July 16, 2020 | watsimp

Overcoming the Knowing-Doing Gap in Employee Engagement

A senior business leader, was venting his frustration about employee engagement. They had done a survey, got the results, communicated to the organization, made the action plans, assigned responsibilities – in essence, taken all the necessary steps. However, the mid year survey showed that there was no improvement. Unfortunately, in some areas, the scores were even lower than the last time! Leaders, managers and HR had committed to improve engagement at the start- but had made no headway.

Did no one care about employee engagement? Was this just another “corporate initiative” that made no difference to the rank and file of the organization? In my experience, action plans related to improving employee engagement rarely make the desired impact. Is it lack of intent or discipline? Or something else altogether?

What really causes the Knowing-Doing gap in Employee Engagement?

Irrelevant metrics

Most organizations do an annual or bi-annual engagement survey and this is the basis of actions planned for a whole year. In today’s rapidly changing business environment, an annual measure cannot be relevant! Leaders and managers know this. The annual engagement survey metrics are thus not valued, respected or acted on.

Cookie cutter plans

Employee engagement is seen as a “leadership responsibility”. Most action planning is done and tracked at organization or business unit level. These action plans are too broad based and address the “lowest common denominator” rather than specific issues. As a result, these action plans, even when diligently implemented, rarely address issues specific to teams, locations or managers.

Lack of empowerment

Since employee engagement is seen as a leadership responsibility, front line managers who have the biggest impact, are rarely empowered to drive this. Front line managers who manage people, many times do not even receive data relevant to their team’s engagement! Nor are they empowered to make changes/ do things that will make a material impact to their team’s engagement. They are expected to be the “voice of management” and go along with the actions planned at the company or business unit level.

Skill gap

Even in situations where a front line manager is accountable for employee engagement, they are not equipped with the necessary skills to make a difference. Each team and manager are different and generic manager development programs are not able to build manager capability to address specific issues.

So, what’s the way to fix this?

Measure: The right things and at the right frequency

Empower: At the front line manager level

Plan: Make plans specific to address issues at the micro level

Skills: Just in time learning for managers to address the issues as and when they arise

Bridging the Knowing-Doing gap will require us to think about employee engagement in a completely different way. We will need to re-imagine employee engagement tools and technologies in ways never thought of before!

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