The Disengaged Workforce: Start With Why

Australia has some of the highest levels of employee disengagement in the world and while HCM technology is often a starting point on the road to improving engagement, the reality is that it will do very little without also looking at why people are disengaged.

When Simon Sinek released his first book, Start With Why he unleashed a paradigm shift in the way many of us view and value how we work. It also tapped into a shifting value set as the dynamics and composition of our workforces have shifted into multigenerational teams, gigs, side-hustles, agile workforces, and less stable careers.

As that shift has happened, employers have had to grapple with the growing complexity of managing not only how people work, but how they remain engaged, inspired, and enabled.

Whilst many organisations look to HCM solutions to solve the operational side of managing people, not even the best of breed human capital management technology is capable of managing ‘engagement’ if the business isn’t culturally or otherwise ready to support building the potential of its people.

A 2017 Gallup survey showed that Australian workforces are amongst some of the most disengaged in the world with an overwhelming 71%  not engaged and 15% actively disengaged.

Workforce engagement management is an entirely different approach. It is the manner in which people inside your organisation engage with the company’s vision, mission and – arguably most importantly – each other.

The Era of Engagement

Most great business leaders understand that the most significant organisational asset is our people, however, the reality, it’s only the engaged employees who are the real assets.

An engaged employee is one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and takes positive action to further the organisation’s reputation and interests.  When people aren’t engaged, they become worker passengers or, even worse, workers actively working against the organisation.

Let’s assume this statement is true. If we know that engaged employees make for better assets, then the first step to improving our organisation’s performance is to understand how engaged our workforce really is.

Workers of today operate in a connected world that is often de-centralised and within cross-functional teams. The organisation must understand all of its stakeholder groups and at what level they engage with the business.

If we find that some are more engaged than others, it is on our leadership teams to establish fit-for-purpose strategies that move non-engaged people to engaged people and that those who are actively disengaged are shown the door.

A Pox on the House: When Your Team Actively Works Against You

It’s not an uncommon scenario: Disengagement often butts up against company objectives. We regularly see this with engagement in organisations, however, we recently came across an example that might particularly resonate.

A decentralised team was assigned to deliver a program of significant investment for the Executive. As we dug under the skin of the situation, it became very clear very quickly that the decentralised team that were accountable for delivery were completely disengaged from the wishes and culture of the organisation – and were actively working against the success of the program to its detriment.

The team lead was called out for behaviours and, in time, removed from the organisation. However, the employee disengagement was far broader than the one individual and the delivery continued to be a forced march.

If the management had scratched far enough below the surface to understand what was causing the disengagement, they would have found the team felt disenfranchised, that their voice was not being heard and they did not believe their management had their best interests at heart.

Technology Does Not Solve Engagement Problems on its Own

We see many organisations look to technology first to solve problems with engagement, however implementing a new HCM solution won’t address the underlying issues on its own. On its own, it will unlikely unleash the full potential of your people if they are already displaying the typical characteristics of disengagement, such as absenteeism, low energy, bad attitude, overuse of social media, and lack of enthusiasm.

If we draw from Kotter’s 8 principles for sustainable change, in order to make the change there are eight logical steps to go through.

We would hypothesise that implementing an HCM solution sits in categories 4-8 and that doing without regards for 1-4 will significantly reduce the effectiveness of the change.

  1. Create a sense of Urgency
  2. Form a Powerful Coalition
  3. Create a Vision for Change
  4. Communicate the Vision
  5. Remove Obstacles
  6. Create Short Term wins
  7. Build on the Change
  8. Anchor the Change in the Corporate Culture

That said, HCM solutions do have a role to play in solving the puzzle that is improving workforce engagement.

HCM Solutions Do Address Some Obstacles

HCM solutions can address some of the critical obstacles such as fixing rostering challenges, delivering short-term wins such as mobile time and attendance, and enable the business to progressively implement features and functions that address core problems.

However, it needs the context of broader change to implement it effectively and deliver value to both the business and its workforce.

Sustainable Change Starts with Articulating a Common Vision

So then the takeaway is this – in order to unleash the potential of your workforce you first need to understand how engaged they are and address the underlying issues, whatever they may be. Only then will you be able to move forward effectively.

In order to address the issues and create a sustainable change, you need to lead the workers towards a common vision that is well articulated, meaningful and easy to understand and put any changes you do in context.

Implementing an HCM solution in isolation just for efficiency and user experience will unfortunately not yield the full employee engagement uplift you are looking for.

As project specialists, we develop fit-for-purpose strategy and workforce engagement strategy.  Contact us here to find out more about how we work with your teams or call 02 9098 6300.

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Quay Consulting
Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...

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