Skills Based Approach: Employee Engagement

For the last few years, I have been paying attention to Gallup’s survey on ‘employee engagement’. The number of ‘engaged workers’ is around 33 percent this year. But I was astonished to learn that ‘employee engagement’ has been between 26 and 33 percent for the last 16 years (State of the American Workplace).

Engaged Employees
Engaged Employees

There will always be a handful of employees who are not engaged because they choose to sacrifice for: family, leisure time, money, or some other reason. There are also jobs that are impossible to be engaged in. But should disengaged employees represent two thirds of the workforce?

From a purely business point of view, employers should invest time, resources, and funding towards employee engagement; it affects the bottom line. Highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147 percent in earnings per share (another Gallup poll). Of course, it benefits the community too.

What is the cause of disengaged employees? According to Gallup, some of the reasons include: underemployment, lack of career development, and work and/or company has no purpose.

Underemployment happens for many reasons. Many fresh college graduates are required to do grunt work, it can serve as a rite of passage (something I keenly remember). Sometimes there is not an opportunity for progress at a particular time. Skills Based Approach is helpful in two ways. First, users plan to acquire skills (outside of work, if necessary) to guarantee moving forward. The best remedy for underemployment is to make it temporary. Second, users find ways to build skills by volunteering for other tasks. (A basic example: Someone is a barrister at a coffee shop, but is working to be a web developer; volunteer to build and/or manage the coffee shop’s website.)

To address lack of career development, management must understand what an employee has and wants to accomplish and provide tangible investment to help the employee reach his or her goals.  Skills Based Approach is an effective platform for performance reviews and progress reports. A worker’s progress is captured in a series of tasks and stacked credentials, and management takes ‘co-pilot’ to plan upcoming tasks and obtain desired credentials.

One problem mentioned in the Gallup Publication was the ineffectiveness of performance reviews; they are often uninspiring and infrequent. I also think one sided. An employer has a series of evaluations and takes control of the meeting, uses their own metrics, and plans an employee’s upcoming projects. So, an employer taking ‘co-pilot’ is an important distinction of Skills Based Approach. Users – students or professionals – are put in the ‘driver seat’ of their learning; this is the subject of a recent webinar I gave.

Perhaps the best way to address not having purpose in work is to empower individuals to choose their own projects and even become intrapreneurs.  This is something many of the leading software companies (Google and LinkedIn) have adopted. Many of these companies are successful in achieving high ‘employee engagement’ numbers. Another way these companies help employees focus on purposeful work is by removing their unpurposeful work: laundry, shopping, preparing meals, etc.

I believe achieving purpose as a company depends on its culture. A company should be able to provide a clear, concise mission and deliver on it every day. Profit should not be the sole driver of company success.

(I think) another root cause (not mentioned by Gallup) is workers are not in the right career, where they want to be elsewhere doing something else. For many workers, simply changing to another career is not an option. There are too many barriers, such as a stringent requirement tied to a degree, for example. (If you want to be a teacher, there is a good chance you must get a two-year degree and a master’s degree depending on state requirements.)

An answer to this problem is to find ways to help workers pivot into another career in an efficient way. For many careers, if you prove and demonstrate a skill set, you can switch to them (without having to go back to attend a college program). Skills Based Approach is highly effective in this scenario because you deal with an evolving skill set and competencies, so you always assess where you are and want to be and then make a plan to acquire required skills.

An answer to this problem for future generations is to provide better resources to impressionable students in high school and early college. Help students become more self and socially aware to make an optimal decision when they must, such as choosing: a program when they graduate, a degree, and career.

(I feel) for my generation, many of us were not self-aware to make an accurate decision. The reason was lack of tools (technology and applications) and a focus on a ‘social pathway’ – having fun and being connected. But now, there is a plethora of resources for self and social discovery.

Skills Based Approach simplifies something complex – education and career planning. Use any strategy to identify possible careers or interests, take the results (MyerBriggs personality traits, Gallup strengths, Knack talents, etc.) and translate them into skills and an action plan to acquire skill competencies (the primary function of the Planning Stage). Equally important are the objectives while trying to acquire the skills (Building Stage). A student has many options and may pivot instantaneously into another education or career plan. This flexibility with an evolving skill set is a benefit of Skills Based Approach.

One way to tackle the sluggish ‘employee engagement’ number is to put employees in the ‘driver seat’ of their learning. Skills Base Approach is an ideal platform for lifelong learning.

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