Learning & Development

Palo Alto Network's Take on Employee Engagement

Each year, disengaged employees draw between $450 and $550 billion from companies. This evidence outlines that a less-than-enthusiastic team goes far beyond damaging company morale and begins to take a toll on the bottom line.

To get a sense of how leaders are tackling this problem head on, we spoke with Rich Taylor, Head of Global Talent Development at Palo Alto Networks. When Taylor approaches his own productivity and professional growth, he borrows from Stephen Covey’s work -- specifically his four time management quadrants -- to create his own “Heat Map” where each of his projects is mapped out. If Taylor’s approach to his work is any indicator, it’s fair to say he is an expert in the world of talent development.

“Companies rise or fall based on the capabilities of their people”

“Companies rise or fall based on the capabilities of their people,” says Taylor. “Particularly in the fast-paced world of tech, what was outstanding last year is barely adequate now, and certainly won’t take you into the future. Companies that don’t develop their talent are accelerating their obsolescence.”

Why you should get serious about measuring employee engagement

According to Taylor, measuring employee engagement is a powerful way to make an abstract concept more tangible. “I help leaders understand that engagement correlates very highly with two things: 1) discretionary effort (people work harder than needed because they really care) and 2) intent to stay,” says Taylor. “If you want a dedicated, pro-active, productive workforce that sticks with you through thick and thin, you need to give them something to believe in -- engage their hearts and minds.”

Measure tips: How to know if you have disengaged employees

In many cases, underperforming and disengaged employees can be a tough dynamic to measure, but there are some ways that companies can understand how to measure employee engagement.

Companies can begin by looking at different types of measurement: “Soft’ measures include engagement, discretionary effort, and intent to stay,” says Taylor.

For companies that are interested in a deeper look at the issue, there are “hard” measurements to consider, like time-to-productivity per sales person, and the very real cost of unwanted turnover, according to Taylor. “

There are industry-standard metrics for each of these, but it’s really important to find the data for your own organization – in my experience this is extremely compelling to your leadership, who will then choose to invest. Create an internal dashboard, set baselines, and (hopefully) show the numbers going in the right direction each quarter.”

If you want a dedicated, pro-active, productive workforce that sticks with you through thick and thin, you need to give them something to believe in

Employee engagement surveys: what to consider first

The first step in creating a strong engagement survey is aligning your key stakeholders. “Make a clear case why the organization should do this, and what to expect during and after the process” recommends Taylor. “Ensure you have their commitment to act on the results – otherwise employees will become jaded and may believe their voice doesn’t really matter, and this will poison the well for future efforts.”

Once the initial buy-in is established, Taylor recommends keeping the survey itself short. “There are millions of things you might like to gain insights on, but the first time out of the gate should be crisp and super-focused.”

Important topics can fall under key categories that you want to learn more about -- things like Company Confidence, Alignment and Involvement, Leadership, and Feedback and Recognition, to name a few. “

If you’re using a third party provider, they will be able to give good advice and strong benchmarking capabilities,” says Taylor.

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What can companies realistically do to tackle the problem?

Many companies approach the problem from too far down the leadership ladder, assuming that entry level and mid-level employees want to tackle things like culture on their own terms. That, or leadership finds a way to outsource the issue to a third party. However, this instinct doesn’t serve the overall problem.“

My best tip is to engage senior leadership with what they can personally do to develop talent,” says Taylor. “

There are lots of ways to spend money with external vendors, but what employees really notice is that the leaders lead from the front. The CEO holds a bi-weekly ‘open mic’ session to take questions, or the CFO encourages a ‘personal investment’ day each quarter. On top of any enterprise initiatives, the talent development team should work with each and every exec 1:1 to build their own plan to develop talent in their organization. Role modeling is free but so powerful.”

Final thoughts

As you begin to dive into your own employee engagement strategies, self-awareness is key for any leader. Feedback remains one of the most efficient ways to understand the pulse of your company, its culture, and your employee engagement levels.“

People resist asking for (and integrating) candid feedback,” says Taylor. It can feel scary. But it’s actually incredibly powerful to hear even the most difficult criticism that someone has to offer you. Try to de-personalize it, and realize that every criticism is actionable insight that will make you better – and even your detractors will see you sincerely attempting to improve. This builds a great personal brand.”

Beyond being attentive (and grateful for) feedback, understanding employee engagement requires some level of purposed action. Take time to get buy-in from leadership in your company. From there, work towards a brief -- but carefully thought out -- employee survey. Based on survey results, begin to develop strategies that make sense for your teams. Above all, ensure that you involve leadership in the changes you make. To borrow from Taylor, role modeling is a free but powerful tool.

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