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Employee Engagement: The Meaningful Data We All Have Access to

By Andrew Armes, Head of Talent Acquisition, Roche Product Ltd [SWX: ROG]

Andrew Armes, Head of Talent Acquisition, Roche Product Ltd [SWX: ROG]

I remember being given the chance to work at my dad’s company in 1988 when I was fifteen.. The company essentially created a yearly compendium of all companies in the UK that worked for, in, or were connected to the construction industry. That was tens of thousands of companies at the time. Some of these companies paid to advertise in this compendium as well, and this 1600 page (printed) catalog was seen as an essential purchase every year if you worked in or had anything to do with the construction industry. A big massive red catalog printed on thin rice paper so that it could be printed in one volume. They sold tens of thousands of them. It was the internet in a book, for just the construction industry. Without modern technology, this took an army of people— hundreds of them—to generate this one product, once a year. Can you imagine? This thing was successful for two decades! But change was in the air….

"The tech industry is a great example where employee engagement presents a clear line of sight to creativity and business success"

So there I am, and my dad says to me: “We are modernizing, son; we’re going to put the whole thing on a CD-ROM next year. I need you to do data entry.” Gulp. And so for my summer break that year I spent six weeks inputting essentially company addresses into an IBM PS/2, day in day out for eight hours a day. I was grateful for the money. And I was grateful for the time I got to spend with my dad. And I was grateful for the lesson I learned in overcoming boredom, and attention to detail and all of that, but really for me, it was a six-week mental and physical marathon in repetitiveness, and not a good introduction to the world of “technology” in the workplace. The PS/2 was pretty state of the art around that time and I was excited by computers, playing on my upgraded Spectrum 48k pretty much every day—look it up Gen Z’ers—but this was green text on a brown screen and keyboards that needed keys replacing at fairly regular intervals. It was tough going, even at a time when teenage attention spans weren’t challenged by the bite-size, data on request, status update, ten second YouTube video and social media lifestyle of today.

I’m sharing this not because I want to remind everyone of just how awesome I think the tech-world is now, or for you to feel sorry about what I had to endure from both a summer job and limited technological gadgetry while growing up, but because it helped define what has essentially been my career path since. One that is focused on helping everyone find and have meaningful and enjoyable employment, and the benefits this brings to the individuals, those around them, the teams (they may) work in, the companies they set up or work for, and society in general. Doing work we love makes us kinder and more creative individuals. A simple concept and yet it seems one that many of us and many companies struggle with.

The tech industry is a great example where employee engagement—the experience the people in those companies and that industry have—presents a clear line of sight to creativity and business success. Of course, there are disciplines required to turn creativity and innovation into money at the end of the day that aren’t purely about the usefulness of the product. In fact, there are probably millions of great tech ideas that have arisen but then stalled or failed due to the lack of rigor in monetizing the idea. However, the most powerful ideas themselves are more likely to arise when we are able to access our creative minds, and technology can play a role in helping create the conditions for this to occur. And innovation happens everywhere, not just in technology, and that includes in the field of neuroscience; there are some pretty clear basics in this area that are simple to describe but often hard to bring about.

The basics start with encouraging all of us to look inward and try and uncover as much clarity about what will bring us peace of mind in life (at that point in time). It sounds so simple, but as with any discipline, we get better at it if we practice (the right sort of practice) and remain curious. Believe me, by the end of that six weeks of data entry in the summer of 1988 I was not only able to input hundreds of company details in the same time it was taking me to do just a few at the start, I also noted my concentration levels when gaming in the evening had gone through the roof and what I had believed would be insurmountable personal bests at the start of the summer were laughable by the end. The important element is the right sort of practice. We all think about “our lot” a lot. How we feel at that moment, what’s wrong with everyone else, how everyone else should be different, but this is not helpful inner work. So staying with the question of what will bring me peace of mind for longer and probing it with curiosity rather than accepting our first conclusions I promise anyone who hasn’t tried provides amazing upside. And there are many useful tools out there that can help with this “purposeful practice” if you want to look for them many born out of the tech industry.

And the outcomes of this work are really at the heart of employee engagement at a more industrial level, and why we succeed, get close, or fail at creating the conditions for creativity arise. Vast numbers of HR teams are out there trying their best, and ironically suffering just as much from the lack of accountability taken by everyone else to help them understand what we all need to be engaged. Trust me, there are lots of unengaged HR people out there unwilling to do the inner work getting in the way of bringing you employee engagement!

So, once a higher level of personal clarity is attained, then we have big data! The personal data that we can then make mindful and accurate choices from; whether to move or to stay, whatever, it comes down to making better choices from wherever we currently are. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all on you to work out where your engagement, and therefore your fullest creativity will be reached. Smart organizations are growingly more aware of those things that are important to the majority of us and should work on providing these things. These include work that is making a difference in the world or having a positive impact, in creating flexible working environments that serve different styles and preferences of their employees, and of upskilling everyone in creating environments where all employees have a sense of belonging and feel included. And it is perhaps this final point that is so wonderfully connected to the inner work that we can all do for ourselves. The harder we work on us, the more we are likely to become aware of, empathize with, and understand others. A sense of belonging is a deep neurological throw-back to our ancestors. And if you are in a team that understands and includes you because you’re all working hard on yourselves and making smart choices with the data you are uncovering, then you’ll end up where you feel you belong, and it is at that point that we will see our fullest creative-selves come to bear.

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