Over the past couple weeks I’ve been talking about how employees can make themselves more enageable, what line managers can do to engage their teams and what CEO’s should to to engage the company and drive performance. Today, the last of the series, is dedicated to 5 roles you should expect the HR department to fulfill in driving employee engagement.

1. The Engagement Advocate

If someone is going to drive employee engagement it’s the HR department. They should be able to clearly articulate the benefits of employee engagement in a way that:

  1. The executive leadership team takes notices and wants to invest in improving employee engagement.
  2. Line managers understand that engaging employees will enhance their own performance.
  3. Employees know what’s expected of them and what they can expect from the company (employee value proposition)

2. The Engagement Expert

First and foremost HR should be the subject matter expert on employee engagement and be able to answer:

  • Why it’s important,
  • What drives employee engagement,
  • How it can be measured,
  • What can you do to improve employee engagement,

Your HR team should able to explain that employee commitment (measured by employees say, strive and stay is driven by belonging, alignment and growth.

Employee Engagement

However in an interesting article title: ‘Sack the HR department!’: Why HR can be the source of disengagement, and how to avoid – or fix, the Great Place to Work Institutes identifies that the HR department in many cases doesn’t have the internal credibility to act as the engagement expert. Either because:

  1. They are seen as detached from the operations and dont know what’s happening ’on the floor’ or
  2. HR themselves are not very engaged or
  3. By having aligned themselves closer to management (as a result of implementing the HR business partner model) HR is seen as less aligned with staff

3. The Engagement Consultant

Not surprisingly research has confirmed that the line manager plays the most important role in engaging employees. As line managers are a diverse bunch they’re also the most difficult group to influence. HR has a role to train, guide and coach line managers in how to engage employees.

And although metrics are an important tool (see the Engagement Gate Keeper) HR should help line managers point out that engagement is all about dialogue and not the score per se. As Jon Kaufman and Rob Makey pointed out that it’s important to:

…signal that discussing and addressing the root causes, and seeing steady progress, matters more than any absolute score itself. Pushing the metrics to the side also sends a signal of empowerment to the supervisors.

4. The Engagement Jester

A jester is “a professional fool or clown, especially at a medieval court”. And although modern organisations are certainly not equivalent to medieval courts the HR department does fulfil a role in raising and maintaining the enthusiasm for engagement activities across the organisation.

This includes initiating, fostering and organising all kind of traditional employee engagement activities, from the annual employee BBQ to the photo calender competitions, from creating a stimulating workspace to the yearly football/cricket/basketball/skiing competitions, from organising donation runs to employee hotlines. HR is the team to initiate and coordinate all these activities to help engage employees.

5. The Engagement Gate Keeper

The HR department plays the role of gate keeper for employee engagement. It ensures that engagement is measured through (bi-)annual surveys, pulse checks and other measurement mechanisms. Action plans are being developed and implemented by line managers and that the leadership team tables the engagement discussion regularly on their top team agenda.

The flip-side of all the focus on measurement, benchmarks, ranking and data is of course that we get submerged in the analytics and tend to loosing the big picture, which is that engagement is all about the dialogue and not the metrics. We all know the little tricks to positively influence engagement levels a couple of weeks prior to the survey and of course this takes away the whole purpose of the exercise.

HR should ensure that data and measurement plays its supportive role but does not overshadow what it’s all about. Engaging employees in a way that they have a sense of belonging, feel that they can make a contribution, are challenged, can grow and feel valued. Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments below.

photo credit: Alan Cleaver via photopin cc

Read More: Improving Employee Engagement Via The Hiring Process.