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Employee Engagement

March 2, 2010 - In Strategic Change and Organisational Effectiveness - No comments yet

David Sharpley is an occupational psychologist and Nelson Consulting associate, and has recently worked with us on the 360◦ Development Review element of a comprehensive personal development programme for senior managers in a large financial organization. We developed the Development Review Questionnaire based on a number of competencies in relation to the strategy of the specific management group. The 360◦ review was carried out online using David’s internet-based PARIO system.

We are very pleased that David’s study provides a way to further enhance everyone’s understanding of how to teach and manage the successful engagement of people in organizations. People who are engaged are more likely to contribute to organizational effectiveness, which in turn will build the bottom line.


In January 2006, David Sharpley presented a paper on employee engagement to the annual conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology. The study was based on a survey of over 1,000 people working in the public sector, who were asked a range of questions about what they liked best about their organization, what they liked least and what they would like to see changed or improved.

Q: What kind of job attributes contribute to engagement?

There are some essential features that are vital. As a starting point we require role clarity: clear purpose – clear objectives. This is important at all levels, but of course takes different forms. For professional/managerial staff there needs to be consultation and dialogue. It is surprising how often people are not that clear about new developments, proposed changes etc.

We also need to make a distinction between motivation (displaying initiative and discretionary effort), which is linked to perceptions of a supportive environment, doing meaningful work and self-belief (and the ability to visualise oneself overcoming a problem) and engagement, which is influenced by (1) the perception that the organization supports the individuals personal development and (2) management capability – reflected in professional, fair and impartial behaviour. It is possible to be motivated in one’s job without necessarily feeling an attachment to the organization or to the management, if the job itself is motivating enough. However, a feeling of engagement requires a wider sense of supporting, and being supported by, the organization.

Q: What individual qualities contribute to engagement?

People need to be ‘turned on’ and different things work for different people. However, the aim is to get a connection between people’s underlying potential to identify closely with what they are doing and seeing their work having a broader purpose and value. Some people start off further along this path than others (e.g. the caring professions, teaching etc). Others will start to identify more strongly with their organization if there is a general perception that it has a positive reputation. So Corporate Communication might be important, but good management is essential.

The more attuned people are to intrinsic motivational factors (e.g. values, purpose and personal development/growth) the more receptive they are likely to be to the norms and values of the organization. However, this identification can be undermined if they perceive things are not fair (e.g. pay) or there is a lack of even-handedness in the way managers behave.

And the organization is represented at all levels by its management, so an employee’s sense of what the company is like will usually be heavily influenced by the way immediate managers behave.

Q: What can management do to support engagement?

The role of the manager is critical. What is particularly interesting about this research, which is anchored in the CMPQ (Commitment, Motivation & Performance Questionnaire) model of employee engagement, is that people are stating exactly what is required in managers. In effect, this is an operationally defined model of leadership. Not academic, not theoretical – just very, very powerful! What it demonstrates is exactly what managers have to do to be ‘fair and effective’.

Q: Do individual attributes have a direct effect on engagement and productivity?

Individual attributes, particularly differences in thinking and cognitive ‘style’, do have an effect on motivation. Self-belief, a more questioning outlook and the sense of doing meaningful work in a supportive environment are the drivers of personal effort and initiative.
We are undertaking longer-term research to explore the links between people’s need for affiliation and independence, and their feelings of engagement with the organization. What is already clear is the vital link of the immediate manager in building or undermining people’s sense of involvement.

Q: What is different about this survey?

The use of the ‘Perception vs Importance’ needs gap. Many of the statements in the CMPQ survey ask people to rate both their perception (of how things are) with the importance they attach to that factor. This provides the organization with additional insight into the gaps between things that are important, but not perceived to be present. Professional management behaviour is one example!

Q: Does salary have much effect on how engaged people are?

Pay is often viewed as a motivator, but this only works up to a point. Most people become concerned if their pay is not competitive with that of others doing similar work. However, our findings show that pay is not a key factor. Analysis of demographic data allows organizations to identify if there is a problem in a particular department, or amongst a specific group of employees.

Q: How does the organization benefit from engaged employees?

There have been a number of studies that show that employee engagement has a direct bearing on productivity. Watson Wyatt (2002) found that high-commitment organizations outperformed those with low commitment by 47%. In a study of professional service firms, the Hay Group found that offices with engaged employees were up to 43% more productive, based on a comparison of revenue generation.

Q: What use could an organization make of this study?

This research identifies the value of developing an employee survey that is based on a clear model of the key variables that affect motivation and engagement. This is not based on speculation, as all the factors have been statistically checked and we know that they are reliable measures. Regression analysis shows that they are increasing our understanding of what is required to increase motivation and engagement.

The practical implications are really significant. The information enables organizations to focus interventions far more effectively, and also to build on the ‘Management Capability’ dimension. This creates the potential to develop 360 degree feedback that incorporates the key aspects of behaviour identified in the survey. There is also scope to run mini ‘pulse’ surveys that also review key indicators on a more regular basis.

Organizations have spoken for some time about creating ‘alignment’ and building an enabling culture. Now for the first time we have the tools that will help them achieve that objective. Effective feedback is vital for success, because effective feedback changes people’s behaviour.

Contact Nelson Consulting to discuss how we can design 360 degree and other employee surveys to make use of this research.

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