Has technology really helped employee engagement?

It’s a bit of a soft target really.

Of course companies are all ears when it comes to the new best thing to improve learning and development inside the organisation. Business leaders are investing considerable time and money in new tools for training, new social platforms and, increasingly, concepts like gamification, which uses game techniques to educate people on new systems or desired behaviours.

Interestingly, the new technologies being introduced to employees, which can bring with them greater demands on their time, makes for an even busier day than they have already. Often they are fatigued just trying to keep up with new systems, let alone embracing company strategy or sharing ideas that may help the performance of the business.

Nonetheless, businesses are spending more and more on new tools to assist with all of the above.

Forrester Research will tell us that businesses will increase spending on social tools to ‘engage’ and ‘connect’ internal audiences to the tune of 61% each year to 2016.

Clearly, there is a well-defined problem to be addressed and a healthy appetite to invest in new techniques to increase motivation and in turn improve the competitiveness of the business or the productiveness of the individual.

This goes some way to explaining the popularity of internal social tools like Yammer, Jive or Atlassian. But how effectively are these tools being used and what are participation rates really like?

In our conversations with organisations in finance, retail education and the like, the reality falls well short of the promise. A big part of the problem is that unless you have a team of digital natives up and down your organisation (think Apple) you are unlikely to get your people rushing to share content and ideas across the business like they might with their own personal networks. It just isn’t going to come as naturally.

What if you’re a bank or a whitegoods manufacturing firm or a large retail business? Each of these businesses will have a diverse group of people working with them. They will have varying levels of motivation to contribute to the greater whole and the majority will be happy to execute what they are paid to do and little more.

The question, therefore, is how can technology that has the potential to provide a more dynamic workplace actually cut the mustard with an audience that isn’t that quick to change the habits of a lifetime?

Three things come to mind:

1. Intrinsic motivation: we need to over think the emotional triggers that might switch on your team and down play the rational or transactional things you are asking them to do. After all, “the essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action, while reason leads to conclusions” – Donald Caine, neurologist.

2. Mobile more than desktop: we need to go to them through the tools they are using naturally every day. Their mobile phone is where they are every day for a range of tasks, but how many organisations have provided mobile connectivity to training, internal social sites, company messages and the like. The popularity of mobile is largely about its utility. Companies should play to this and not see their audience at a desk in front of a monitor.

3. Demonstrate desired behaviours beyond the new technology: it’s no good pushing a new social platform hoping to achieve a more open, sharing, and supportive culture if your other actions are stuck in a previous era. At heart, participation and engagement is about drawing people to you not simply pushing information at them. What other areas of your business could be more open and collaborative?


Peter Hosking
BY Peter Hosking ON 17 January 2014
Peter Hosking is Director of ghosydney.com.
gho works with organizations in retail, banking, education and the public sector. Increasingly gho is seeing more investment in new technology and creative communications to protect and grow quality people to, in turn, become strong advocates for their brands.