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enterprise engagement

15 minutes with...Kevin Sheridan, CEO, HR Solutions, Inc.

HR Solutions Inc. is a Chicago-based human capital management consulting firm that has been involved in employee measurement for the past 20 years or so. “And during that time we’ve watched employee measurement transform from a focus on employee attitudes and satisfaction to a much more meaningful focus on employee engagement,” says Kevin Sheridan, the company’s CEO.

The breakthrough for his industry came, Sheridan says, with the publication of First, Break All the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman of the Gallup organization. “After that, we stopped asking questions of employees like, ‘Are you satisfied with the parking?’ and ‘Are you satisfied with the food service?’” Sheridan says, “and we began asking questions that would help us to focus on what we began to call the return on engagement, or ROE.”

“Beginning with that, we marked our instruments not only to measure some of the same topics as in the Gallup Q12 survey, which was introduced in that book, but with a number of key differentiators related to improving employee retention as well,” Sheridan says. Essentially, HR Solutions and the rest of the industry left that style of employee satisfaction measurement behind.

Not Just Management

A second breakthrough for Sheridan’s company came when it realized that the responsibility for building employee engagement doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of management – employees can also be held accountable for their own level of engagement.

“We were the first vendor to question the model that the responsibility for employee engagement fell squarely on the shoulders of management,” Sheridan says. “We had all of these companies measuring for engagement and then going back to the companies to train the managers to take it seriously and to hold them accountable to build action plans – and never once did anyone question the model. No one said, ‘Well, why aren’t we letting the employee be a co-owner of these engagement efforts?’”

As a result, Sheridan’s company looked more closely at many of the questions in its employee engagement survey and realized that they’re actionable by both the manager and the employee. According to Sheridan, the truth is that most employees want to be involved in boosting their own engagement levels. “When we offer client employees the chance to take what we call our PEER report to determine their own level of engagement,” he says, “more than 60% of employees take us up on the offer.”

And Sheridan adds it hasn’t been too hard to convince clients that employees can play a part in being accountable for their own engagement levels – “It’s truly an epiphany of sorts for them,” he notes.

Recognition's Role

That being said, the manager still bears the larger role and responsibility for improving engagement and retention in any organization, and recognition plays a big part in that. “People aren’t being recognized and thanked enough,” Sheridan says. “Most organizations are simply not employing enough recognition strategies, or they make the assumption that their values in terms of recognition mirror the values of all of their employees – which is not likely.”

Another way to keep engagement on the rise in your organization, Sheridan says, is to measure it regularly. “You can’t sustain engagement without knowing that you are sustaining engagement,” he says, “so measuring engagement levels at least every 18 months is critical.”

He stresses that organizations need to make engagement part of an ongoing dialog with employees. “Make sure your managers are regularly checking in with employees on what’s keeping them engaged and what’s getting in the way of higher engagement,” Sheridan says. “For instance, we talk about our engagement survey results and action steps we can take at every departmental meeting. And some of our managers even build reminders into their Outlook calendars. That might seem somewhat obsessive, but it works.”

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