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Engagement plan not working? Here are 5 ways to fix it

5 min read


An employee-engagement plan isn’t something you can create once and follow, to the letter, forever. As business goals and employee demographics change, engagement initiatives need periodic tweaks and improvements.

I’ve seen many business leaders get stuck and frustrated because their engagement initiative slowly veers off course. They may not realize that something is starting to run a little less smoothly, and end up throwing out the whole plan because they think it’s a bust. If you feel like your engagement plan isn’t working, chances are it just needs a quick fix.

Here are five ways to tweak your engagement plan and keep improving engagement at your organization.

Communicate — and keep communicating

Engagement is like any other business activity — you need to be transparent about it so employees understand what’s going on and can get on board. Clear communication creates a foundation for a strong engagement initiative, but you have to keep communicating throughout the cycle to keep people informed.

Here’s what I often see: Companies do well at the first part of an engagement plan but then get sidetracked by something they didn’t anticipate. One of our customers recently went through a large merger and ran a quarterly engagement survey to ensure the two organizations were integrating well. But in the middle of that major business interruption, it unexpectedly bought another company, which threw everything off. The engagement plan had to change, but leaders didn’t communicate that change to employees, and quarterly engagement scores dropped.

Even if you don’t know exactly what the next step will be, share as much as you can with employees so they don’t feel lost.

Be committed, not compliant

If engagement survey results come out, and leaders start badmouthing employees for low scores, trust will evaporate. It’s discouraging to get official communication about a new engagement initiative only to hear leaders belittling it or expressing skepticism that anything will ever change.

Make sure managers and leaders buy in to the engagement process. Part of the buy-in process means ensuring leaders don’t undermine their own efforts to improve, so ensure everyone involved is committed to success, not simply compliant to the process.

Follow through, every time

There’s a big difference between just measuring engagement and following through on that measurement. The ideal cycle: measure engagement, facilitate change, improve outcomes and measure again. I’ve seen companies get really excited about an engagement plan, run a survey, and then, for whatever reason, sit on the results. Some may get results that are worse than they expected and are paralyzed by the work they feel they have to do. Others may get results that demand change they’re not willing to make, or they asked questions about things they’re not willing or able to change.

In any case, don’t start an engagement campaign if you’re not in it to change. The payoffs of listening to employees and making big changes are worth it — see the process through!

Survey frequently

Look at engagement as you do any other business measurement. How useful would it be to check your revenue once a year? Your employee count? The number of customers you have?

Commit to measuring engagement regularly — at least once a quarter. The more you measure, the more data you’ll have to work with and the better you’ll be able to tweak your actions to offer employees what they need.

Offer incentives for participation

You may find that the response rate to an engagement survey isn’t large enough to be useful. There could be several reasons for that. Ensure you didn’t run the survey when something else was going on, such as a busy season for one of your departments, or around a holiday when many people were off. Check your communications, as people may not have understood that this is a scientific survey that needs people to participate to be valid. Determine whether you were clear about anonymity and confidentiality.

If the only reason for nonparticipation that you can determine is apathy, consider incentivizing participation. For departments that hit a certain percentage of participation, award a prize such as a pizza lunch or similar incentive. Avoid individual incentives, as that can take away anonymity.

Engagement initiatives take a lot of effort, and you’re likely to run into temporary setbacks. Communication, trust and follow-through are big factors that will help determine the success of your engagement efforts.

Chris Powell is the CEO of BlackbookHR, a software company on a mission to create more engaged and connected workplaces and communities. He previously served as executive vice president of human resources for Scripps Networks Interactive (HGTV, DIY, Food Network, Cooking Channel, Travel Channel, et al.), as vice president of human resources for the global financial services company ING, and in various corporate HR roles at Marriott International.

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