In a recent Gallup report completed in January 2015, U.S. Employee Engagement has essentially been steady at ~ 32% through the first nine months of the year.

With engagement numbers this low, it is no wonder we frequently come across companies that are interested in, and concerned about, employee engagement. The problem is senior leadership frequently assigns the task for improving employee engagement to human resources department (HR).

With no disrespect to HR, I don’t believe it’s an issue for HR to resolve. Why? Because I believe low Employee Engagement Scores are the scorecard of how well leadership is doing their job.

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is often defined as “a property of the relationship between an organization and its employees. An “engaged employee” is one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work, and so takes positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests.”

Why is Employee Engagement so important?

For most businesses labor cost is the single largest expense for the company. Most executives will tell you that people are their most valuable asset. If both are true, the Employee Engagement scores above suggest ~ 68% of their human assets are either under, or not performing.

It’s also long believed that all things being equal, a company with higher employee engagement scores will outperform those with lower scores.

I recently completed a culture assessment for a large material science company, which has a goal of doubling revenue in the next ten years. A frequent response from employees interviewed was: “I don’t care about doubling revenue, that doesn’t motivate me.”

Why doesn’t doubling revenue motivate employees? Well if you’re a scientist, it’s certainly NOT what gets you up in the morning. What then does it take to engage employees?

Leadership’s Role

Employees want to be working on an inspiring future.

I’m sure when President John F. Kennedy said we will send a man to the moon by the end of the decade, the folks at NASA were engaged. Start-up companies typically have high employee engagement scores. That’s because they are working on an inspiring future, which has employees fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work, and taking positive action to further the organization’s interests.

People want to work on inspiring futures. They want to work on things bigger than themselves. They want interesting work. They want challenging work. They want to grow and learn. They want to be appreciated for their work. They want to be valued and they want to be empowered.

Delivering on these wants is Leadership and Management’s job, not HR. It starts with leadership creating an inspiring future, not by themselves in an ivory tower, but by engaging employees to create an inspiring future that employees at all levels of the organization can be inspired by.

Doubling revenue won’t do it.

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