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Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

I skipped rather quickly over the definition of engagement in my last post, so I’d like to step back for a minute to review this concept in more detail, and particularly its business value.

Generally speaking, engaged employees are passionate employees. They understand and are committed to their company’s mission, vision, and values. They recognize that their individual role and actions will impact the company, and how. They voluntarily spend additional effort and exceed job requirements to help a company meet its goals. And employee_engagement1they do all of this not for tangible benefits, but because they are personally committed to the organization and its success.

Sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not.

Top performing businesses understand that these employees do exist and the tangible benefits they bring to an organization. Several independent studies (by very credible sources) support the correlation between engagement and business results. In its Global Workforce Study 2007-2008, Towers Perrin reported that companies with high employee engagement enjoyed a 19% increase in operating income over a one-year period. In the same timeframe, companies with low engagement saw a drop in operating income of more than 32%.

Watson Wyatt’s 2008/2009 WorkUSA Report found that engaged employees are more likely to be top performers, exceed expectations, and support management change initiatives. Their employers, on average, boast 26% higher employee productivity, have lower turnover, and attract top talent.

But while the numbers are compelling, they are not the entire story.

Engaged employees can, and likely will be, a company’s best advocates and brand ambassadors. They create a positive corporate culture that supports an organization’s values and moves it toward its goals. “Best places to work” rankings and word of mouth leave no doubt companies can build a strong reputation founded on an engaged workforce.

But if, as most estimates say, only a small percentage of today’s workforce is actually engaged, there clearly is a significant business opportunity to be had for companies willing to invest the time and effort on an internal communications plan to further engage this critical audience.

(Photo credit: Pacific Adventure)

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In perhaps a sign of what’s to come in the field of organizational communications, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently announced that it is launching the Center for Social and Cognitive Networks. The Center will be part of the Army Research Laboratory’s Collaborative Technology Alliances.

Drawing on the fields of social science, neuroscience, and cognitive science, and incorporating the work of experts in physics, computer science, mathematics, and engineering, the Center will study the role of social and cognitive networks in society and organizations.

Read: Rensselaer to Lead Multimillion-Dollar Research Center for Social and Cognitive Networks (RPI press release dated 10.22.09)

The Center’s research will cover five primary areas. Of the most interest to me was topic number two: networks and the transfer of knowledge within organizations. More specifically, the press release states that researchers will focus on “digital traces of collaboration and communication within an organization at all levels to understand how information flows.” Though much of the research in this area will focus on the Army, there is no doubt that the findings will be applicable to a wide range of organizational systems and settings.

In fact, according to Boleslaw Szymanski, Rensselaer’s Claire & Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor of Computer Science and the Center’s appointed leader:

The impact of our work will be far-reaching. We are in an entirely new world where Twitter, cell phones, and wireless communication change the way we interact with each other. Together and with the support of the ARL, the researchers in the center will be able to investigate how technology enhances social interactions and how those technologies and relationships can be used to better measure and understand people’s interactions with each other.

Besides the obvious benefits of having research dedicated to exploring complex social and organizational interactions, the Center’s work will help emphasize the science behind communication within organizations. Too often, internal communications is viewed as a “soft skill” promoted by former journalists with a penchant for producing glossy employee newsletters. Research drawn on scientific disciplines will give credence to the field and hopefully help internal communicators earn buy-in from key stakeholders and secure a seat at the strategy-making table once and for all. Phew!

(PS: thanks to a loyal reader–my dad–for bringing this to my attention!)

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