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- Scott Robinson, Kentucky Farm Bureau
As the workforce becomes ever more mobile, the expense of acquiring and retaining skilled professional employees continues to increase at an alarming rate. Consequently, HR employee engagement -- corporate efforts to secure the commitment of workers to the enterprise and its goals -- is a growing priority and, at the same time, can be problematic.
Given the frenetic pace of business in the age of the internet, the problem is compounded when good people leave a company and precious time on critical projects, operations and growth initiatives is lost. As a result, effective business decision-making is that much tougher at all levels of management.
That's where HR employee engagement strategies came in and captured the C-suite's attention. I believe that a twofer is possible: Fixes to the HR employee engagement problem can lead not only to improved employee retention, but also to stronger decision support enterprise-wide.
Why they leave and why they stay
There are a number of reasons good workers move on; one of the biggest is due to deficits in enterprise leadership. People often quit their bosses, not their jobs. Difficulty working with one's manager is a leading motivation to fly the coop -- especially in the tech industry, where mobility is so easy.
On the other hand, a good manager or strong leadership at the top can have the opposite effect. Many who might otherwise defect for a better paycheck or a step upward will choose to stay put when they're working for someone they respect, who respects them in turn and who frequently inspires them.
"[H]igher levels of engagement [come] from employees who work for a compassionate leader -- one who is authentic, present, has a sense of dignity, holds others accountable, leads with integrity and shows empathy," leadership researchers Brad Shuck and Maryanne Honeycutt-Elliott said in a BI Worldwide report on employee engagement trends.
That kind of leader creates loyalty, and the best leaders invite their team members into their processes. They seek out opinions, demonstrate transparency and make it clear that what the team thinks matters to them and corporate leadership. And that's where win-win opportunities flourish.
Many minds are better than one
This kind of communication between manager and employee doesn't just boost HR employee engagement; it makes for better managers.
James Surowiecki demonstrates in his book The Wisdom of Crowds that many minds focusing on the same problem will almost always deliver a better solution than even the most expert individual working alone. It's simple statistical math: The distribution of error is likely to balance out around the correct answer.
Perhaps a simple example can be found in a jar of marbles at the county fair. The person who guesses most closely to the actual number of marbles typically wins a prize. It has been demonstrated empirically time and again that the average of all guesses will be more accurate than the best individual "opinion."
Real-world decision-making isn't so clear-cut, of course, but research has borne out the importance of this diversity in problem-solving: Different thinkers increase our creativity and diligence, and several minds at work on a particular problem deliver the best results.
Pursuing engagement through cognitive diversity
How do we go about drawing teams into this kind of process? The best way is to take the pressure off by creating a forum that's transparent and encourages idea-sharing and unfettered participation. Public social media shows that many, if not most, of us enjoy expressing ourselves, for better or worse, when we are free of social pressures.
That applies to the workplace as well in the form of HR employee engagement platforms. The savvy manager will realize that making regular use of enterprise social media -- Slack, Basecamp or SharePoint community sites -- can pay a huge dividend by letting team members know how much their input is valued by leadership. And even more important, it's possible that, by being truly open to group input, leadership will make better business decisions.
Familiar words from Steve Jobs might be appropriate here: "Great things in business are never done by one person. They're done by a team of people."