Getting on board with employee engagement

Starting a new job is a little like being a tourist visiting another country, where they speak another language and have different customs.

Learning the language and understanding the culture are just parts of the process of onboarding, which is itself only one aspect of the organisation’s talent management and employee engagement system.

A basic framework for learning about an organisation is suggested in the header image above. The context and environment surround the organisation’s structures, activities, and relationships, all linked by systems (including processes) and shared purpose. At each stage of the onboarding process, from pre-boarding, through onboarding to being fully engaged, these elements are addressed.

Initially, they are introduced in a high-level abstract way, then progressively more details and nuances are added until a more comprehensive ‘insider’ view is achieved. This progression also embeds onboarding activity within your organisation’s staff welfare, organisational development, and professional development systems. It can therefore be recognised as part of an ongoing talent management framework rather than as an isolated orientation ‘event’ or ‘probationary period’.

Regrettably, some non-profit organisations limit their thinking about their new employees’ experience to a brief orientation program, and an occasional touch-base to see how the new hire is settling in.

Herzberg’s Two Factor (Motivation) Theory helps us to think about the risks associated with an overemphasis on hygiene (control) factors such as policies, procedures, and compliance obligations. These extrinsic motivators tend to dominate orientation activities, so it is important to balance them with intrinsic motivators like building relationships, recognition of achievements, and offering pathways to challenging work and greater autonomy.

We know that high-performance work systems require employees who are highly engaged, who trust each other and work together effectively to achieve quality outcomes. We also know that it can take some time to become familiar with the complexity of our organisational systems – both in theoretical terms (what we say we do), and practical terms (what we actually do).

The Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition (the chart below references both the Herzberg and Dreyfus models) remains helpful in thinking about the staged onboarding of new employees. Your new employees will doubtless have the skills and qualifications to do the kind of work you need to be done. Their high-performance capacity though will depend at least partially on their effective use of your systems, processes, and technology, along with effective communication and relationships with colleagues and key stakeholders.

Employee engagement requires, amongst other things, paying attention to socialisation processes and interpersonal dynamics. It also benefits from thinking about the emotional journey experienced by each employee as they progress through the pre-boarding, onboarding, and onboard stages. The focussing questions suggested below may offer a useful starting point for this reflection, along with discussions with your current employees about their experience.

Most non-profit organisations have considered and refined their member/client journeys as they engage with the services offered, but it remains quite rare for non-profits to reflect on their employee journeys as they seek to become part of the organisation, rather than a mere ‘tourist’.

At a minimum, reviewing the measures, resources and responses invoked the first time an employee experiences key events or circumstances, is highly recommended. The following list of first-time events may assist you in performing this important planning activity. Thinking about these trigger events as opportunities to more effectively engage your employees is far preferable to merely cataloguing a set of risk prevention (control) measures.

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