How to improve employee engagement
Editor’s note: This article was contributed by Neal Taparia, who, along with Darshan Somashekar, founded an education technology company Imagine Easy Solutions. Neal built the company for over ten years reaching 30M students, and sold it to a public company called Chegg, where he continued to build teams as a VP for three years. He shared with Uncubed his insights on employee engagement gained after leading a small company, then a $5BN public company, and now managing his newest project, Solitaired, a free solitaire website that helps with memory and attention goals.
I frequently hear about the importance of employee engagement. In concept, it’s simple. How engaged and happy are your employees in their work, and how is this translating towards meeting company goals?
In practice, though, it’s not as straightforward. How do you measure employee engagement? And how do you take that feedback and execute an action plan across your teams?
Employee engagement is not subjective
Early on as a private company, we took pride in having a good culture. One of our values, which was written on our wall, asked “Are you happy coming to work?”
On the whole, it looked like people were. During lunch, everyone would convene and chat. Happy hours were a hit, and would continue on and on even when we didn’t cover the tab. Moreover, many friendships formed through our common work.
Our observations of overall happiness combined with a low turnover rate meant to us that we had a good culture and strong employee engagement. As young operators at the time, little did we know this was not enough to build a strong and lasting culture.
Executive leaders can be out of the loop
One day, a trusted manager asked me to chat with him in a conference room. He went into detail about how one of our teams did not like the direction of our product, and how key members were considering jobs elsewhere. I was shocked. I had never noticed any frustration, and no one voiced their opinion to me or my cofounder.
It was the first time I realized that as one of the executive leaders of the company, I had no insight into what my team was really thinking, and how content or discontent they might be. Watching happy hour fun was by no means a measure of employee engagement.
Don’t wait to begin understanding employee engagement
In the months after we sold our company, employee engagement took another hit. Initially I thought our team would be excited to join a larger public company. That ended up not being the case. Resignations began coming in weekly, as our new direction left many team members unsure of their roles. Clearly, members of our team weren’t happy and we needed tools to understand more.
You can measure and benchmark employee engagement
Fortunately, the HR leadership team used Culture Amp to survey all business units at Chegg. Culture Amp asks you to rate statements such as “I’m inspired by the mission of the company,” “I believe I can grow at the Company,” and “I am proud I work at the Company.” All of this helped us understand and measure how engaged our employees were. Moreover, we could anonymously break down feedback by team and function to glean further insights, and even compare ourselves to peer technology companies.
Keep in mind, Culture Amp isn’t the only way to get this data. Other companies offer similar services worth checking out, like Peakon, Lattice, Qualitrics, and Emplify.
Communicating an action plan is half the battle
After looking at our engagement data, a few themes stood out. Our team wanted a clearer growth and career plan, individuals did not feel like they had a say in the direction of the business, and cross-functional communication was poor.
So, we held an all-hands meeting presenting the data, with a timeline and action plan to address it.
A number of people on our team spoke to me afterwards about how they were thrilled we were listening and addressing these issues. That alone was important to them — just listening and making an effort!
Rinse and repeat yearly
The following year, our team retook the Culture Amp survey. We were thrilled to see that our engagement scores dramatically improved compared to the year we were acquired. In fact, our NYC-based team had one of the best engagement scores across the larger organization.
We reviewed with our team what we had done to address last year’s scores, as well as new ones and the plans to address them. Finally we felt confident that we had the tools and measurable insights to consistently move our team culture in the right direction.
As we embark on our new free brain training gaming initiative with Solitaired, measuring and addressing employee engagement will become a bedrock of our new company from the get go. And this time, we bring some insight into key drivers. We plan to embrace game play and taking quick breaks as part of the culture of our company. We know from experience that trust and autonomy is a key driver to employee engagement.
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