Defining Employee Engagement and Initiating Change - HighGround


Defining Employee Engagement and Initiating Change

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Employee engagement is talked about often but rarely clearly defined. To help give more meaning to the phrase, Clare Schooley, Principal Analyst for Forrester Research Inc. and Dean Carter, VP of Human Resources and Shared Services for Patagonia recently co-hosted a webinar with the Human Capital Institute called, “It’s Time to Rethink Your Employee Engagement Strategy.” During the webinar Clare discussed the meaning of employee engagement, what the data shows and steps to take to help improve it. Dean then offered his own perspective on how Patagonia is approaching the employee engagement challenge. In case you couldn’t join us for the webinar, here’s what they had to say.

What does employee engagement mean?

We polled attendees and asked if their executive leadership teams considered employee engagement a top priority. Almost three quarters (74%) said it was. So while it’s clearly important, employee engagement still has a vague definition. Clare provided clarity and described it as, “good work done well with others every day.” She said an engaged workforce sees meaning in their work and feels good about the organization’s direction. Employees are willing to devote extra time to their jobs to increase the company’s reputation with customers, translating into better customer service. Clare also said Forrester further defines engaged employees as having three common characteristics: they plan to stay at their jobs for the foreseeable future; they would recommend their company’s products and services; and they would recommend a job at their company to friends or family.

What does the data show?

Clare referenced Gallup’s engagement survey indicating that 70% of the workforce is not engaged. Forrester’s own research indicates the when an employee is disengaged, it’s typically because of a poor relationship with his or her manager. So even though employees want to feel empowered to solve their own problems, they also want managers who help them create goals, give feedback frequently and recognize them for effort. And webinar attendees agreed. In another attendee poll, almost 60% said that employee development was their main goal relative to employee engagement. Clare said that engagement is dependent on having “managers who are coaches, who are there to help employees do their jobs better.”

What are the steps to take?

To create a more engaged workforce, Clare said it’s necessary to address six critical engagement levers including:

  • Surveys and analysis
  • Coaching and performance
  • Communication
  • Learning and careers
  • Recognition and rewards
  • Health and well-being

Tackling each one of these buckets will help solve the “engagement puzzle” that eludes so many organizations today. She also said that each of these levers has a digital component, allowing organizations to get more visibility and data around their engagement efforts.

How does one company engage its workforce?

Dean said that Patagonia’s culture is “wildly unique” and unconventional but it’s processes for performance management and engagement were just the opposite. They were very traditional – and they weren’t working. So Dean set out to create a “performance culture that thrives on unconventional approaches, transparency and collaboration.” He agreed with Clare’s assertion that employee engagement starts with the relationship between managers and employees. Because Patagonia’s preview review processes were so manual and time-consuming, there was less time for meaningful conversations and coaching opportunities.

Patagonia needed a technology platform that aligned closely with its own business goals. Dean said they wanted a system that was responsive in real-time, uncovered data, could personalize performance, fostered a growth mindset and had a clean, intuitive design. To achieve these objectives, Patagonia partnered with HighGround. While their new approach is in its beginning stages, Dean says they expect to see employee goals that produce better results, self-driven learning, more visibility and improved efficiency.


The webinar was an opportunity to get more clarity into an oftentimes less-than-clear idea: improving employee engagement. To see some of the attendee questions from the webinar, click here to read the Q&A.

Find out how HighGround can help modernize your performance management.

Human Resources Today

Human Resources Today