Consultants Help Firms See Engagement in ‘Big Picture’

By J.J. Smith Jan 7, 2009

Getting a company to focus on “the big picture” of why employees need to be engaged in a firm’s overall business strategy is an opportunity for HR consultants, the CEO of an international management consultancy tells SHRM Online.

Some company leaders just are not very good at helping employees understand things, says Jim Haudan, CEO of Root Learning and author of the book The Art of Engagement (McGraw-Hill, 2008). The leadership at such firms use terms like customer relations management, total quality management, enterprise resource planning, supply chains, Lean—an inventory management system—and Kaizen—a business organization system, and the company’s leaders assume that employees “know where and how these connect” to the company’s business plan, he said.

However, that may not be the case at some companies, and when the business plan does not connect to what employees are doing, it will not make sense and it becomes disorienting to staff, Haudan said. HR consultants can identify a company that is having problems engaging employees by gauging just how passionate the firm’s leadership is at ensuring employees are versed in the firm’s business strategy, he said. If it seems that top managers are just “mailing it in,” it is likely the company’s employees are not being engaged. Consultants who can help a company’s management with employee engagement need to know the answer to the question of just how effective management is in “bringing it [the business strategy] to life” among the employees. An HR consultant can stress to a company’s leadership that success is not determined by the learning speed of the brightest few, but the execution of a company’s business strategy by the slowest many, he said. But, “it takes engaging people to bring it to life.”

HR consultants can help a company “bridge the gap with employees” by guiding a firm’s leadership team to see the big picture, which might have many variations, so it is up to a consultant to talk to the managers who are at the “doer [middle-management] level,” Haudan said. The mid-level managers of companies experiencing engagement problems might say that the company’s “leadership is inept” because there is a constant “barrage of demands” from the organization’s leadership. However, it is not the barrage of demands but an “apparent inconsistency in the barrage” that undermines confidence in such a company’s leadership.

Such a company’s leaders issue inconsistent demands as if they have a thousand-piece jig-saw puzzle, but the pieces are sent to the employees one piece at a time, and the pieces might not seem to belong together, Haudan said. One piece may stress “innovation,” while another says “cut costs.” One piece may direct the mid-level managers to “go slow,” while another says “go fast.” Another piece might say “delight customers,” while another says “reduce inventory.” At some companies not a week goes by when there are not a couple of more pieces, often the opposite of the previous month’s batch, with jagged edges that look impossible to fit together. HR consultants might look at all the puzzle pieces and determine that the only thing that can be concluded is that the pieces did not all come from the same puzzle box, he said.

Connecting Business Dots

For HR consultants who provide employee engagement services to benefit from a situation by being contracted by a firm, a consultant has to persuade the potential client that the company is “not connecting the dots” in its business plan, Haudan said. Business is all about processes, and when a lot of people are gathered for a common goal, the goal is accomplished by a process, he said. However, rarely, is the engagement of employees acknowledged, he said. There is a huge opportunity for the HR consultants to market themselves as process facilitators who can help a company’s leadership “connect the dots that will execute the business strategy,” he said. To make a pitch on employee engagement services, HR consultants can use three “planks” that can create a common platform within the company, he said. Those planks are:

Line of sight. A company’s staff is positioned at different levels of an organization creating different views—“line of sight”—of the business. While normal, it does not help in the execution of a common strategy. Therefore, HR consultants can offer to help establish a company-wide line of sight that creates clear, consistent business language that everyone can understand.

Connecting goals effectively. HR consultants can help managers align team goals with the organization’s goals by getting managers to adapt and translate critical company goals into the team goals. There are several methods consultants can imprint on managers to do that, including the use of visuals, scorecards, team dialogue sessions and metrics.

Talent management. Because organizations need the talent to connect goals, HR consultants can help organizations create and deploy a company’s strategy among the firm’s staff.

J.J. Smith is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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