1. Taking the right action, at the right level

The premise here is that adopting ‘one-to-all’ actions at a corporate level is often a folly. This is particularly true of bigger and dispersed organisations, where engagement and the employee experience can look quite different for different populations. What’s needed, therefore, is a more targeted approach to action planning.It could be that this is simply done at a local level – for teams, regions or business units. But sometimes this can get lost among a sea of other initiatives and fall by the wayside. Another approach to consider is using cluster analysis (also known as segmentation or employee profiling). We’ve done this for a number of clients and it has proved a really valuable exercise.Here’s what the cluster analysis process involves and what it gives you:

  • Your engagement survey data is entered into statistical analysis (data-mining) software before sorting the employees into separate clusters
  • Each separate cluster is made up of groups of employees with shared characteristics
  • In a medium-sized company, running this type of analysis would typically give you three clusters – individuals with high engagement, moderate engagement and low engagement
  • In doing this, we can determine what most engages (and disengages) a particular cluster of employees
  • Analysing at a cluster rather than team or organisational level offers a far quicker, more intuitive and accurate way to understand and improve engagement.

“The real value in using your survey data to target action plans at a ‘cluster level’ is that it can bring into sharp focus both the size the problem and the prize. It’s essentially about taking a ‘valuing differences’ approach to your employee engagement strategy, which promises to be much more effective in affecting change!”

A case study example

With one of our clients – a financial services organisation – we identified three clusters:‘Role model leaders’ were leaders themselves, or leaders of leaders, and were highly engaged. They had a high-performance rating and a high manager rating too (they rated their manager’s behaviours highly).The ‘sceptical but supported’ group were moderately engaged but their performance ratings were lower. Although they had high manager ratings, they were typically distrustful of senior management.‘Disengaged and unheard’ made up some 20% of the overall population. This cluster included those with the lowest engagement scores, the lowest manager ratings and the lowest performance scores. The fact that our analysis uncovered this pretty large, disengaged population was a big red flag for our client.Having defined the clusters, we next used a key driver analysis based on our ‘Think, Feel and Do’ engagement model and questions. The analysis showed us which ‘think’ survey question scores – employees’ perceptions of their organisation – are having the biggest impact on their engagement index question scores. The most notable finding here was that the key drivers of engagement were different for each cluster.Our analysis demonstrated that what most significantly drives engagement depends greatly on how favourably their employees ‘think’ about the organisation, and ultimately, how engaged they are. This enabled our client to be specific about how they address and approach employee engagement initiatives within each of these groups, leveraging their ‘role model leaders’ to engage others in the organisation.

2. For best results, strike a balance between information and action!

Today organisations have more information and data than ever before. It’s everywhere! And yet the numbers that really matter, the ones relating to employee engagement, productivity and people performance aren’t changing.The problem, we think, is the obsession with having more data, often without knowing what to do with it or what it means. And with more responsibility shifting ‘to the line’, managers are becoming overloaded – particularly in these Covid times. It can be a struggle for managers to translate information into intervention, data into action. What’s needed is a way of cutting to the critical action that is needed to improve things like employee engagement, wellbeing and performance.

Turning information into action

The big risk as we see it is of too much time being spent on the gathering and poring over of data at the expense of then time spent on acting on what we find in the numbers. This is an issue that is being somewhat exacerbated by things like ‘always on’ employee listening tools. A balance is needed…

grid showing how organisations process information and take action

Here are a few do’s and don’ts on how to achieve such a balance:

  • Gain a good understanding of the current conditions within your environment which either prevent managers from considering the information or that prevent them from taking responsibility to act on it
  • Make sure information you're giving to managers is relevant, timely and meaningful to your people and organisational goals (this will create personal accountability for driving change)
  • Don’t swamp managers with so much data they can’t see the wood for the trees!
  • Don’t spend so much time measuring and crunching numbers if it limits your ability (and time) to act on what you find
  • Train and support managers to quickly sift out the key nuggets of information and translate these into effective actions.

3. If in doubt, focus on these common employee engagement drivers

We know that what most influences engagement differs from one organisation to the next, even from one team to the next. And that what engagement looks like today is likely quite different to how it did 12 months ago thanks to the impact on work of the ongoing pandemic.However, there are common themes that come up in surveys time and again. And these recurring issues are certainly ones to be aware of for your own organisational context too.Delving into our historical benchmark data, our eyes were drawn to three major themes. Each one ranks among key drivers of engagement for a large proportion of organisations in engagement surveys year after year…

  • Having opportunities for career development – a key driver for 43% of organisations
  • A strong customer focus: believing that their employer puts the customer first – a key driver for 33% of organisations
  • Having a strong employer voice – a key driver for 29% of organisations

"What really struck us here was that there’s a common thread running through these themes. That is around having a sense of purpose, of clarity in what we’re doing, who we’re doing it for and where we are going.""Employees, particularly younger generations recently joining the workplace, are very hungry to develop and to have a clear development path. They also want to know that their employer is ethical and focused on doing the best for and by their clients. What’s more, they demand a say in the organisation’s direction, or at the very least to feel listened to and able to offer their views to management."