Before we get into an employee engagement action plan, let’s make sure we understand what employee engagement is.
Employee engagement is typically used as a catch-all metric to describe workplace culture.
The annual engagement survey is the most common way companies assess how engaged their employees are.
Gallup defines engaged employees
“as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”
An employee engagement plan is a tool to help you address any issues or double down on activities that impact the level of engagement in your organisation.
We’re all familiar with the saying “garbage in, garbage out”. The same applies to your employee action plan.
If you’re setting your action plan based on the annual survey, you need to make sure the results are telling you something meaningful.
We’ve all seen glowing survey results for companies that can’t hold on to staff.
It’s a good rule of thumb to write questions so a non-native speaker could understand the essence of the question. For example, if you say 'Senior Leadership' who exactly or what group exactly does this refer to? Even someone with a good grasp of English might be confused - is this director level or the department heads?
Road testing questions with employees first is a great idea, particularly for organisational wide surveys.
It’s important to have the right context and data before sitting down to create an employee engagement strategy template.
Once you have a proper starting point, your employee engagement plan will help you
I’ll outline a little more on each of these points in this article.
When anyone mentions a plan of any kind I usually think of the saying “a goal without a plan is just a wish”. So, having a plan is a good way to keep us focused on what it is we are trying to achieve.
But I also love the Simon Sinek quote, accepting he probably wasn’t the first person to say or think this but…
“Always plan for the fact that no plan ever goes according to plan.”
Both of these hold true for employee engagement.
We definitely need a plan to keep us focused, move the dial and most importantly bring clarity to the purpose and thereby engagement of our people in work.
We also definitely need to accept that we are dealing with lots of different people, in different teams, with different priorities and different stuff going on in their personal lives.
For an engagement plan to be effective it should be adaptable to all teams in the organisation. This will require regular opportunities to review progress and adjust accordingly. We mustn’t default to the one size fits all mentality [which we also outlined in our blog on Team Culture].
Gallup has over 50 years of employee engagement research that highlights more engaged employees produce better business outcomes regardless of industry, company size, nationality, and in good economic times and bad.
You can see clearly from the graphic below that a more engaged workforce
Reduces negative business outcomes
Increases positive business outcomes
And gives you more chance of greater organisational success
If you’re looking for more evidence that increasing engagement is worth the effort…
Our mantra at PepTalk is that engagement and wellbeing activities and initiatives must be focused on the team, not the individual.
If I asked you to remember a time when you played on a great team or worked with a great team... you’d probably tell me about the shared belief you all had, or the feeling everyone had each other’s backs or the way everyone just gelled and knew what the other was going to do.
According to Yuval Noah Harari in his book Sapiens, one of our uniquely human traits is the ability to co-operate in small or large groups. It is credited as being the advantage we have over every other species on the planet… why would that be any different in work?
Whether you work remote, hybrid or on location, shared experiences will always create more engagement than simply being in a shared location. Lazy organisations will rely on the watercooler chats, or the walks between meetings to create some connection between employees.
But what happens when we’re online?
When we think of engagement we cannot default to the company-sponsored happy hour on a Friday evening. For starters, what about your employees that don’t drink or can’t drink alcohol?
Shared experiences don’t have to take place in person.
A 2012 study found that psychosocial support makes tasks seem easier. This extends to just thinking about a supportive friend as well as being with them.
The emergence of the “second screen”, using a connected device while watching TV, confirms the hypothesis that a remote shared experience enhances engagement for everyone.
A study by the University of Texas supports prior research on the general influence of engagement across technology media, with fresh evidence of added engagement rather than a distraction when it comes to sports.
It makes total sense. If there are 100,000 people at a game, there might be 10,000,000 watching at home on the TV, alone. But their engagement is enhanced by joining the Twitter conversation by using a hashtag.
In 2016, 68% of Americans used a second screen while watching TV. According to Statista, that number has risen to 91% of internet users are on a second screen.
Culture, engagement and performance in the new workplace will be created through shared experiences not shared environments.
The easy default here is to rely on stand-alone events and trinkets.
The lunch and learn on mindfulness and happy hour drinks on Friday evening are just paper over the cracks.
If improving employee engagement is a race, stand-alone events are a pitstop, not progress.
We go to the event, we enjoy the content and feel energised by the attendance and then the next day it’s over. All the energy is gone and we are back in the same place we were before the event.
Again if we think about our race analogy, progress is what keeps us moving towards the finish line, not a pitstop.
All activities, whether they are to improve engagement or win a race, should be designed to get you closer to your destination or goal. This is why the one-off approach fails time and time again. These events are not building towards something. They are the once-off moon-shot that will hopefully fix a big problem.
In the powerful book “The 1% Rule: How to Fall in Love with the Process and Achieve Your Wildest Dreams” by Tommy Baker, he talks about how nothing will drive people forward more than the feeling they are making progress
“... there’s one undeniable motivational force unlike any other: Progress - even the perception of it. When we feel we’re moving the needle forward in life, even a seemingly insignificant amount, we stay motivated. Progress keeps us inspired and on track.”
James Clear is another big proponent of the 1% Rule. In his best-seller, “Atomic Habits” he gave the example of the professor at the University of Florida who divided photography students into two groups
Quality over quantity is what we usually hear. However, to get quality there is a quantity of work required to refine the process.
At the end of the term, the professor was surprised to find that all the best photos were produced by the quantity group.
By consistently taking photos these students were honing their skills and becoming better photographers. They gradually got better at understanding composition, lighting, darkroom developing, and learning from their mistakes. In the process of creating hundreds of photos, they become better photographers.
The quality group were cripled by the concept of perfection. They took far fewer photos and obsessed over the theory of taking the perfect picture.
As Clear outlines “It is easy to get bogged down trying to find the optimal plan for change: the fastest way to lose weight, the best program to build muscle, the perfect idea for a side hustle. We are so focused on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to taking action. As Voltaire once wrote, ‘The best is the enemy of the good.’”
If your organisation is serious about improving engagement then it needs to take a consistent approach to the activities and initiatives designed to achieve this.
Progress, not pitstops.
You will need an employee engagement project plan and buy-in from key stakeholders who will execute the plan. These are the people who will drive your plan at every level of the organisation.
High Performance = Standards + Culture + Habits
So, now that we know what it is, why we need it, and how it works… it’s time to start thinking about how we create an employee engagement action plan template. I say template because we may need to have variations on the overall plan.
There won’t be big deviations from the overall plan but there could be a need to reflect that different teams within the organisation may have different levels of engagement and different aspects of engagement to work on. By having a template we can iterate and tweak the overall plan without getting too far away from how everyone else is operating.
Here’s how you can get started.
This is a little trickier than you would imagine. Typically, these types of initiatives are left to either the HR department or the people that are already highly engaged.
It has to go a little deeper to take hold. You will need not only buy-in but participation from the top, the C-suite. Not just attending the meetings and signing off the budget, real participation.
You will need to recruit the influencers at every level of the organisation for the launch, rollout and ongoing delivery of the programme. Again, you need to think beyond the people you always turn up at things and get involved. This is all about expanding the engagement across the organisation not doubling down on those already engaged.
Any upgrade comes with a cost. One of the biggest downfalls to culture and engagement initiatives is the cost is usually not supported by the company.
In the “Why is an employee engagement plan important?” section above we outlined (and supported with data from Gallup) that employee engagement is vitally important to the success of the company.
It stands to reason that anything this important should receive a budget in addition to time and resources.
You can start small and build. It won’t be obvious what will work so there will be an element of testing and iterating.
if you don’t have any go and get it. Start with your annual survey. As I said earlier, make sure you’re asking the right questions.
If you’ve no survey data, maybe start with a team survey or department survey to allow you to refine the questions. Then you can expand your survey company-wide.
Naturally, you’ll want to double down on the areas that are showing opportunities and good results.
Areas that are showing up as problems or friction points should not be ignored. These need to be remedied through your engagement strategy template.
Once you get your data together you should be able to identify the things to start, do more of or maybe stop altogether. Again, make sure the whole organisation is covered by your objectives both from an impact and participation point of view.
You may need to tweak things for different areas of the business. It might be worth starting your plan in a particular team or department rather than the whole company. Just be clear about why you’re doing it.
The benefit of having a template means you can have different engaged employees plan for different teams and departments. The template should keep everyone working towards similar or complementary goals and values.
An annual survey won’t cut it.
You need regular review methods or pulsing to assess how engaged your people are. It’s not enough just to have a broad review of the year. You’ll never find out what are the things that affect your peoples’ engagement week to week and month to month.
Problems in January will be forgotten or replaced by something else in subsequent months. You need to be aware of these issues when they happen, not hope they get captured at an end of year survey.
Frequency and method will come down to the team you’ve picked, the budget they’ve been allocated and the objectives they have decided to go after.
An employee engagement template is designed for use by the whole organisation. Some teams might start earlier than others but this should be an organisation-wide initiative. To keep interest and momentum behind the efforts, there should be regular updates on the engagement efforts.
Again, this can depend on the team and budget. Some more tech-savvy members of an engagement team might favour creating a website on a subdomain, or use a wiki from opensource online tools. If budget and tech resources are limited it may be a monthly email or time at the company all-hands or town hall.
The more you can communicate the vision, values and progress behind your employee engagement strategy the more likely you are to have employees participate.
A ‘one size fits all’ approach will not work so you need to be able to test, iterate and evolve across the whole organisation.
A constant theme in this article is testing, iterating, and not using a one size fits all approach.
This means you’ll have to figure a lot of it out yourself. I can suggest some things to do, but we won’t know if they’ll work until we try them.
However, if you have an over-arching plan for your team, department or organisation built off data you’ve gathered and objectives you’re going after, then it’s easier to create a consistent set of activities that will help you achieve these objectives.
In PepTalk we have eight wellbeing pillars we build our activities and content around. Here they are with two examples of engagement activities.
It’s natural to wonder whether all this effort will be worth it.
The data suggests it will be worth it and then some.
You can see from the graph below that global engagement has been rising but from ridiculously low levels. Organisations that have developed engagement plans based on best practices have engagement rates 3.5x higher than the global average.
We would argue yes, for two main reasons.
With both of those things in mind, we have created an employee engagement plan template for you to download and use in your organisation.