Five Steps to Successful Employee Engagement in a Global Organization

By Janie Payne, Director of Human Resources, Global Communities  |  This article originally appeared in the Society for Human Resource Management

Global Communities is a global, non-profit that works closely with communities around the world to bring about sustainable development. With a team of more than 2,000 employees worldwide, employee engagement has become a valuable tool that supports the cultivation and retention of our skilled workforce.

As the company’s Chief Human Resources Officer, one of my biggest priorities is identifying and implementing strategies to attract, retain and grow top talent. Employee engagement is vital to achieving those goals. A challenge facing an organization like Global Communities is the fact that it works in 28 countries and has staff from more than 40 nationalities. There are different cultures and languages to consider, some countries where we have worked for decades and others where the staff is brand new, projects which are ongoing and some which are only one year at a time. As we began an employee engagement process these were top considerations in my mind. How would these impact our progress?

Over the past few years, Global Communities has achieved positive results using five essential steps:

Step 1: Obtain buy-in from leadership in building a culture of engagement. Successful employee engagement ensures that employees from all levels of the organization have an opportunity to provide input in the decisions made about their work. Throughout their lives, employees have taken on responsibilities and have had experiences that qualify them to effectively make suggestions regarding the everyday function of their workplace. The key, however, is ensuring that the culture allows for different voices of diverse backgrounds to be both heard clearly and acknowledged appropriately. Leadership must be both on-board and willing to accept ideas from everyone, from the most junior employees to the most senior staff.

Step 2: Find the right vehicle to drive engagement. In 2014, Global Communities made the decision to use an employee survey to ascertain our employees’ opinion about the organization and ideas for improvement. This survey was sanctioned by our senior executives and incorporated into the operations planning process for the organization. This ensured that the deployment of a survey was not just an HR exercise, but rather a key strategy recognized by leaders to create competitive advantages for our business. It also meant that no matter your location, you received the same opportunity to provide feedback.

In our case, once we had determined that an employee survey was the appropriate tool, multiple instruments were researched. I selected the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) People InSight Survey based on the effectiveness of the product and to gain SHRM as a key partner in assisting with the data collection and interpretation. Recognizing that different countries and cultures have different management styles, we emphasized that the survey was anonymous and that data would be handled by SHRM, not in-house. This was an important step in ensuring trust and giving people the freedom to be honest in their responses. As a result, the initial launch of the employee survey garnered an impressive 86 percent employee response rate.

Step 3: Use internal communications as an employee engagement tool. A communications plan was developed to share the survey results with all employees. Our CEO took the lead in sharing the results, soliciting questions and facilitating discussions ― all of which helped to assure our employees that leadership placed a priority on their feedback. In addition, SHRM’s data analysis provided the foundation for communicating a message tailored to our organizational culture. Town hall meetings were conducted in which survey results were discussed with employees. We included the results in our internal newsletter and posted the full presentation on SharePoint to enable international access to both current and future employees. During the orientation process, HR ensures that new employees understand the survey results and the importance to Global Communities of creating a culture of employee engagement.

Step 4: Involve all levels of the organization in action planning. This step is a powerful component for successful employee engagement. It demonstrates to employees that their suggestions can drive organizational improvement and builds trust across the organization. As a kick-off, we solicited all levels of our organization who wanted to participate in an action-planning working group. Facilitated by HR, the working group met over several weeks to identify and prioritize actions that the group thought would result in improvements. Their work was summarized into a formal action plan. Members were selected by the working group to present their recommendations to the senior management team, resulting in funding for recommended actions. For instance, a learning and development strategy was approved and incorporated into our business plan.

Step 5: Implement the actions identified in the action plan. HR is accountable for the ongoing management of the action plan. With this responsibility, I regularly report on all progress made to employees. Two significant initiatives were implemented that emerged from employee feedback, which have progressed extremely well:

  1. We developed a compensation structure that is aligned with industry standards and our market;
  2. We established a learning strategy, which included hiring a learning manager to keep employee learning and development as a strategic imperative.

As a testament to the success of our employee engagement process, we recently launched another employee survey, with a response rate of an astonishing 93%.We have proven to our employees that their voices matter and demonstrated that their feedback is essential in determining and implementing organizational improvements. We can now repeat these five steps to continuously improve our culture, our business and ultimately our ability to assist vulnerable populations across the world.

I have been an HR leader in the private, public, and NGO sectors. From my observation, the NGO sector employees were more committed to participating, and had a greater sense of organizational pride and satisfaction. This reflects the mission-driven nature of our organization, as well as our own commitment to community-driven development around the world. Was the international nature of our workforce a problem? On the contrary, this diversity means we have an organization which knows that to succeed, it must listen. And it showed me that there are cross-cultural values, such as seeking feedback, listening, and acting upon feedback, while communicating in a transparent way, that cuts across culture.