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The performance engagement gap: the best companies decline as the rest of the world improves

Posted by Sam Dawson

Sam Dawson

Sitting on the 6.45am train from sleepy Oxfordshire this week I was struck by three things. The first was the familiar early morning craving for a coffee of epic sized proportions. The second was a more sobering reflection that I have been commuting in some form for over 20 years. That commute has varied depending on the job from a 15 minute cycle into a small UK town, a 2 hour commute into London, to a 30 minute train ride along Beach Road in Melbourne, Australia. The ever changing mood of the ocean in the morning often had an uncanny knack of predicting the day ahead. A smooth, reflective surface often meant nine hours of calm reflective insight. Stormy, grey turbulent white caps were a forecast of a choppy day.

The third thing that struck me is that the commute to work, in its many forms, is one of the enduring truths of the global economy. Of the many places I’ve had the good fortune to visit in the world one of my favourite times of day is early morning, watching a local population rise and make its way to work.. There’s no better way to get a true reflection of a place. This might be city bankers in the UK on my current train, the mass population in Kenya on their way to the daily market on the ferry, the large workforces in Dubai in mini buses heading to hot and dusty building sites to tea pickers in the hills of Periyar in Kerela, India.

Whatever the workplace and whatever the job, my years in engagement consulting suggests to me the old adage that ‘nobody comes into work to do a bad job’ is true. However, despite this, we see a range of performance across individuals, teams and organisations. We also see differences and changeability in employee engagement and enablement across the globe.

With regards to that global performance, the IMF issued a statement this month that it now expects global growth of 2.9% this year and 3.6% in 2014. The forecast for growth in the UK received a significant upgrade to 1.4%, up from July’s estimate of 0.9%. So, the economy is slowly on the up, but many organisations I have been talking to are concerned about where that growth is coming from, how can we as engagement practitioners help?

That brings me to the latest global engagement figures released by Hay Group in the last few weeks.

This data looks at global trends in both engagement and enablement in the last 12 months, from nearly 7 million employees worldwide. The numbers enable us to get a strong view of global averages but also what high performing organisations are doing. Traditionally these high performing organisations continue to get better whilst the average companies show some improvement. However, in the last 12 months we have seen a different picture. There is a performance engagement gap emerging as the difference between the best and the average is lessening.

Why is this? Well I think there are a number of factors at play. The first is that many organisations are ‘upping their game’ and making engagement a key business priority. We have seen this grow significantly in the UK, particularly with the support of the Engage for Success movement.

Secondly, statistics and experience tells me that a exponential surge by the best organisations will not be sustainable in the long term. Although we seem to have a US debt ceiling crisis looming, there is a general feeling that the global economy is improving. This translates into talented people in high performing organisations feeling they can take a chance of moving jobs in what feels like a less volatile economic climate. Intention to stay with an organisation is a key component of employee engagement and once that declines, we see engagement scores drop. A key take-away from that is that organisations should be focussing on retaining key talent over the next 12 months.

Lastly, in rapidly changing times, any strategy around people and engagement needs to keep pace with both market and people expectations. What may have worked 12 months ago in terms of action planning strategies around engaging and enabling employees may not be relevant today. After all, at the end of the day employee engagement should all be about business impact.

So, what does that all mean for the regular commuter in whichever part of the globe they may be? Well, the world’s an uncertain and changeable place but the economy is improving and that moves the ball back into the employee’s court. If you are a talented individual (and I know you are) you may already be looking around at the job market. If you are an employer, then take note! Engagement levels don’t rise organically over time, even in the best organisations. Ensuring an effective workforce takes effort, needs to be embedded directly into the performance equation and will need refocusing based on a changing business environment. Something to think about on your morning commute tomorrow wherever you are in the world.

 

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