What drives employee engagement at the top?

A more personal approach may be required to keep the senior employees engaged.

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Whenever we talk of employee engagement, it is assumed we are talking about the frontline or mid-level employees. The senior management of an organisation is usually not given any thought when it comes to employee-engagement policies, even though every member of the company is technically an employee. So who takes care of the senior management?

Senior management experience also needs to be at par with that of their team members, but this is often overlooked. Even though HR takes care of the junior and middle management, the executive and top management are usually not focussed on as much.

We spoke to senior HR leaders on how the business heads are kept engaged as employees. The consensus was that top-tier management is usually, to an extent, neglected in terms of employee engagement. Moreover, the way to do it is different from how any other employee in the organisation would be engaged.

Gajendra Chandel

“The senior management have higher expectations than what they are given in terms of strategy, communication, clarity and support. The CEO also looks at the board for direction and to make available the required resources. If he is directed towards a goal without adequate resources, then there can be disengagement. It is the same with the middle management and the junior management.”

At the junior or mid-level, engagement is usually driven through perks and bonuses or through gifts and designated titles. However, at the senior level, workers have almost reached the top of the ladder, and therefore, perks, gifts or fancy titles have little or no relevance for them. At this stage, the drivers of motivation are different.

The motivation may come from a more personal approach. The head of HR in an organisation can ensure that there is regular interaction with the CEO and other heads. Off-site workshops to discuss strategies or engage in activities together for team building and rapport can be ways to keep everyone focussed and happy. Family visits and outings with spouses are the common activities in this area. The responsibility for this falls on the HR heads to look after the needs of their peers.

Rajorshi Ganguli

“Engagement at the senior level depends on how much freedom individuals are given to take decisions, and the breadth and complexity of tasks that are assigned to them. Moreover, involving them in organisational strategies and highly visible projects, which are beyond their functions, shows trust, which further builds engagement.”

As Chandrashekhar Mukherjee, CPO, South Indian Bank, highlights, “In a leadership team, the engagement has to be much more. Sometimes, the HR gets the spouses involved as well. For instance, after in-office meetings, everyone goes out for a nice dinner or for some fun activity, such as bowling. There are also off-site meetings, where the families also join in. Post shop talk, all of them can spend some quality time together.”

On the other hand, the drivers of engagement may not be entirely dependent on HR. Freedom to work, to make decisions and develop new ideas and strategies can also be the factors driving engagement at the top. Executives value the kind of responsibilities they are entrusted with and how far the management is open to accepting their ideas. The autonomy to steer the company towards a goal is encouraging for the top tier and this facilitates better engagement with the organisation.

As Rajorshi Ganguly, president and global HR head, Alkem Laboratories, points out, “Engagement at the senior level depends on how much freedom individuals are given to take decisions, and the breadth and complexity of tasks that are assigned to them. Moreover, involving them in organisational strategies and highly visible projects, which are beyond their functions, shows trust, which further builds engagement.”

Chandrasekhar Mukherjee

“In a leadership team, the engagement has to be much more. Sometimes, the HR gets the spouses involved as well. For instance, after in-office meetings, everyone goes out for a nice dinner or for some fun activity, such as bowling. There are also off-site meetings, where the families also join in. Post shop talk, all of them can spend some quality time together.”

He further adds that face time and informal interactions with the CEO, chairman and board members also work well. Informal interactions with family members of the senior team at the CEO level can create a great sense of bonding and trust.

Concluding the conversation, Gajendra Chandel, co-founder of Viribus Unitis, and consulting and former president and CHRO of Tata Motors, pointed out that engagement at the senior level is not as different from engagement at the mid- or junior level, except in the weightage that is given to engagement activities.

He said, “How people are treated in an organisation is the foremost thing. It does not matter at what level they are. If individuals are valued beyond their work, it is the first source of engagement or disengagement. The senior management have higher expectations than what they are given in terms of strategy, communication, clarity and support. The CEO also looks at the board for direction and to make available the required resources. If he is directed towards a goal without adequate resources, then there can be disengagement. It is the same with the middle management and the junior management.”

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