How IT can fill the engagement gap

big-boss-megaphone-120.jpgPop quiz: Which would you rather spend more time with, your boss or your e-mail?

The answer to that question could do a lot to explain the results of a survey by professional services firm Towers Perrin that examined the attitudes of a staggering 90,000 people worldwide, including 5,000 in Canada. Towers Perrin says only 23 per cent of Canadians are “engaged” with their work. In fact, 32 per cent admitted they are either partly or fully “disengaged,” meaning they are unwilling to go that extra mile to help their organization succeed. Towers Perrin calls this the engagement gap. While the company would probably say managers need better training, IT may be just as effective in fulfilling that gap.

“Companies have an enormous impact on engagement – far more than they think they do. The influence of the organization, especially its senior leadership, far outweighs employees’ personal traits (like ambition or learning orientation) or, say, the role of a person’s manager,” the Towers Perrin report says. “What we’ve learned is that driving engagement depends on creating a corporate culture that aligns with the company’s unique strategy, and that emphasizes leadership, learning, empowerment and corporate social responsibility.”

Unfortunately they left out the part about how you create that culture, but I guess that’s what expensive consulting fees are for. If you consider the fact that experts always cite the need for executive sponsorship for IT projects to succeed, however, you begin to see how technology and engagement interrelate. IT managers may not put it this way, but a lot of their work involves fostering engagement through better access and control over information. Done properly, such projects give employees the tools they need to be more autonomous, collaborative and productive. In other words, more engaged.

Of course, I know some CEOs would argue the tools turn into little more than time-wasters. As dependent as they may be on e-mail communications, a lot of companies hate the time employees spend sending and responding to personal messages. In some cases, though, e-mailing your friends is what you do when you’re waiting for another system to finish churning away through its work, or when you’re encountering so many glitches with a system that you’d rather do something more engaging (like writing to someone about how crappy your IT is at work). In other cases poorly-designed technology systems create workflow with mundane or needlessly redundant steps which waste just as much time as e-mail or Facebook and have the added effect of distracting employees from what they would like to do. There’s no point in going that extra mile if the IT you need to get there drags you down.

Towers Perrin didn’t break down responses by job title, but a lot of IT managers would likely say they’re disengaged, too. They aren’t included on the projects that really change the way the business runs, their budgets are too small to do anything creative and they spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with trival end-user troubleshooting. If companies are serious about closing the engagement gap they have to start somewhere, and the best place might be with the people who can help engage everybody else.

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