Why Are Organizations Not Investing Sufficiently To Create High Employee Engagement?

Posted by Rick DeMarco on 3 August 2016

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Over the past decade or so, more and more organizations are talking about the importance of creating a culture of high engagement with their employees, so they will create exceptional customer experiences. However, although employee engagement shows up as a top challenge for CHRO’s, CMO’s, and CEO’s around the globe, the needle has not moved much for high engagement from levels of 30% in the U.S and 16% globally over the past 15 years. As we talk to existing and new clients, we hear and observe that one of the primary drivers for this lack of movement is an insufficient level of people and money resources dedicated to the effort.

We are beginning to see more and more people with responsibility for engagement in their titles and yet there is rarely a sufficient number of staff members assigned to this person or a budget of enough substance to make a difference. I served as Director of Internal Brand Alignment for HP before joining Inward, with responsibility for engaging and aligning over 325,000 people in 170 countries around the brand and culture. At that time, HP was the largest technology company in the world with over $125 billion in annual sales, and yet I had only one person on my staff and a negligible budget which required me to "pass the hat" to fund any of the initiatives that would accomplish our objectives. 

If, as the research suggests, employee engagement is in fact a major challenge for companies around the globe, why is the effort not receiving sufficient financial and human resource support to solve the problem? If a company had a safety problem or a product quality problem or a production problem, they would certainly dedicate resources to address it. Years ago, we were all enthralled with the quality movement started by Deming.   One of his key teachings was that it costs more to do something ineffectively and fix it later than to do it right in the first place. And yet organizations spend significant amount of resources on rallies and all hands meetings and reward and recognition programs in an attempt to drive a culture of high engagement without realizing an acceptable ROI on the investment. In a world in which we are challenged to show returns on any investment in people or money, there is mounting research and evidence that affirms that an investment in a comprehensive plan to create a culture of highly engaged employees yields returns in growth, productivity, lower turnover, and customer loyalty and satisfaction. 

So how can those assigned the task of creating high employee engagement ensure that they have the resources to accomplish their objectives?

  1. Make sure that senior leadership sees the data and research that demonstrates the return for creating a highly engaged workforce as reflected in growth, retention, and customer satisfaction
  2. Do your homework and find out where funds are being spent today on efforts that are not yielding a return. Create a partnership with the owners of these funds to redirect them to efforts that will have an impact. Don’t be overly tactical. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to be serious in your process and approach.
  3. Develop a strategic plan with a budget, deliverables, clear accountabilities, and metrics  that will increase levels of employee engagement and sustain those levels over time
  4. Form a cross functional, cross business unit collaborative team who will be responsible for execution of the strategic plan and who will be accountable for the results
  5. Deliver! Show the impact of your results and difference it makes in the business

There will always be more to do than we have resources to accomplish. But the key for employee engagement leaders in securing sufficient budget and staffing to make a difference is to demonstrate that the return far outweighs that received from other initiatives that are being funded and then to deliver what you promise you’ll deliver.