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15 minutes with...Oliver Rueth, Head of Business Development, Hay Group Insight

Oliver Rueth heads up Hay Group Insight, the international consulting company’s employee survey division and the group that puts the data together for Fortune magazine’s annual “Most Admired Companies” rankings. The division started out doing mostly employee satisfaction and motivation surveys until engagement became the new, hot topic that it remains today. But Rueth is quick to add that the work his company does these days goes way beyond conducting surveys. “It’s helping our clients with their employee programs and looking at the entire employee lifecycle,” he says. “We work with our clients on onboarding, trying to find out why employees leave – and everything in between.”

Employee engagement has been the focus of the unit’s work over the last several years, but in the course of that work, what Hay Group has found, says Rueth, is that “engagement alone isn’t all a company needs to be successful.”

A Platform for Engagement

In addition to having engaged employees, a company must also give its employees a platform to be successful, says Rueth. “If they’re salespeople, for instance, that means getting them in front of the right audiences and making sure they have the tools and the resources they need to connect with clients and sell your goods.” So, as an employee, “your engagement levels can be skyrocketing,” Rueth says, “but it might be channeled in the wrong direction if your company isn’t doing what it needs to do to support and manage that level of engagement.”

As a result, Hay Group has developed a survey model that measures two different outcomes. First, it measures employee engagement, which is defined in terms of employee commitment and willingness to offer discretionary effort. Second, it measures enablement – the platform, tools, resources and direction that employees receive to support their efforts. “This gives clients a more focused way in which to plan their follow-up actions after identifying their needs through a survey,” Rueth explains.

Typically, what Hay Group sees, in terms of the drivers of both engagement and enablement, is that engagement is driven more by the “big picture” stuff – the direction of the company, leadership, brand message and the culture of the organization. Enablement, on the other hand, is driven more by the employee’s immediate environment – “being matched to one’s role in the organization, having an effective supervisor or manager, having an ability to grow in the organization, taking advantage of available training and other things that are more in the immediate environment,” Rueth says.

He notes that working for a company like Google, for instance, “might be enough to engage me. But if I get there and they don’t give me what I need to make use of all of my skills or do my job right, then I wouldn’t be enabled.”

Engaged But Frustrated

Hay Group’s dual engagement/enablement model – which it calls its Employee Effectiveness Framework – generally separates employees into four groups. These include Effective Employees, who rank high in terms of both engagement and enablement; Detached Employees, who have high enablement scores but low engagement levels; Frustrated Employees with high engagement but low enablement; and Ineffective Employees, who are low in terms of both engagement and enablement.

Rueth says the critical group to target to increase the impact of a company’s engagement efforts is the frustrated group. “These are typically people who can and want to do a great job, but they’re somehow obstructed from performing to the optimum of their capability,” he explains. “These are the ones who have the most potential to become high performers.”

If you don’t work with this group, Rueth says three things can happen – “one is that they find their own way to become more effective and enabled; two is they just give up and their engagement goes down; and three is they just go elsewhere.”

Focus on the Middle

One common problem related to enablement that Rueth sees in many organizations is that they have managers who have been put in those positions because they’ve been around for a while in an organization, but they don’t necessarily have the skills to lead people – they don’t know how to create the right culture or climate.

“These people are typically our starting point when we work with an organization, and we can help them understand what kind of climate they need to create and how to identify the issues within their group that they need to address,” Rueth says. “You might have an organization focused on research and development, for example, where innovation is a big success factor. But if a new or untrained manager creates an environment where people are afraid to make suggestions or are afraid to make mistakes because of the potential negative consequences to them, then that might be the worst thing that could happen in an innovative environment.”

Rueth says that in most companies, the top few layers of management have a strategy that is clearly communicated, everyone is given the right tools, has the performance management skills they need, and has access to the proper training and development. “But we’ve also found that somewhere in the organization this breaks down, and some of the people on the lower rungs don’t have the same access, the same resources, or the same understanding that’s available at the top,” Rueth notes, “and that’s where we can help to start to make a difference – usually somewhere in the middle.”

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November/December 2011

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