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Employee Engagement & Technology

Kimberly Schaufenbuel, SVP Talent Management, 2U, Inc

Kimberly Schaufenbuel, SVP Talent Management, 2U, Inc

You know engagement when you see it. Engaged employees go the extra mile, passionately and proactively adding value while aligning with the mission and strategic goals. They are the employees who drive the business forward. Alternatively, disengaged employees add negligible value and may even intentionally work against the organization. Measuring, influencing and creating engagement is a strategic priority that impacts the bottom line.

Growth, operational excellence, innovation, risk, and managing the regulatory environment are all executive priorities. Underpinning the trajectory of those areas is the core of the business- its people. When employees are fully engaged and immersed in their work, the organization wins. Employee engagement—the emotional commitment of employees—is the most controllable predictor of organizational success.

"With the rate of organizational change and growth, employees are placing a higher importance on continuous learning throughout their career. Employee development is a driver of engagement and retention"

While employee engagement is an intrinsically personal experience, there are four elements that, enhanced with technology, can create an environment for engagement to flourish.

Hiring for Fit

A culture of engagement starts with talent acquisition. Leaders must approach hiring as one of the most critical parts of their role. To tap into the full potential of an employee, leaders must hire the right person for the right role. Different organizational cultures dictate different talent needs. Ensuring mutual understanding up front with candidates and hiring talent that matches the requisite skills along with the shared expectations of workplace culture is foundational for employee engagement. Like all successful relationships, there needs to be a deep alignment of purpose, values and expected behaviors between employees and the organization. Engaged employees understand how their jobs meaningfully contribute to the organization’s mission and strategic objectives. Combined with strong onboarding, effective talent acquisition sets new employees up to be empowered and engaged.

From applicant tracking systems (ATS) to digital templates and even social media, specialized technological tools can make talent acquisition smarter, more efficient, convenient, and compliant, creating a better candidate experience. Automating aspects of the talent acquisition process allows potential employees to focus on the more important things as they onboard into their new roles. Technology can also have a meaningful presence in virtual onboarding, ensuring all employees no matter their location, experience a thoughtful and consistent start.

Performance Feedback

Annual performance reviews are relics of the Industrial Revolution. This old management practice is no longer effective, and at its worst, contributes to disengagement. Employees and leaders alike dread the formality and inflexibility of a once a year formal feedback review. Instead of supporting accountability and performance, they are found to be stressful, time-consuming, and ultimately demotivating to employees. As the organizational pace has become more rapid and complex, annual reviews do not meet the needs of shifting expectations, priorities and demands. However, the essence of performance reviews and feedback remains an integral part of employee engagement.

Employees want frequent, ongoing feedback which enables them to course correct, grow and increase their ability to be successful. While there is not a perfect solution or cadence for every organization, quarterly check-ins or progress reviews are a best practice. Once a quarter employees and managers reflect on progress over the previous quarter and partner to map the next set of goals and development plans. This is an opportunity to formally recognize an employee’s achievements and help them understand how they can improve in the near future. Quarterly check-ins enables leaders to not only review a more holistic perspective of performance over time, but also allow leaders and employees to remain agile and align to shifting organizational priorities. Management and measurement of performance check-ins can be largely automated with technology-enabled HR platforms, giving leaders and employees the ability to review and track in real time.

Feedback reciprocity is also an important element of engagement. Organizations should be asking employees for their feedback, thoughts and ideas. Like employees, organizations need to have a clear understanding of what is working well and what could be improved. When leaders create a culture where open communication and transparency is the norm, employees feel safe giving their honest opinions and trust it will be evaluated and actioned appropriately. This enables organizations to get ahead of potential problems and empowers employees to better the business. The survey industry has drastically improved, allowing organizations to select a technology platform that will best help with engagement feedback and analytics.

Development for Growth

With the rate of organizational change and growth, employees are placing a higher importance on continuous learning throughout their career. Employee development is a driver of engagement and retention. Dedicating time and money to development demonstrates that the organization is committed to helping employees achieve their goals by keeping their skills current and identifying the future skills they will need to progress. Employees who feel their organization takes a sincere interest and invests in their future are more likely to show engagement and loyalty. Development opportunities are mutually beneficial by furthering employee knowledge and skills, translating into organizational gains.

Mobile and online learning continues to revolutionize employee development. Employees can access content and complete “just-in-time” training at the time, pace, and place that they prefer. This supports flexible working practices and raises enthusiasm and accessibility towards learning. Technology-enabled software is easily deployed and trackable as a self-service initiative that empowers employees to be accountable and responsible for their own development. The more flexible and personalized development is, the more opportunity to increase engagement.

Recognition for Outcomes and Values

All employees want to be respected and valued by others for their contributions. Recognition is the timely acknowledgement of a person’s or team’s behavior, effort or outcome that supports the organization’s goals and values. Employees who feel appreciated are more likely to tap into their discretionary effort and go over and beyond what is expected of them. Recognition taps into personal reward and reinforces the organization’s culture by supporting engagement and sending a message to others about what success looks like. For recognition to be well-received it must be honest, meaningful and individualized. It can be as public as an award or as private as a thank you note. What matters is that the recognition is authentic and personal. Recognition is not solely a leader’s task, but should flow up, down and across layers.

There are numerous digital recognition tools that help bolster employee engagement. These real-time platforms allow employees to become cheerleaders for one another and create stronger support networks. This encourages recognition visibility and frequency. Technology-enabled solutions also allow for analytics of recognition insights so organizations can understand what is being reinforced in the culture.

If employees are an organization’s greatest asset, we must treat them as a top priority. Organizations that align their employee engagement efforts to create a motivating and fulfilling workplace culture experience better financial returns. Identifying ways to improve talent acquisition, performance feedback, development and recognition can have a tremendous impact on influencing engagement. Engaged employees go the extra mile which leads to higher levels of customer satisfaction and ultimately impacts the bottom line. There is no downside to taking care of your organization’s greatest asset. 

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