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Workforce Engagement Technology…?

Allan Schweyer

I’ve never seen or heard of an “Engagement Management Solution” per se (if you’re aware of one, please let me know) but there are numerous available HR technologies that, if implemented well, can drive employee engagement to new heights. While these tools don’t address the challenge directly, they do focus on the triggers of employee engagement. In so doing, they can impact employee engagement and performance indirectly.

Anyone who has reviewed the U.S. and global employee engagement research of recent years has noticed that it tells us the same thing about what drives engagement most effectively. As long as pay and benefits are competitive (thereby eliminating compensation from consideration), every major survey notes that employees want developmental and career opportunities, work-life balance and quality management (most importantly, their own supervisor). These factors are consistently ranked most critical to employee engagement and retention.

Career Planning and Skills Development

For all workers – especially the younger set – development of new skills and a clear path to advancement are paramount concerns. In large organizations, there may be dozens of open positions at any given time, hundreds of courses available, a mentoring program and scores of developmental assignments possible. For the typical worker, however, awareness of the opportunities – let alone navigating the options – can be limited where systems are not in place. When talent cannot see the opportunities available inside the organization, they might disengage and start to look for opportunities elsewhere.

Organizations can address these problems by implementing internal online job boards linked to career planning tools. Tools that give visibility to the range of opportunities available in the organization, combined with systems that allow individuals to gauge their current skill sets against positions they aspire to, can guide them in their careers within the organization. Add this functionality to a “learning management system” to provide the workforce with a much clearer understanding of what it takes to advance, the multiple paths to achievement and how to build an Individual Development Plan (IDP) to get there. Online mentoring management technologies and social networking tools are also available to connect workers with others and accelerate knowledge transfer.

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Work-Life Balance

A major source of frustration among workers is the lack of control they have over their time and schedules. In response, most organizations have implemented some form of telecommuting option or flexible work arrangements over the past few years. For shift workers, however, it is usually a different story. Most shift work must be done on site – i.e., a factory, a hospital or an air traffic control center. These operations should consider staff self-scheduling tools.

Shift workers are often subject to last-minute requests to work double shifts, unfair or non-transparent distribution of overtime opportunities and denial of leave when they ask to miss a scheduled shift. Web-enabled scheduling tools give workers the ability to swap shifts on their own and to see and sign up for overtime in advance. For nurses in particular, these tools have been shown to directly boost engagement levels, decrease turnover and even improve patient outcomes.

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Quality of Management

To address the quality of management – particularly supervisors and front-line managers – there would appear to be few technologies capable of making a difference. Indirectly, better selection systems (i.e., an applicant tracking system with good screening and assessment features) can help narrow a list of applicants to those most suited to leading talent. More directly, incumbent managers and supervisors can use basic toolsets to assess engagement in their organizations (i.e., through engagement surveys) and then analyze the results to determine areas for improvement. Once done, supervisors have online tools at their disposal to plan and measure the engagement initiatives they undertake. For example, the Center for Talent Solutions in Denver offers custom engagement portals they call “Take Action Solutions.” The portal is password-protected and in addition to offering a variety of online engagement tools for managers it allows organizations to track and measure their progress.

Most HR and Talent Management technologies impact employee engagement in some way. The ones referred to above, while by no means exhaustive, have more or less direct impact in making employees more optimistic, content and productive. Of course, technologies are neither easy to implement nor inexpensive. Yet the potential payoff is enormous. Even minor reductions in turnover, especially among top performers, can mean seven-figure savings. Improved engagement leading to higher productivity can also add tens or hundreds of millions to a large organization’s bottom line.

We may have to wait for a complete Engagement Management Solution, but what is available today completes much of the picture and can dramatically raise employee engagement in most organizations.

Allan Schweyer is Chairman and Director of Research for the Enterprise Engagement Alliance. He is also a Principal at the Center for Human Capital Innovation in Washington, DC.

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Winter 2010

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