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Stephen Walker

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Losing your grip on staff engagement?


Stephen Walker reviews 10 key ways to identify which of your staff feel less engaged and therefore less willing to work for your success.

Every organisation has a mix of people ranging from a few star performers to fewer (hopefully!) marginally useful people with the majority of us in the middle. Equally the general environment in which we live has an effect. Surveys made in hard times like these, show job security rising in the rankings.

It is easy to lose sight of staff engagement in the hurley-burley of the management task. People's behaviour is relatively slow to change for better or worse. We might seek a perfectly engaged workforce but all we need to maintain is that competitive edge. This article pinpoints 10 ways to compare your organisation to your peers.

You can either average the scores to produce one 'merit' mark or if you are below average on five out of ten peer comparisons perhaps you should look more closely at your people motivation management! The comparison data comes from across the organisation and should be compared with your organisation's peers' data. But that leads to incremental improvement. For real breakthrough innovation compare your data with best practice organisations regardless of sector!

1. Financial performance

Let's start with the obvious, the financial numbers. The finance department will produce these figures if they don't already. Compare this data with peer organisations through published accounts or sector organisations like the EEF.

  • Return on Investment (ROI)
  • Sales per employee
  • Fixed costs as a percentage of sales

2. Customer service level

As important as the financial numbers is your ability to create satisfied customers. If you don't have data on customer satisfaction you might consider running a survey. There are many organisations that will do it for you. Sector journals publish data on client feedback. Look at sector standard data such as:

  • Customer satisfaction levels
  • On-time delivery

3. Sickness and absence

The HR people will have data on attendance. Take care to get the raw data as it is sometimes 'normalised' to remove anomalies. Compare data on:

  • Total absence
  • Number of occasions absent

4. Staff turnover

Again HR should be able to provide this data. Look at data in your sector and in your geographic area using:

  • Percentage staff turnover
  • Exit interview surveys

5. Staff satisfaction surveys

There are people who will design and run staff surveys for you. I do urge you to take the time to talk to people yourself however. When you meet people in the lift, by the water cooler – in the toilet if you have to – encourage people to share hopes and fears with you. Be careful not to undermine intermediate managers and make sure you listen to lots of people not the local know-it-all! Compare survey results across sector and geographic area using staff surveys.

6. Innovation

Is your organisation introducing innovative new products or processes? Compare your organisation through:

  • An executive review of product/service innovation
  • A comparison with the sector innovation leader(s)

The board is well-placed to commission and conduct such a review.

7. Managerial workload

The more engaged people are in their work the more helpful they are in assisting the organisation achieve its objectives. This makes the management task significantly less arduous. Managers will usually try to take up any extra work themselves that needs to be done. This can have terrible consequences individually as well as for the organisation. Is your organisation:

  • Exhibiting high stress-related incidents
  • Finding management time to help the boss with his or her tasks
  • Finding time to look outside your organisation for threats and opportunities

How do you assess the managers working for you? Do they bring solutions to your problems? Do they bring new ideas to the table? Or do they look like they work a 60-hour week just to keep things as they are?

8. Working hours

Is there a culture of working long hours rather than working the hours needed? Is there a culture of looking busy rather than delivering results?

  • Are people expected to routinely do more than 10% extra hours?
  • Conversely will people stay to finish an urgent task?
  • Is the workplace empty a few minutes after finishing time?
  • Does the workplace emptying depend on the presence of the 'boss'

9. Work rate

If the boss walks into the workplace:

  • Does the work rate increase because people are not working effectively normally?
  • Does the work rate decrease as everyone wants to talk to the boss!

General observation is a critical skill with this. Let me expand on the necessary skills. If you are the boss of that area you need to have a good understanding of the work that is done there. You don't have to be the best at every task in your area, your people should be, but you need to understand the flow, the weft and the weave of the information flow and the behaviour needed to be effective.

I confess I do find work fascinating; I could watch it all day! My food goes cold in restaurants as I watch the floor manager and the waiting staff process the clients. There are a few really important things to consider. When you observe work behaviour you must be sure to avoid taking the 'isolated incident' as the behavioural norm. The boss always shows up when your car breaks down and you are late for work!

Make several observations and look for consistency.

How fast do people move?

Do they look eager to move to the next task? Is it the child going to the dentist or the sweetshop they bring to mind? If you are a sports fan look at the teams as they come out of the tunnel or pavilion. That is your first chance to judge how they will perform on the day. Perhaps you should be first in your carpark to greet everyone occasionally! Then consider what is being done and not just how fast it is being done.

Is the work useful?

Is it moving a product/service or task toward completion? Is it a 'make work' activity, designed to look busy to casual observation. An understanding of your area's processes will help you determine that but be careful not to squash innovation!

10. Instinct

There was a great 1970s TV show The Rise and Fall of Reggie Perrin starring Leonard Rossiter. It was an anti-organisation spoof, which like Ricky Gervais's The Office, sometimes seemed like a training video. Reggie Perrin's boss, CJ, was famous for his grand strategic one-liners beginning "I didn't get where I am today without..."

Well you didn't get where you are today without some instinct, some intuition, an understanding of what's what. What is that instinct telling you? What do you feel about these questions?

  • Do you feel the organisation is working satisfactorily?
  • Do you feel dissatisfied but are told everything is the best that is possible?
  • Do things get better when you put them under a spotlight?
  • Do things get worse when you stop asking about them?

Most organisations will have most of this information to hand. The next few years promise to be tough as spending cuts and new competitors galvanise your market place. You want your organisation to be as fit as possible to face the challenge. Do the review this week!

Stephen Walker has over 30 years of hands-on business and academic experience. He is the founder of Motivation Matters, a management consultancy focused on inspiring achievement in people. You can follow Stephen on Twitter and Facebook.


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