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How employee engagement and performance are linked

Man holding Employee Engagement building block

Engage­ment is not about hap­pi­ness. Of course we want peo­ple to be hap­py in their work. But the key to the puz­zle is in the word work”, because it’s in our dai­ly jobs that we find work engage­ment.

What does that mean? It comes back to what we actu­al­ly do every day in the work­place. We spend most of our time — hope­ful­ly — work­ing. We do our tasks. We focus on our pri­or­i­ties or objec­tives. So it’s only nat­ur­al that engage­ment needs to focus on the work itself. 

This is the con­nec­tion between employ­ee engage­ment and per­for­mance. If the thing that most affects our expe­ri­ence at work is our work, then engage­ment needs to be cen­tred around work out­comes. And that’s fan­tas­tic news for every­one, because the more you improve work out­comes — by har­ness­ing the resources, train­ing and rela­tion­ships your peo­ple need — then the more effec­tive peo­ple will be. It’s pos­si­ble to affect work engage­ment, and there­fore pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and profitability. 

Years of spe­cial­ist research — includ­ing a meta-analy­sis of 90 engage­ment stud­ies with a cumu­la­tive sam­ple size of more than 60,000 peo­ple — has found that work engage­ment is the sin­gle best pre­dic­tor of both task and team per­for­mance. Noth­ing else — includ­ing trans­for­ma­tion­al lead­er­ship — affects our per­for­mance in the same way. The obvi­ous impli­ca­tion here is that if we mea­sure work engage­ment in a con­tin­u­ous way and put employ­ee engage­ment data in the hands of man­agers and employ­ees (rather than mea­sur­ing it annu­al­ly or bi-annu­al­ly and from afar) we pro­vide a trig­ger for mean­ing­ful action. By encour­ag­ing peo­ple to reflect on how they feel about their work, we make them more aware of the chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties they face. If we then link that direct­ly to per­for­mance man­age­ment, by prompt­ing employ­ees to dis­cuss these things with their man­agers in one-to-ones, we cre­ate an envi­ron­ment designed to help peo­ple devel­op and thrive. Engage­ment feeds per­for­mance man­age­ment, which in turn feeds work­place productivity. 

Con­trary to our title, then, employ­ee engage­ment and per­for­mance man­age­ment aren’t sim­ply linked: they’re part of the same thing. You can’t tru­ly engage peo­ple if you don’t help them per­form. You can make them hap­pi­er by improv­ing the work­ing envi­ron­ment; you can boost team cohe­sion with social events; you can even upskill and moti­vate large groups by offer­ing train­ing ini­tia­tives. But none of these mea­sures, worth­while and valu­able though they are, are spe­cif­ic to indi­vid­u­als and root­ed in their per­son­al devel­op­ment needs. 

The chal­lenge is that in most orga­ni­za­tions, these two dis­ci­plines are man­aged entire­ly sep­a­rate­ly. In larg­er orga­ni­za­tions, they can be run by entire­ly dif­fer­ent teams. They use dif­fer­ent tech plat­forms. Many busi­ness­es now man­age per­for­mance in a con­tin­u­ous way and use ded­i­cat­ed per­for­mance man­age­ment tools to mea­sure its effec­tive­ness. Many busi­ness­es are con­vinced of the ben­e­fit of a clos­er rela­tion­ship between man­ag­er and employ­ee. And yet employ­ee engage­ment remains an HR thing”. Engage­ment sur­veys are usu­al­ly con­duct­ed by HR, who go on to cap­ture the data, share it with lead­er­ship and pro­pose ini­tia­tives to act on those results. But if we want to ensure that per­for­mance and engage­ment can feed off each oth­er, we need to include the whole orga­ni­za­tion. Engage­ment data needs to form part of man­ag­er-employ­ee con­ver­sa­tions. Action needs to be ground­ed in indi­vid­ual needs. Once that hap­pens, it opens up a world of met­rics — ways to mea­sure, com­pare and guide teams towards the end goal of high performance. 

Man­agers and employ­ees get all-new top­ics for mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tions about work out­comes. Over time, both will under­stand the impor­tance of tak­ing prompt action to address spe­cif­ic obsta­cles. And HR and lead­er­ship can see, at a team and busi­ness lev­el, how the effect of wider events affects engage­ment and per­for­mance. Using three new ways of mea­sur­ing engage­ment — ener­gy, immer­sion and pur­pose — it’s pos­si­ble to drill down into the specifics of why team mem­bers are becom­ing dis­en­gaged, and work with man­agers to address the issue. It’s pos­si­ble to look at how wider events — a merg­er, for exam­ple, or sud­den growth — can affect the orga­ni­za­tion by team. The more the busi­ness under­stands its peo­ple, the more oppor­tu­ni­ties there are to take real action and move the engage­ment dial. 

By treat­ing per­for­mance man­age­ment and engage­ment as part of the same equa­tion, and apply­ing the same prin­ci­ples of con­tin­u­ous mea­sure­ment and in-the-moment response, we have the chance to make a fun­da­men­tal change to the way we sup­port and moti­vate our peo­ple. And because the focus is on improv­ing work out­comes, we can make a real dif­fer­ence to the way peo­ple expe­ri­ence their jobs. The advan­tages to employ­ees and man­agers are obvi­ous. The advan­tage to the busi­ness is bet­ter pro­duc­tiv­i­ty: sus­tained and sus­tain­able high per­for­mance sup­port­ed by action­able insight. 

For more on the con­nec­tions between engage­ment and per­for­mance, down­load our new eBook.

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