Developing your employee engagement expertise

To improve employee engagement, we must develop experts

I’m starting to see a bit of an employee engagement backlash. I was speaking to an old friend last week and he mentioned that he had been at a breakfast event hosted by one of the big, global employee engagement consultancies. They were talking about the lack of real improvements in employee engagement over the years, and his response was “what the hell have you guys been doing then?”.

It’s a theme I’m seeing more and more – employee engagement isn’t working, we haven’t seen any improvements so let’s move onto the next thing (hello employee experience anyone? – you can see my thoughts on this here!). And this makes me really frustrated!

Given that People Lab are an employee engagement consultancy, it’s no surprise that I have something to say about this. We have proven through the work we do with our clients, that it is absolutely possible to develop and improve employee engagement, such that it has a significant positive impact on a whole range of business outcomes.

But we know that many companies are still struggling, which is one reason why we’ve been running our Spotlight on Engagement Research for 3 years now – to understand why we see what we call the ‘employee engagement gap’ (the gap between an increased focus on engagement and lack of subsequent improvements).  And every year the picture is crystal clear – there are a number of straightforward reasons, which explain why the gap occurs.

In a nutshell the picture looks like this:

“We’re really serious about employee engagement, we know engaged employees are critical for business success. But we don’t really know what we mean by engagement, and

we don’t have a strategy and plan. This means we’re confused about where engagement should sit and what it is we need to do. We’re not going to allocate much (if any!), budget to improving things. And we’re not going to invest in developing the skills and expertise of those people with formal responsibility for engagement, or our managers (who have a significant impact on how it feels to work here). And there will be competing priorities: we won’t allocate sufficient time to focus on improving employee engagement, and this will be the first thing to get cut when times are tough.”

Is it any wonder employee engagement isn’t improving?!?

For me the key to unlocking the barriers to employee engagement is to focus on developing the skills and capabilities of both practitioners and managers. I’d like to look specifically at practitioners for now.

I’m clear that if we are to move the dial on engagement we must ensure practitioners have the right skills and capabilities. This may seem obvious, but our research shows that just 29% of practitioners have received any kind of formal development in employee engagement.

Over the years I have been lucky enough to train hundreds of practitioners via the CIPD public courses that I designed, and still deliver, or via the in-house training and development we design and deliver for clients. And I see the difference it makes; developing knowledge, expertise and confidence in practitioners who are working hard to improve how it feels to work within their own organisations.

So what type of development works for practitioners?

There are the fundamentals, for those people who are fairly new to employee engagement. Covering ground such as what is it, why it matters and the psychology of engagement. Whether new to engagement or not though, everyone always benefits from time spent on understanding how to develop and improve engagement; what works and what does not. This is a critical feature of the training and development we offer, ensuring people leave with practical., proven tools and techniques to actually improve engagement.

We have also helped hundreds of practitioners over the years design their employee engagement strategy in our one day CIPD course. Understanding measurement is also key, not just how to measure engagement but also how to evaluate the work you’re doing and demonstrate ROI.

I’m also a big advocate of coaching, as a qualified coach myself, I have coached many people over the years to help them realise their potential, as well as delivering a two-day coaching conversations course, which also contributes towards increasing engagement capabilities.

But I’m always interested to hear your thoughts – what training, development and learning needs do you have?

I’d love to hear from you, so please do get in touch, via email, leave a comment on this page, or keep the conversation alive via any of our social channels (did you know we’re on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn?)


Further information…

The Employee Engagement Gap and what we can do about it

– Results from the 2017 Spotlight On Employee Engagement research

The Employee Engagement Knowledge Exchange

– Thoughts, tips and advice from Employee Engagement professionals from across the globe


If you’d like to hear about any of the courses Emma has mentioned above or would like to talk about developing employee engagement in your organisation, complete the form on our contact us page and we’ll get in touch to arrange a free no obligation.





By Emma on December 12, 2018

Really great observation Mike – I agree engagement is not linear and different for different people eg the debates over whether one needs a best friend at work to be engaged. The science shows us that the opportunity to experience positive emotion at work is a good thing not only for the individuals but also for the knock on impact on their performance etc We’re going to be exploring the expertise needed to help companies thrive in this area this year – would love to chat further to you to get your thoughts. Hope all is good and happy new year!

By Mike Klein on December 12, 2018

Nice piece. But maybe the problem is with the notion of “engagement” itself? Most assesments are linear, on a scale between “disengaged” and “engaged”. But what if there was no such thing as “disengagement” – only different states of engagement, with a mix of positive and negative attributes? Could this form the basis of a new kind of expertise?

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