Against a backdrop of Government austerity and economic volatility organisations will have to be innovative to drive engagement over the next 12 months; especially when the core of the business narrative will be influenced by external factors that are more negative than positive.

In a period of commercial turbulence where cost and efficiency are the business drivers and budgets are being squeezed it can be very easy to target engagement initiatives as non-critical. But this short sighted view will affect your long term engagement strategy: and when you are building towards a culture of high engagement it is an evolutionary process that requires a long term commitment if it is to be successful.

I take the view that in times of economic turbulence; investment in engagement initiatives is a pre-requisite to recovery for businesses that have seen margins squeezed and a negative impact on the bottom line.

To get an indicative* idea of businesses that will be measuring employee opinion in 2012 I recently conducted a short poll; and I was pleasantly surprised to see that 80% of respondents will be hosting an employee survey this year. Despite only being an indicative representation I think that this gives a basis for drawing some useful conclusions:

  1. Businesses are taking employee engagement seriously despite a backdrop of uncertainty: the foundation to successful engagement is facilitating conversation within a business; and an employee survey is a tool that provides a basis for conversation;
  2. Despite a shift towards using different methods to measure employee opinion all employee surveys do still have a place in organisations. This is an interesting follow up to a blog I wrote a few months ago: Do we still need employee surveys?

An employee survey is the primary mechanism for measuring engagement in a business. The cost of hosting a survey can vary significantly depending on the size and scale of a business. As an additional question to the short poll I asked for an indicator of budget % that would be allocated to a survey. The responses fluctuated from 0-10%.

This is a promising trend as I believe that investment in new technology and social media is the way forward in 2012: a survey can be managed in house with the right resourcing and methodology.

Social media the solution to shared narrative

I would love to see 2012 become the year of the social media revolution in business. I am a firm believer that social media can play a key role in engaging employees and offers a dynamic and interactive environment in which to manage your message and perception of your culture.

In an environment that requires you to continually change and review your business model to react to market pressures you need communication tools that will allow you to instantly engage employees. Whilst email announcements work in terms of impact blogging tools are a much more subtle way of sharing your narrative.

Announcement driven communications tend to be a negative influence on engagement; an engagement strategy is built upon a shared narrative, taking employees on your journey with you and not being reliant on ADHOC announcements as the driver behind your communications. By investing in social media you are providing relevant tools for sharing the narrative and allowing people at all levels of a business to interact.

In times of business and economic uncertainty keeping your employees engaged is a challenge but also a platform to success. The following look at how high engagement increases your bottom line profit gives sound reasoning to why it is worth investing in an engagement strategy in the face of cost and commercial pressures.

By sharing your narrative employees will be more likely to buy into direction and decision making. In an era of pay freezes and job cuts employees want to know ‘why’. A shared narrative is about telling your organisational story and setting the scene for decision making either positive or negative.

I expect 2012 to be a year where businesses continue to focus on engagement as a means to building a foundation for future success.

My next blog will be on inspirational leadership and how this can be a driver behind cultural ambition and employee engagement.

*The poll was completed by 25 UK based IC professionals.

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