The terms 'employee engagement' and 'collaboration' have been buzz words in business for quite a while now, and the currency of these concepts does not show any signs of fading. A report from Aon Hewitt on global employee engagement published in 2013 showed that companies which engage with their employees by seeking their views on long term strategies and demanding measurable actions are more profitable than those which do not (Aon Hewitt 2013). The reasons for this are intuitively correct as any organisation which can harness the insights and experiences of its workforce and use this to direct its course of action will have a serious competitive edge over one where management do not listen to employees at all and where decisions are taken only in the boardroom and with no reference to the reality of what is going on down on the 'shop floor'. An additional and very significant benefit is that employees whose voices are listened to are likely to stay working for an organisation longer, so reducing the costs of recruiting and training new staff whilst retaining experience within the company. So employee engagement is an all round 'good thing' and many employers are now taking it very seriously.

But as with all business practices, indeed most things in life, there are various degrees to which you can implement any strategy. You can implement something at a superficial level, paying only lip service to the rigours of the process, or you can take a practice deep into the heart of the organisation and implement it fully and with a real commitment to making it a reality. From a senior management perspective engaging with employees and really paying attention to their thoughts about the direction of a business can be a real challenge. You may not always hear the things you want to hear, and you may hear a whole lot of things which make your job harder rather than easier, at least in the short term. Burris (2012) explores how employee opinions can be perceived as a threat by management and reaches the conclusion that the manner in which the opinions are voiced is critical to how well management receive them and act upon them. Speaking up in a large meeting may create a sense of threat, so Burris recommends training for both managers and workers so that the workers can mediate their opinion to maximise impact and reduce threat. This means the managers are able to listen constructively and, crucially, create situations where employee voices can be heard in a productive and non-antagonistic way.

There are many ways to engage with employees. Some of these are informal and arise from the cultural practices within the organisation. Good managers will listen to their staff and a flow of information will be established based on personal relationships and trust. Staff appraisal is also an important mechanism; in organisations which do employee engagement well, the appraisal is about far more than measuring performance and includes conversations about the wider goals of the organisation in relation to that employee’s activity.

But individual soundings of employee views can only take you so far. The real power of employee voice comes when many opinions are gathered and aggregated and the results made available for analysis. This is where response systems enter the picture as they provide the ideal technology to support this scenario. Brown, Dennis and Venkatesh (2010) have written about the use of technology to support collaboration in the workplace. For an effective session where staff can vote on important issues, they argue the need for a balanced mix of collaboration technology and company attitude: The company’s commitment to listening to its employees and employee commitment to feed back . And that’s where OMBEA comes into play. At Reivo we have supported many of these types of sessions and both management and workers alike have valued them and taken tangible outcomes back to their respective roles. From a big picture perspective we’ve seen the feedback from such sessions feed into the formation of tactical and strategic initiatives built with workforce rather than for it.

OMBEA has been designed to easy to use and creating the questions is no harder than making the Powerpoint slides which are a feature of any meeting. Designing appropriate questions is a challenge, but time spent doing this is valuable in itself as it encourages reflection on the most important issues facing the organisation and where the views of employees could most help. We’ve helped many organisations at this most crucial stage of the process by drawing on our experience of engagement sessions from the vast range of vertical markets we work with

Meetings where employees can share their opinions about an organisation’s strategy through the response systems can therefore be an important and cost efficient part of a wider drive to make the buzzwords of ‘employee engagement’ less hype and more reality.

References

Brown, S, Dennis, A, & Venkatesh, V (2010), ‘Predicting Collaboration Technology Use: Integrating Technology Adoption and Collaboration Research’, Journal Of Management Information Systems, 27, 2, pp. 9-53

Burris, E. R. (2012). The Risks and Rewards of Speaking Up:: Managerial Responses to Employee Voice. Academy Of Management Journal, 55(4), 851-875

Aon Hewitt (2013) Trends in Global Employee Engagement [online] Available at: http://www.aon.com/attachments/thought-leadership/Trends_Global_Employee_Engagement_Final.pdf [Accessed: 4 Dec 2013].