Organisations that want to improve their employee engagement strategies should ensure they are making effective use of technology.

Jo Dodds is a social engagement consultant and Tech Specialist with Engage for Success, a voluntary movement promoting employee engagement as a better way to work. She believes that, used properly, tech can be a key enabler of employee engagement — and, as such, presents a great opportunity for any organisation. Take enterprise social networks, similar to an internal version of Facebook. Employees can use these platforms to share, collaborate, communicate — and so become more engaged in their work.

Yet many organisations don't understand that this opportunity even exist. "They may see enterprise social networks as a way to communicate and collaborate,” says Dodds. “But they wouldn't necessarily think about them as enablers of employee engagement. In effect, they forget why they decided to use tools like these in the first place.”

Assess

Even so, she says, lots of companies are moving ahead in this area. “Big organisations have always been able to quickly adopt these kind of tools. It's the small and medium-sized companies — those with 50-100 employees, say — that can fall behind the curve, unless they have an HR person who has the time to review the latest thinking and is good at tech.”

In very small companies with a handful of staff, the use of digital and social tools aren't so crucial. “But they do give larger organisations the ability to scale their activities,” says Dodds. “And the ones who use them well will be the ones who attract the best talent.”

Having said that, organisations do have to carefully assess the tools they plan to use. “It doesn't matter how funky, modern and brilliant they are,” she cautions. “If they don't sit well culturally within your organisation then their implementation will fail. It should be remembered that, in the end, employee engagement comes down to individuals, teams, leaders and managers. The technology is the tool that can aid employee engagement, but it won't make it happen regardless.”

Enhance

Any organisation wanting to build effective employee engagement should think about how technology can enhance what Engage for Success calls 'the four enablers'. The first of these is the 'strategic narrative' of an organisation: that is, where it's come from and where it's going. “This is important because the employees of a company need to know exactly how they fit within its story,” says Dodds.

To aid this, Dodds highlights an Wellevue's smartphone app that gives mini missions to individuals which demonstrate important company values. Under 'teamwork', for instance, it might ask an employee to grab a coffee with someone from another department or to go for a walk at lunchtime with someone they don't yet know within their organisation. “While the employee carries out that mission they take a picture of the activity and upload it to an internal platform so that their colleagues can comment on it and share it,” says Dodds. “What they end up with is a gallery wall of such missions; and when new employees see it, they immediately understand the story of the organisation.” Simple smartphone videos are another way to share exciting and engaging items of company news. Dodds mentions the Chief Executive of Johnson & Johnson who shared a video of himself via the organisation's internal video walls, moments before he was due to go into Buckingham, Palace to pick up an award.

Recognition

The second enabler is 'engaging managers'. Technology's big plus is that it is able to put everyone on the same level within an organisation so that they can be treated as individuals rather than as part of a corporate machine. “For example, with old recognition schemes, an employee would tell their senior manager about someone who had done a good job so that they could pass on a 'well done!' to that person. What technology does is allow employees to send messages directly to each other. It does away with the hierarchy within an organisation and gets people communicating.”

Thirdly, it's important to create forums where the 'employee voice' can be heard. “Staff need to be part of the decision-making process,” says Dodds. “Some companies simply agree things at a senior level and then impose their ideas on employees: the 'you said, we did' approach, which is very unsatisfactory. But if an organisation uses technology to gather ideas from all quarters on a regular basis, then it is demonstrating good collaboration.”

Integrity

The last enabler is 'organisational integrity' — making sure that company values are reflected in day-to-day behaviours. One way this can be achieved is through real-time pulse surveys. “Traditional engagement surveys might be sent out once a year and then forgotten,” says Dodds. “But it doesn't have to be like that. A company called Webmart, for instance, is constantly asking its employees how they are feeling via real-time pulse surveys and publishing these results on their website, live. So they're not just sharing that information internally — they're sharing it with the world.

“Now, an organisation has to be brave to do something like that, but if it has integrity and truly believes it's important, why wouldn't it?”