Consultant’s blog: Alignment and engagement – not just big concepts for big organisations

February 2012

Opinion piece by one of Insync Surveys' Research Project Managers

When considering employee research some people think of large scale company-wide surveys administered via the global headquarters of a sizable corporation. However, yesterday while enjoying a Sunday jaunt I was hit with the realisation of the importance of employee research within much smaller, independent organisations with non-corporate staff.

My family and I had just enjoyed a day out in the Dandenong Ranges when we went to visit a local tea-shop; being 4.09pm on a winter's day it had just shut-up shop. Undeterred we phoned ahead to a sister establishment in a neighbouring village, who advised that they were open until 5pm. Our hungry group of nine hot-footed it to the new cafe in the hope of warm sustenance. Upon arrival the teenage employee issued a blunt greeting and warned that it was "take-away only at this time of day." While we sat eating our pies from the relative (dis)comfort of a bench on the street, we watched other diners being prematurely ushered off the premises and a small army of teenage staff divvying the contents of the hot-cupboard to take home. We were also astounded to count some 25 wannabe patrons being turned away from this small, independent tourist cafe by polite, but determined staff who were keen to get home for the day.

This experience made me contemplate what the owner would say. The model for this business was heavily geared towards tourists rather than regular trade and to deter 34 hungry patrons in a 15 minute gap seemed foolhardy to say the least. The neat decor and proud advertisements boasting "award winning pies" suggested that this business, and its' sister store, had been lovingly built-up with much thought and hard-work invested.

But I thought, "can I blame the teenage staff?" They after all had probably worked an eight hour shift and even if they felt passionate about selling award winning pies to hungry tourists, they probably felt equally, if not more passionate about a range of alternative occupations for a late Sunday afternoon, especially now equipped with their day's wage.

Sadly in the current shaky economic climate, turning away captive customers while disposing of consumable goods doesn't seem like a model to ensure survival of any business.

Linking this situation back to my day job, I wondered: "how could employee research have helped this business?" Perhaps our full-scale Alignment and Engagement Survey would be too formal for this one shop in isolation; however it would be suitable if applied to the small chain. On this Sunday afternoon, there was an obvious need to relate how employee engagement with business objectives could maximise their performance by encouraging the right kind of behaviour; ultimately impacting financial performance.

If the senior leader or owner was to share their vision for their long term direction it may indeed enable the waiting staff to understand the organisational goals. I imaged the goal might perhaps be to expand the popular tea-shop into next door's establishment, or, extend the chain from three sites to four. Consideration of team effectiveness could have a direct impact on external customer focus. Rather than four staff sweeping and mopping, perhaps two could have worked together to serve hungry and paying patrons. Consideration of staff accountability may have elevated the newly working teenagers' awareness of the difference that their own personal decisions and contributions could make when the premise of the business is to sell those award winning pies. I also wondered how it could be right to be taking so many pies home rather than meet demand. Most importantly though exploring employee engagement; I know I could help this business understand the key things that make good staff want to stay. I would say, forget locking-up early while retreating with a clutch of baked goods. I know that good staff, in large organisations AND in small independent businesses stay because they feel valued and recognised.

At Insync Surveys we help organisations to become more effective by moving from answers to actions. We can use our Alignment and Engagement Survey with groups of staff as small as 50 to identify areas of high and low performance. Our reasonably priced action orientated focus groups then address these low performing areas via a "stop-start-continue" approach.

Recent trends in Europe indicate that during turbulent economic times people tend to opt for the "stay-cation" preferring to spend their hard-earned cash at home. In addition people have been altering their eating habits; still wanting the experience of dining out but demanding more bang for their buck. Business can therefore look promising in some retail sectors but when competition is fierce they can't afford to face the future as a low performing organisation, that's where our Alignment and Engagement Survey can come in.

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