Not Making Progress on Your Employee Engagement Initiative?
3 Keys for “Moving the Needle”

While engagement continues to be a hot conversation topic in the HR press and throughout organizations, more and more companies are finding it hard to make any headway in generating positive engagement scores. In many organizations, shining a light on engagement problems has only made matters worse—especially when an organization has asked for employee perceptions and then made very little effort to do something to improve those perceptions.

After two or three rounds of surveying people in this manner, many organizations find themselves with falling engagement scores and increasing apathy from employees about participating in continued surveys. As a result, many engagement initiatives are stalling, and some are even in danger of being quietly discontinued.

But Dr. Drea Zigarmi, a founding associate and Director of Research for The Ken Blanchard Companies who has been studying employee engagement since 2006, believes organizations can achieve the results they are looking for if they are disciplined in the way they measure, plan, and roll out engagement initiatives.

In working with organizations to improve employee work passion, Zigarmi believes there are three areas where organizations need to be especially vigilant in the way they approach this type of organizational initiative. Coming up short in any one of these three areas can lead to the apathy, cynicism, and deteriorating engagement scores that so many organizations have experienced.

Start with a validated assessment. The first big challenge for organizations is finding an assessment that accurately measures what is happening in your organization in a way that is reliable, is validated, and provides you with information that the organization can act upon. This isn’t as easy as it seems. Creating and validating an assessment is an expensive and time consuming process. Zigarmi knows this from firsthand experience. The validation of the Employee Work Passion Assessment he created with a team at The Ken Blanchard Companies required almost seven years. The team looked at over 40 different studies to come up with a list of 200 original questions. These items were subsequently refined to a final list of 36 questions measuring 12 key factors. If a commercial scale is used, the company must vet the scales and instrument used by insuring that the psychometric properties are specified and up to standards.


Organizational Factors

Growth—the extent to which there is support for current and future career growth.
Procedural Justice—the extent to which policies and procedures are consistently and fairly applied.
Distributive Justice—the extent to which resources, compensation, and workloads are fairly balanced.
Performance Expectations—the extent to which individuals feel that their work is compared to an agreed-upon standard and understand what is expected of them.

Job Factors

Meaningful Work—the extent to which people understand and resonate with the organization’s purpose and believe they are working on projects that matter and produce positive results.
Task Variety—the extent to which individuals feel that they have variety in both the type of tasks and the complexity of tasks.
Workload Balance—the extent to which individuals feel they have ample time to accomplish their work.
Autonomy—the extent to which individuals can choose how tasks are performed, are trusted to do their jobs, and have the authority to make decisions.

Relationship Factors

Connectedness with Leader—the extent to which leaders make an effort to build rapport and personal and professional relationships.
Connectedness with Colleagues—the extent to which colleagues make an effort to build rapport and personal and professional relationships.
Collaboration—the extent to which the organization encourages the sharing of ideas, teamwork, and collaboration on projects and tasks.
Feedback—the extent to which individuals receive adequate feedback on performance and are recognized for improvements and ideas


The Blanchard assessment correlates perceptions of the work environment with five key employee intentions.

1. Intent to Perform—willing to perform at or above the expected norm
2. Discretionary Effort—willing to put in extra effort as needed
3. Organizational Citizenship—being a good corporate citizen
4. Employee Retention—expecting to stay with the organization
5. Organizational Endorsement—willing to recommend the organization and its leaders to others

Tie the assessment to specific outcomes. One key aspect of creating an assessment that is actionable is to connect the assessment to specific desired outcomes. In Zigarmi’s case, he tied 12 Employee Work Passion Factors to Five Desired Work Intentions (see sidebar.) This gave Zigarmi a way to test the effectiveness of his survey in pinpointing specific actions that organizations could take to achieve desired results. While other surveys will measure a general state of employee satisfaction, they do not usually provide any hard linkage back to a specific result. There is a general assumption that people who are satisfied will perform at a higher level—but that is just a hypothesis in most cases.

Before you launch an engagement initiative, you need something more specific explains Zigarmi. That’s why he recommends connecting survey results to specific employee intentions. Zigarmi focuses on intentions because they are the best predictor of subsequent employee behavior. As a result, Zigarmi can develop more targeted interventions that have a greater success rate in moving the organizational needle in the right direction.

Devote resources to implementation—not just measurement. One of the reasons why so many organizations find themselves in an engagement bind these days is because the primary focus is on surveying their employee base without much thought about what to do with the results. In many cases, the implementation plan doesn’t go beyond sharing the data with managers and asking them to fix it. That’s not going to work in most cases. Some factors are job-based—Meaningful Work, Task Variety, Autonomy, and Workload Balance—while others are best addressed organizationally—Distributive and Procedural Justice, Growth, and Performance Expectations, for example. Others are relationship based—Connectedness with Colleagues and Leader, Collaboration, and Feedback. In all cases, the organization has to plan on offering additional resources. Awareness helps—but awareness without additional resources will only go so far. In many cases, it can make things worse as managers find themselves with additional priorities but no additional resources.

Don’t go it alone

Often the intervention necessary to fix an issue that is identified—procedural justice, autonomy, or growth, for example—doesn’t reside within the organization. Or if it does, it is not recognized or used. When that is the situation, interventions usually lack depth or the character necessary to change the perceptions about what is going on. Employee engagement initiatives are organizational change initiatives. Most changes will require policy or system support.

The good news is that with the help of a trusted partner, validated instrument, and clear connections to desired behavior changes, there are several positive results that a successful engagement initiative will achieve. One outcome is that employees will perform at a higher than average level. The second positive impact is on retention, especially of your best people. The third typical positive outcome you’ll see is people who are excited and involved in what they are doing.

As Zigarmi explains, “I don’t know of any organization or senior executive who doesn’t want their employees to perform at a higher than average level. That’s a given.

“If you treat your people correctly and you are responsive to the appraisals people make of their work experiences over time, you can help them become passionate and engaged about their work. You’re going to see them wanting to stay a part of your organization. In that type of environment you’ll see people using discretionary effort on behalf of the organization because people perceive that the organization is going above and beyond for them.”

Would you like to learn more about creating an engaged and passionate work environment for your people? Then join us for a free webinar!

On Becoming More Passionate About Work
Recorded on September 24, 2014

What makes an organization a great place to work? And what is the process that individual employees go through in determining that? Those are the questions that researchers at The Ken Blanchard Companies® set out to discover over the course of a seven-year research project to identify the organizational, job, and relationship factors that lead to Employee Work Passion.

In this webinar, Dr. Drea Zigarmi, Founding Associate and Director of Research for The Ken Blanchard Companies will present the research that sheds light on the process that individual employees go through in determining whether critical factors are present in a specific work environment. He will use the Employee Work Passion model to show how an individual appraisal of organizational and job characteristics leads to positive or negative intentions, behaviors, and subsequent organizational or unit results.

Participants will explore:

  • Why Leadership Matters—how strategic and operational leadership behaviors impact Employee Work Passion
  • The Employee Appraisal Process—how perceptions of the work environment lead to positive or negative employee intentions in five key areas
  • The Employee Work Passion Model—12 work environment factors all leaders need to know, evaluate, and plan for
  • Four Critical Implications—and how to get started

Who Should Attend

  • HR and OD professionals focused on the design, management, and strategy of learning and development in their organizations.
  • Senior leaders looking to solve complex business issues, achieve measurable results, and develop leadership capacity to improve productivity and performance.
  • L&D decision makers evaluating learning programs and leadership models that build values, skills, and competencies that help people and organizations lead at a higher level.

Don’t miss this opportunity to explore a highly researched and validated model for improving employees’ sense of well-being and performance.

View On-demand