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4/6/2021: Time to reconsider Engagement: Beliefs, Perceptions, Expectations, Experiences

During the last decade, and even more intensively the last 5 years, employee engagement and commitment tops the list of various research as the holy grail of reinforcing and sustaining exceptional performance. Crises and pandemics enlarged the business need to grasp the pulse of employees during turbulent times and reinstate what employee experience means for them. Indicatively, the focus of both recent researches from McKinsey & Co and Deloitte was on how to build a culture of accountability and trust were all employees are performing at their best in order to make their contribution meaningful to the company’s results.

It is a matter of behavior

However, even though the bar is raised, and the need is obvious, the quest for achieving employee excellence remains in the background and is underestimated by many companies. It is commonly true that more urgent issues, like financial survival or health and safety concerns, still remain at the top of the agenda. However, as Simon Sinek says, "how management chooses to treat its people impacts everything - for better or worse”.  Hence it must be clearly understood that engagement is not a number, or something than can be measured as a KPI, but rather a feeling, which directly impacts the way companies should treat engagement behaviors.  The understanding of how behaviors are formulated and what may impact them is what companies are currently missing in the puzzle of reinforcing engagement among their employees.

The structure of behavior

According to early research insights (i.e. Theory of Reasoned Action), it has been claimed that behaviors are directly and indirectly impacted by a. attitudes towards a behavior (i.e. the degree to which performance of the behavior is positively or negatively valued), b. subjective norms (i.e. the perceived social pressure from others for an individual to behave in a certain manner and their motivation to comply with those people's views) and c. perceived behavioral control (i.e. perception of the difficulty of enacting a behavior). These constructs, as perceptions, are in turn directly impacted by the way they are being formulated, through what are called beliefs - which are nothing more than perceived behavioral expectations. These expectations, either we talk about behavioral, normative, or control, are deeply rooted to both internal and external drivers to employees, but mainly on the personality and the emotionality and experiences employees are exposed to. Thus, stacks of experiences, and the relevant emotions deriving from them, construct beliefs which in turn influence attitudes and intentions to behave and finally impact, favorably or unfavorably, engagement behaviors.

How to roadmap for the future

Identify, or at least try to understand, and track how the beliefs (i.e. expectations) are being formulated and materialize how they impact the way your people translate them with their rationale. To best achieve this, the company should give them time to speak-up and open official channels of communication to discuss what bares on their minds.
  • Allow them to express how they feel, and what they think on how the company approaches various issues.
  • Keep an open-minded perspective and listen to what they need to tell you in an honest and transparent way.
  • Give them the authority to indicate issues of concern and allow for accountability of proposals and actions.
  • "Walk the talk” and "talk the walk” by trying to measure behaviors by quantifying their experiences.
  • Sustain dialogue among your people because culture development is a never-ending process. 
Building a culture of engagement is like a perfectly knitted suit. Unless you ideate the design, visualize it, but, above all, test it with the client and investigate how the client feels about it and what the expectations are during each stage, the fit will not be guaranteed even if the materials are of the finest quality and you made a considerable investment in them. 

Nasos Gouras, PhD
Manager | Head of Talent Development & Employee Excellence at Optimal HR Group

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