Development of an organizational culture that supports employee engagement will result in employees that are dedicated, easier to retain, more productive, give better customer service and create greater profit (Gallup, 2005). In order to determine an organizational change plan that will support employee engagement, a clear understanding of what employee engagement means to an organization must be achieved, and factors that drive engagement should be evaluated, weighted and acted upon.
Herter, Schmidt and Hayes (2002) define employee engagement as “the individual’s involvement and satisfaction with as well as enthusiasm for work” (p. 270). Robinson, Perryman and Hayday (2004), define employee engagement as ‘a positive attitude held by the employee towards the organisation and its values. An engaged employee is aware of business context, and works with colleagues to improve performance within the job for the benefit of organisation’ (p. ix). Combining these two definitions, a conclusion can be drawn that employee engagement is the overall employee’s attitude towards the organization, coworkers, and leadership, and an engaged employee will support the organization’s mission through not just their efforts, but by their willingness to collaborate and support coworkers.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) performs surveys to determine factors driving employee engagement and job satisfaction. By analyzing the factors cited by the survey participants, the foundation of the organizational change plan can begin to be developed.
A quick analysis of the factors listed in Figure 1 identifies numerous areas that can be directly impacted by organizational structure and behaviors, while some of the other factors are more likely to be influenced through secondary interactions. To create an environment that supports employee engagement, an organization will have to both directly and indirectly affect these factors. An organizational change plan for each of the top seven factors, a specific change plan is outlined below.
Relationships with Co-Workers
Development of relationships with co-workers is the top factor driving employee engagement. While an organization is not able to direct employees to build relationships, a series of team-building exercises is to be implemented, with annual recurrences. These team-building events will occur within each department, with a departmental competition at the conclusion. The ideal outcome of these events is to build camaraderie, enhance lines of communication and improve morale throughout organization.
Opportunities to use Skills/Abilities
While all employees of an organization have specific responsibilities, there are opportunities for them to shine in areas outside of their traditional roles. The challenge of any leader is to find the skills an employee does not get the opportunity to use during the course of their normal work day and find a way to integrate these extra skills into the daily routine. As part of the coaching role, discussed in more detail below, supervisors will discuss extracurricular activities that the employee enjoys, and integrate those activities into their daily role. For example, if an employee enjoys planning social events, but in the course of their normal day they are strictly limited to developing project schedules, they will be expected to participate in planning of the aforementioned team building exercises.
Contribution of Work to Organization’s Business Goals
To enhance employee understanding of how their efforts contribute to the overall goals of the organization, each department will nominate an employee to attend the weekly executive brief. By witnessing their department manager brief the executive board on the progress of their department as well as the integral piece their department plays in the holistic picture of organization’s business goals, the understanding of their contribution will be enhanced. The end state of this change will be determined based on employee feedback, possibly to the point of distributing the departmental brief to the executive board via the organization’s intranet.
Relationship with Immediate Supervisor
A supervisor training and refresher course designed to provide basic understanding of leadership principles and qualities is mandated for all employees promoted to a supervisory role. As part of refresher training, the basic roles of supervision as described by Pront, Gillham and Schurwith (2016) of partnering, nurturing, enabling, and facilitating meaning will be integrated, as they will expand the basic role of a supervisor to that of coaching, even if at a sub-conscious level. This ideally will assist in the development of the co-worker relationships simultaneously.
Meaningfulness of Job
Much like the opportunity to use skills/abilities and the contribution of work to the organization’s goals, the meaningfulness of job factor is directly related to understanding the role in which the employee is operating and how it relates to the big picture. In addition to the actions taken for the other factors, establishing a workplace void of micromanagement will allow employees to gain meaning in their jobs. Micromanaging employees not only decreases their engagement (Bond, 2010), but also reduces their creative thinking and effectiveness (Soane, Shantz, Alfes, Truss, Rees and Gatenby, 2013).
The Work Itself
Unfortunately, the ability to adjust work to meet the needs of the employees is not feasible. However, during the previously mentioned coaching sessions, supervisors can and should take the opportunity to discuss an employee’s satisfaction with their current role. There may be opportunities to move employees within the organization to find a role more suited for their personality and preferences. This does not mean a free flood of employees switching roles in an attempt to satisfy every one of their whims and desires, but if it is mutually beneficial, each suggested employee movement can be evaluated by management and the Human Resource department to determine the viability of the action.
Variety of Work
With the variety of roles that are performed within the organization, there is an opportunity for each department to divide into small, five-person teams, who will spend one day a month working in another section of the organization. This will allow them to break from their normal routine, and possibly find another area in which their expertise will benefit the organization. Additionally, it will support the team building and camaraderie in ways that the team building exercises will not, expanding personal relationships across departments and roles throughout the organization.
Organizational change is difficult for most organizations to perform successfully. Even with the best intentions, the change will be approached with gusto, and then leadership willpower erodes a little at a time due to shortcomings in the change plan, pressure from stakeholders or just the failure to escape from old habits. To successfully implement the organizational change, the following eight stages outlined by Kotter (1999) will be adapted.
Establishing a Sense of Urgency
In any organization undergoing change, the necessity of the change must be frequently and clearly communicated. Leadership and employees demonstrating support of the change plan, aligned towards a common purpose, is one of the most efficient and guaranteed change success factors (Goksoy, 2016).
Building the Guiding Team
The efforts needed to envision, plan, communicate and execute organizational change are vast, and will require a strong team of cohesive leadership. These team is responsible for communicating the change to all stakeholders, removing obstacles that could impact change, and ensuring the change is sustained and embedded within the corporate culture going forward.
Developing a Change Vision
Developing a vision of the organization after the change is key, as a clearly defined vision will influence all decisions during the change process. A clear vision also allows empowered employees to drive the change from within, rather than relying on specific guidance from the guiding team. Goying (2016) states that change vision should have six characteristics:
- An image that employees can envision and understand
- Meets the long-term goals of stakeholders
- Be realistic and achievable
- Provide sufficient clarity to support decision-making
- Easily communicable to all stakeholders
Communicating the Vision for Buy-In
The change vision must be clearly communicated to all stakeholders. Effort to communicate change must take multiple avenues to ensure maximum outreach and to aid employees with different propensities for learning. Means of establishing feedback should also be established, preferably during open and honest discussion, which both assist in clear communication of the vision and support employee buy-in.
Empowering Broad-Based Action
Communication of the clear end-state vision is essential as adaption to evolving conditions during the change process will be inevitable. Empowered employees will be able to interpret the vision and adapt change parameters to meet the end-state vision without having to seek guidance from the guiding team. This rapid adaptability will not only continue to drive employee buy-in but will also ensure maximum success for the change implementation.
Generating Short-Term Wins
To assist in the prevention of erosion of willpower through the change process, an organization should ensure there are milestones that are well-established and clearly communicated as victories throughout the change. These victory milestones are beneficial for stakeholder morale, and further, they serve as indicators of the timeliness of the change process, allowing the guiding team to modify plans and parameters to continue to drive success.
Don’t Let Up
The zeal with which change is attacked at the beginning starts to decline through time as old habits, resistant employees or a number of other factors begin to counter the initial enthusiasm. If the change process begins to slow down, or the enthusiasm of the stakeholders begins to dwindle, the guiding team must re-engage management and reiterate the necessity of change. These additional efforts will pay off, and through time, many of the change efforts will become naturalized parts of the organizational culture.
Incorporating Changes into the Culture
The final stage of the change process addresses the sustainability of the change. Previous stages addressed all the factors of change implementation, but without ensuring the change is a baked-in component of the corporate culture, the organization will revert to its original form, or potentially an incongruent hybrid of the before and after forms of the organization. As a part of the final stage, management has to prove the change was successful and methods that support the new norms must be implemented. Incentivize and reward employees in support of the new culture, and ensure new employees are onboarded with the new organizational culture. These steps will assist in the transformation of culture from the old to the new, and ideally will result in the old culture being left behind permanently.
A broad spectrum of leadership styles has emerged over the years, with the traditional, yet somewhat antiquated transactional leadership style on one end, and transformational leadership style on the opposite end. Transactional leaders drive the actions of their followers via action and consequence, often offering reward for performance. Transformational leaders, on the other hand, focus on the emotional needs of their followers and inspire them to achieve the extraordinary (Burns, 1979).
Towards the transformational end of the spectrum is the systemic leadership style (Beerel, 2009), a leadership style that focuses on meeting organizational goals, embraces emotional needs of employees, and encourages participation from stakeholders. An effective systemic leader unlocks the potential of employees, improving their capacity by allowing them to reach their limits, which management can then align into the organization’s change needs. The higher the capacity of the employees, the quicker the organization can change (Bareel, 2009).
Throughout the change process, leadership must be alert to roadblocks that will inevitably occur. As part of the systemic leadership process, the leader must identify the realities that are causing tension within the organization, a process known as identifying the adaptive challenge (Beerel, 2009) and discuss the challenge with stakeholders to obtain their perspectives or views. Once the challenge has been articulated, the leader can begin the adaptive process, which is done by shifting the attitudes and behaviors within the organization to align them with the new organizational reality. This phase requires coaching, encouraging, challenging and motivated employees and management to accept the new reality and what it means to the organization (Beerel, 2009). During this process, leaders must identify which stakeholders have gains and losses due to their positions within the organization and leverage those stakeholders in a way that is most advantageous to the change process.
The leader’s emotional intelligence must be used to monitor the emotional well-being of employees while continuing to drive the change process. Beerel (2009) states the “likelihood of doing this effectively and sustaining positive momentum is greatly enhanced if leadership is distributed” (p. 97), which aligns with the guiding team discussion on page 7.
Engaged employees performing to their capacity in support of organizational goals are essential and must be supported by organizational structure and leadership. If the organization does not support employee engagement, changes must be put in place that will support the alignment of employees, with an engaged leadership team who will support the employees throughout the change process. While this paper centered around Kotter’s change model and Beerel’s systemic leadership style, an organization with strong leaders will be able to adapt both change models and leadership styles to suit their needs in support of the desired change and culture they wish to adapt. Finally, when undergoing change, an organization will encounter roadblocks and resistance from within at a greater magnitude than when they are in a steady-state condition. Leadership must be aware of when resistance begins to impede momentum and provide a path and coarse of action to ensure momentum does not slow.
- Beerel, A. (2009). The systemic leadership approach. In Leadership and change management (pp. 83-116). London: SAGE Publications Ltd doi: 10.4135/9781446269336.n4
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- Burns, J. (2010). Leadership. New York: Harper Perennial.
- Gallup (2005) Employee engagement index survey, Gallup Management Journal https://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/17242/Grim-News-Japans-Managers.aspx?g_source=link_NEWSV9&g_medium=TOPIC&g_campaign=item_&g_content=Grim%2520News%2520for%2520Japan%27s%2520Managers
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- Pront, L., Gillham, D., & Schuwirth, L. (2016). Competencies to Enable Learning-Focused Clinical Supervision: A Thematic Analysis of the Literature. Medical Education in Review, 50(4), 485-495. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/medu.12854
- Robinson, D., Perryman, S., & Hayday, S. (2004). The Drivers of Employee Engagement, IES Report no. 408. Institute for Employment Studies, Brighton, UK.
- Soane, Emma & Shantz, Amanda & Alfes, Kerstin & Bailey, Catherine & Rees, Chris & Gatenby, Mark. (2013). The Association of Meaningfulness, Well‐Being, and Engagement with Absenteeism: A Moderated Mediation Model. Human Resource Management. 52. 441-456. 10.1002/hrm.21534.