide opportunities to stoke both higher levels of engagement and higher market performance. The practices presented in i4cp's report Six Talent Practices that Boost Engagement and Market Performance (members only) that delivered the dual benefits are:

  • Use onboarding to assimilate new employees into the culture.
    Focus on engagement from day one. Practices include beginning engagement efforts in recruitment practices, assigning mentors to new-hires, and including family members in familiarization efforts.
  • Conduct "stay interviews" as an alternative to exit interviews.
    Demonstrate to employees that they are valued now; exit interviews are too late. Discover what makes employees happy, productive and loyal through these discussions. Stay interviews also afford managers opportunities to open up dialogues to resolve minor issues so that they don't become deal-breakers that lead to unwanted turnover.
  • Personalize employee development through individual development plans.
    Keep employees growing with individual development plans that reflect their personal and professional goals. Leverage performance discussions with employees to encourage the furthering of learning and career interests.
  • Offer high-visibility assignments and strategic projects.
    Provide opportunities for employees to raise their profiles through important and visible work. Assignments might include an opportunity to research and recommend options for a new initiative, participate in a cross-department project, or attend an industry conference and share key take-aways through a webinar.
  • Create a physical environment that supports creative thinking and wellness.
    Don't ignore the workplace environment; facilitate employee engagement through a setting that promotes creativity and wellness. Options should include areas for both quiet contemplation and group collaboration.
  • Allocate time for creative-thinking/ideation.
    Sanction time for innovation and creativity. High-profile firms such as i4cp member companies 3M and Qualcomm are known for such practices. Encourage employees to block off time to develop ideas that aren't part of their required deliverables.

These findings demonstrate that employee engagement efforts begin very early in the employment lifecycle and follow employees throughout their careers. The research report's in-depth case studies on Black Hills Corporation and Microsoft (members only) reflect this in action.

Never Too Early to Engage (Potential) Employees

A firm's reputation as an employer in the community can actually sow the seeds of engagement with potential hires. Black Hills Corporation is an example of this. The 130-year-old South Dakota utility company balances tradition with state-of-the-art practices in employee engagement. With the Midwest's strong sense of community, the company often involves seasoned employees in recruiting at their alma maters and through other outreach programs that create engagement even before employees are hired. One such program is a Native American outreach for teens. Jennifer Landis, director, corporate HR and talent management said, "Black Hills Corporation provides curriculum and volunteers through a summer outreach program to educate teens about our industry and to encourage them to think about us as a future employer." The firm approaches engagement from a variety of perspectives, which are presented in an i4cp case study Focus on Owning Engagement Defines Black Hills Corporation's Efforts.

Tech giant Microsoft jumpstarts employee engagement early on through a collection of onboarding experiences that fulfills the needs of new hires around the world on multiple levels. For example, in addition to its New Hire Orientation program, Microsoft provides a state-of-the-art online program called The Welcome Experience, a virtual futuristic campus from which participants can view executive messages and learning content personalized for their role. "The virtual world allows employees worldwide, such as Japan, Australia or Indonesia, to have the same experience as an employee at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington," said Courtney Calkin, Business Program Manager in the Sales, Marketing and Services Group Readiness division. Additionally, Microsoft has created onboarding programs for specific talent segments, such as new college graduates or engineers. These practices are presented in an i4cp case study, How Microsoft Engages Employees Globally via Onboarding.

Employee engagement is a means, not an end

Many employee engagement initiatives begin by conducting an engagement survey (sometimes referred to as a satisfaction or climate survey), but high engagement is not as prevalent in workforces as many would like. The i4cp study found that nearly half (47%) of high-performance organizations conduct employee engagement surveys at least annually. Yet survey respondents indicated only around one-third of their employees were strongly engaged (35%) while 28% were somewhat engaged and 37% were neutral, somewhat disengaged or strongly disengaged. That gives plenty of opportunity to boost employee engagement through the application of the six practices noted.

Leaders of high-performance organizations, however, know that engagement is not an end but a means to achieve a greater purpose. Twice as many respondents from high-performance organizations (51%) as low-performance ones (23%) consider engagement a catalyst for better business results, and this perspective was found to be significantly correlated with higher engagement.

In summary, employee engagement at high-performance organizations is not a survey score. Rather, it's an objective that pre- and post-hire initiatives work in orchestration to ensure, and it's measured by its ability to impact productivity, customer service, retention and other key business measures.

Engagement is one of the key issues that will be examined at i4cp's annual conference March 10-13. A pre-conference workshop, The Intersection of Leadership and Engagement and a presentation on engagement from Avnet are two opportunities to learn and network with others about engagement practices. Have you registered yet?