I hate buzzwords. In my opinion, they’re used by most leaders to just talk about something important rather than actually doing it (see: “innovation”, “digital transformation”, etc.). But we can’t let those buzzword offenders rob the most transformational ideas of their value.
So my challenge to you is this: don’t think about “employee engagement” as a buzzword. Instead, let’s look into the what, why and how of employee engagement: what it really is, why it’s vitally important, and how, as IT teams, we have a unique responsibility and opportunity to deliver huge results for the business we support.
Engagement By The Numbers
I’ve always been proud of my team’s engagement scores, and those of the companies we supported, but I didn’t get there with some new philosophy or advice from any one person. Instead, I got there not by listening to my instinct, but rather by letting the research and data guide my strategy. In light of that, hopefully these numbers on employee engagement speak for themselves:
Only 15% of the Global Workforce is Fully Engaged
The ADP Research institute recently published a 19-country global study revealing that 85% of the global workforce are basically just showing up to work.
For every $10,000 you pay a disengaged employee, you lose an extra $4,300. According to Gallup via Forbes, disengaged employees are draining companies’ bank accounts. What's more, competitors with engaged employees have 2.5 times the revenue which, all told, means disengaged employees cost businesses between $450 and $550 billion per year.
Sure, we’re spending millions more a year on employee engagement platforms, surveys, and the addition of C-level execs like chief experience officers, but the U.S. has only seen a mild increase as a result. Globally, employee engagement is still insanely low, as mentioned above. As the infographic below shows, leadership knows we have a problem, but they just don’t have a plan to fix it.
Two Step Backwards, One Step Back
What’s scariest is that while we chase these unengaged employees unsuccessfully, hemorrhaging money with no real strategy, we’re neglecting our highly engaged folks, who are keeping our businesses running but won’t stand for it for much longer.
This is where we come in as IT leaders. In 2019 Gartner found only 21% of highly engaged respondents reported having a “high-quality worklife experience.” Well, folks, guess who is in charge of the digital workspace?
IT is now responsible for over one third of the employee experience in today’s enterprise. Coupled with the fact that 1 in 5 highly engaged employees are at serious risk of burnout, this means IT deciding to step up and elevate the employee experience we provide is one of the only likely ways to contain the impending burnout and attrition of the workforce’s most talented, engaged employees.
Over 70% Digital Transformations Fail. Period.
According to McKinsey, seven out of ten efforts to do the most talked about initiative in all of enterprise IT fail miserably. The employees IT is in charge of supporting have known this for decades, but it’s such a hard pill to swallow that we in IT continue to act like we’re doing a good job as an industry. If you are a surgeon, a ditch digger, a dog walker, a lawyer- if you were anything but a CIO or an IT worker, you would not get away with a 30% success rate on the most important initiative you have.
The reason these fail is the same reason behind most other IT project failures. Emmett B. Keeffe III, co-founder of iRise and Insight IGNITE encapsulated this brilliantly in a podcast recently when he said, “The business has a hard time communicating what they want to IT, and IT has a hard time understanding the business.”
That’s it. Literally, the biggest problem that has and continues to be unsolved for IT isn’t technical at all. We simply don’t understand what the business wants, and certainly don’t measure it well.
Measure What Matters (To The Business)
My company helps IT teams measure things like IT customer experience, digital transformation, and the ROI of IT, so I get to see first hand every single week how the right data can change everything for an IT team. The moment we give an IT leader accurate data about what the business needs (and what they really think about the IT service you provide), a new, powerful empathy takes hold and everything makes sense.
Most AI platforms, IT insight tools, and surveys will surface data that is just that - data. If your data doesn’t provide insights, and if you’re not acting on data-insights and able to measure real transformation and change from your customers’ POV, that extra data is just confusing everyone and distracting from the real solution.
You’re welcome to collect all the efficiency metrics you want, and track every service-level agreement (SLA) and Ticket System metric you can find if you find it interesting, but it’s not going to fix the number one problem IT has.
Transformational Data = Accuracy + Empathy + Insights + Action
To fix the real problem, your “golden metric” that you ultimately judge your success by needs to accurately measure exactly how well you’re meeting the needs of the business on their terms, not in terms of IT metrics. Further, it’s essential that your data gives you insights and action steps that reflect what the business needs, in their language, not translated into IT-speak or IT procedures.
I’ve led IT teams through several successful digital transformations, involving 2 successful IPOs, and a $4 billion dollar merger with two 20-year-old companies, so I know a little bit about what it takes to be the 30% success rate the industry is facing. The reason all those transformations were successful was not the staff, nor the leadership, and it certainly was not my instincts or hunches as a leader - it was that we had awesome data that gave us insights to understand the business, and action items to do what the business wanted, in their language, to their satisfaction.
Any other strategy to deliver for the companies we support leads to that cringy 30% success rate, and misses a golden opportunity to step up and lift employee engagement, employee experience, and ,ultimately, the bottom line of our company.
Helping the business increase employee engagement is not a totally selfless act. When IT is giving the business that kind of competitive advantage and value, the business in turn gives IT the respect it has always wanted in the first place, along with a seat at the decision-making table, and the autonomy, trust, and resources to do our jobs right.
Don’t be a statistic. Don’t be happy with a 30% success rate. Understand employee engagement, educate your staff about it, and then own it as a top OKR. It’s a win-win for everyone, your team will be happier at work, and it’s just the right thing to do.
When you can go home every day feeling proud and successful at what you do, and the business you support feels the same way about that as well, that’s what success as an IT Professional really is. It's a new year, a new decade, and a new era. Perhaps it’s time for a new kind of IT.
Ben Brennan is the founder of QSTAC, Inc. and the author of Badass IT Support. His irreverent style, sincere passion, and contagious enthusiasm for customer-centric IT has proven a powerful combination. The result has been a decade of awards, accolades, and best-in-industry customer experience benchmarks for his IT teams at Twitter, Box, Yahoo, and most recently Verizon Media, where he was Senior IT Director. Now, with his new company QSTAC, Ben is taking the same proprietary tools and methods that fueled those previous successes and making them available to all, empowering any team to define, measure, and deliver a world-class customer experience. Follow him on Twitter @why.