By Rebecca Pyne

While initiatives to increase employee engagement have been a hot topic for some time, many companies continue to struggle to keep high numbers of their employees feeling engaged at work. What can companies do to make their employee engagement initiatives more effective?

A case study published last month in the Gallup Management Journal shows that including employees in the process of designing and implementing employee engagement initiatives can reap rewards. With Gallup’s help, Stryker Navigation, a global manufacturer of navigation systems for computer-assisted surgery, has been able to involve its employees in the process of bringing about significant increases in employee engagement.

The case study, written by Marco Nink, a Practice Consultant for Gallup and Klaus Welte, a Vice President at Stryker Navigation, has promising implications for employers interested in novel ways of increasing employee engagement.

Asking the Right Questions

While employee surveys assessing engagement are commonly used, Nink and Welte suggest that companies’ employee surveys often fail to effectively measure employee engagement because they ask the wrong questions, confusing employee satisfaction with engagement.

According to Nink and Welte, employee satisfaction is not the same thing as engagement; in fact, employee satisfaction can be connected to passivity. Nink and Welte write, “An employee who is satisfied with his salary or the amount of annual leave is not necessarily, of his own free will, going to lend full support to his employer and his employer’s goals.”

Meanwhile, engagement, which in Gallup’s terms is emotional attachment to one’s work, has a positive impact on productivity and increases the likelihood that employees will act in the interests of the employer.

When Stryker Navigation reached out to Gallup for assistance in increasing employee engagement, Gallup began by utilizing a 12-item questionnaire, the Q12, which assesses employee engagement by measuring the degree to which employees’ core needs and expectations of the workplace are being met. The Q12 asks employees to what extent they agree with key statements such as, “I know what is expected of me at work” and “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.”

The results of the first Stryker Navigation employee engagement survey demonstrated that only 32% of employers were engaged. Gallup found that Stryker employees had provided particularly low ratings for two items: “I know what is expected of me at work” and “I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.”

Creating a Transparent Follow-through Process

Armed with a new understanding of the factors contributing to its employee engagement levels, Stryker’s management worked to more clearly describe what was expected of employees on individual teams and projects and to increase the frequency of feedback discussions. In order to include employees in the implementation process, Stryker began discussing and monitoring action plans for addressing engagement-related challenges at monthly project team meetings.

In doing so, Stryker’s management deliberately shared responsibility for progress in its action plans with its employees while creating a structure for monitoring engagement over the long-term.

Stryker Navigation’s employee engagement efforts led to the percentage of engaged employees doubling from 32% to 64% within the first year and reaching 73% in 2011. Nink and Welte note, “The atmosphere in the company has changed for the better. Employees and managers feel that together they can get things moving and make improvements.”

Additionally, Stryker Navigation has increased its output of products considerably while the quality of new products has also increased as measured by the number of repairs and customer complaints. Nink and Welte emphasize the value of correlating the results of the employee surveys with key performance indicators or KPIs. They write, “By combining these two types of organizational data — the ‘soft’ employee engagement data with the ‘hard’ KPI data — we can demonstrate the direct economic benefit of the actions on costs and growth.”

Lessons from Stryker Navigation and Gallup

Nink and Welte highlight the importance of asking employees the right questions so that a company can develop a clear understanding of what is causing lower levels of engagement and then target those areas. They emphasize the potential of creating a transparent follow-through process that shares the responsibility for progress with employees by involving them in frequent monitoring. Additionally, Nink and Welte call attention to the value of correlating the results of employee engagement surveys with performance indicators and carrying out these surveys regularly, tracking changes over time.