Carley Childress secured her ‘dream job’ at a medical software company. However, she found that the company did not understand or manage employees in a way that engaged or supported them. Carley began to realize that many organizations face similar problems with their employee engagement tactics, To address this she designed Macorva: technology that allows organizations to go beyond employee surveys to drive meaningful action that increases engagement.
Digital Journal spoke with Carley Childress to learn more.
Digital Journal: How important is employee engagement for businesses?
Carley Childress: The importance of employee engagement cannot be overstated. Plenty of evidence has shown that engaged employees outperform their peers in every way. They’re more productive, have better attendance, are more likely to stay long-term and contribute to building a strong company culture.
When workers are disengaged, it’s a major burden on company performance and the bottom line. Gallup studies show that only 34 percent of the U.S. workforce is engaged at work right now. While that number is at a record high, it still means a lot of workers are not. And, that disengagement comes at a huge cost, as much as $550 billion annually, according to the Engagement Institute.
DJ: What tools can be used to assess how engaged employees are?
Childress: The only way to know how engaged employees are is to ask them individually. Engagement can’t be measured by external factors. Two employees with same title, same benefits, same level of compensation, etc. can have radically different levels of engagement, and that’s what makes it so complicated. Engagement drivers include things like relationships with co-workers and managers, the level of recognition employees receive, etc. All of these resonate with people differently because we all have our own needs and perspectives. I might care about whether the company’s mission aligns with my personal values, but others might care more about flexible schedules.
The only way to get this perspective is to ask. So, using surveys and asking for feedback is critical. It’s the only way to get that input from individuals and understand what they need.
DJ: What types if questions should be asked?
Childress:You’ll want to ask questions that pinpoint those engagement drivers. Don’t waste people’s time by asking how they would rate the company’s catered lunch. Ask them how they would rate their manager, leadership at the company, the CEO, their relationships with co-workers, support they get when they need help, etc.
There’s a growing amount of research that points to how critical interpersonal relationships with co-workers are in driving engagement.
It’s also important to ask uniform questions that produce data you can measure and track over time. Because there’s really no point in asking about engagement if you don’t plan to make changes to improve. Gathering this interpersonal feedback is critical for empowering managers to own engagement with their team. Once employees know where they stand, you can work with them to set goals and strategies to improve.
DJ: How frequently should employee opinions be sought?
Childress:At a frequency at which you feel confident in your ability to take action. There’s no hard and fast rule here. Of course, you want to aspire to do it frequently, but if you ask for feedback and then nothing meaningful happens before the next survey comes out, employees will think it’s a waste of time. They won’t be motivated to complete the next survey because apparently the company won’t do anything with the results.
Surveying weekly probably isn’t going to give you a chance to enact meaningful change, but once a month or once a quarter might. Every company is different. You have to find the cadence that gives you the opportunity to act on the data you collect.
DJ: What types of metrics can be drawn from surveys?
Childress:All solutions will calculate engagement scores by looking at how employees respond to questions and then crunching the numbers to come up with a score. And, that’s helpful as a baseline. If you think of a manager like a football coach, the coach has to know the score of the game at all times. It’s the foundation.
But, that score doesn’t tell you what to do next in order to win. For that, you have to look deeper into the stats to know who’s performing best, in what roles and how to make adjustments to improve performance.
It’s also critical to get that insight from more than one or two sources. Like an athlete that has an occasional bad play or bad game, you can’t judge overall performance by a small number of impressions.
DJ: How else can an engaging and participatory culture be developed?
Childress:By practicing what you preach. If you want to have an engaging and participatory culture, you have to lead by example—everyone from the CEO down has to make it a priority.
That requires transparency, having genuine relationships and living by the stated values in ways that are visible to employees. You can’t just put up inspirational posters—you have to live by those values, and it has to be reflected in everything from your policy decisions to your personnel choices.
For example, if you say that “we don’t hire jerks,” and then you promote a jerk to a VP position, employees will get the message that you don’t do what you say. You must approach every decision from the perspective of whether it aligns with your culture and values. If not, that can have a tremendous impact on your employees’ ability to believe in your company, which of course impacts engagement and turnover.