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InfoQ Homepage Articles Q&A on the Book Agile Engagement

Q&A on the Book Agile Engagement

Key Takeaways

  • Agile Engagement provides a framework that any business leader can use to improve engagement at their organization.
  • More than 70% of today's US workforce is disengaged, leading to negative business consequences and lower profitability.
  • Employee engagement is "an employee’s intellectual (head) and emotional (heart) connection with an employer, demonstrated by motivation and commitment (hands) to positively impact the company vision and goals."
  • More employees are choosing to work freelance and remote jobs than ever, making it critical to have an employee engagement strategy.
  • Emplify's Engagement Report and Canvas provides leaders a way to measure 15 psychometrically-validated employee engagement drivers.

In the book Agile Engagement Santiago Jaramillo and Todd Richardson explore the causes why employees can be disengaged and provide solutions for measuring and driving engagement in organizations.

InfoQ readers can download chapter one from Agile Engagement.

InfoQ interviewed Santiago Jaramillo and Todd Richardson about major changes that are happening in the labor market, how managing freelancers differ from managing employees, examples of companies which have significantly changed their office policies and how that worked out for them, and which factors influence the performance of teams and how to use the Emplify Score for measuring Agile Engagement.

InfoQ: Why did you write this book?

Santiago Jaramillo:  We spend over half of our waking hours at work. But 70% of US workers are disengaged with their jobs. That means that many of us are spending half our lives doing things we don’t want to do, with people we don’t want to be around and in places we don’t want to be. This can have significant implications for a business’ productivity, customer service and bottom line. Our hope in writing Agile Engagement is to recraft how people think about engagement and ultimately change how millions of people engage with their work.

Todd Richardson: I’ve spent 20 years using my background in human resources and administration to help others achieve their full potential. During this time, I’ve spoken to hundreds of business leaders about the best ways to engage employees and, because of this, am uniquely qualified to take learnings from the world of agile development and apply them to the people side of business. I’m excited to share these learnings through Agile Engagement

InfoQ: For whom is this book intended?

Richardson: Agile Engagement unveils a simple, yet powerful and proven methodology that can work for people leaders at any company of any size or industry, including real estate, manufacturing, technology, retail—and virtually every industry in between. All they need is the belief that people are critical assets to their organization. This book is specifically intended to give strategic HR leaders practical advice on how to drive engagement in their organization through agile methodology, real-world examples, and psychometrically valid engagement research.

InfoQ: How do you define employee engagement?

Jaramillo: I’ve always believed that employee engagement meant something much deeper than mere job satisfaction. More than “pay and perks,” employee engagement is an employee’s intellectual (head) and emotional (heart) connection with an employer, demonstrated by motivation and commitment (hands) to positively impact the company vision and goals.

InfoQ: Which major changes are happening in the labour market?

Jaramillo: There are three major changes in today’s workforce that make employee engagement so important. The first is the onset of the “gig economy.” More and more employees are turning to freelance or contract jobs rather than working a tenure at a company, due in part to increased flexibility and the ability to choose jobs that are meaningful to them. In fact, the average job tenure for a millennial is just two years, five years less than the baby boomer generation.

This change leads to more companies offering telework or remote options, hoping to engage employees that crave the ability to work when and where they want. Because of these shifts in how people work, it’s more important than ever to create a mobile-centric culture, communicating with employees in an accessible way rather than relying on outdated mediums like newsletters or office signage.

InfoQ: How does managing freelancers differ from managing employees?

Richardson: Regardless of whether an employee is freelance or full-time, the same strategies should be used to regularly assess their connectedness to your team and provide them with the knowledge they need to best perform their work. The Agile Engagement model relies on a continual framework of measuring and improving engagement, constantly assessing and tweaking your engagement strategies as you implement them.

Jaramillo: While you may not ask your freelancers to participate in your annual or quarterly employee surveys, it’s still important to schedule time with them to check on the professional relationship and offer new ideas or information to help them do their jobs better. Additionally, as more and more full time workers go remote (as previously mentioned), companies should strive to implement streamlined tools that can be easily adopted by both full-time and freelance employees.

InfoQ: Can you give some examples of companies which have significantly changed their office policies?

Richardson: Student Connections is an Indianapolis company that helps connect college students with information and resources to fund their education. They are a subsidiary of a larger company, founded under a new mission to remove barriers that students encounter when pursuing post-secondary education. The president had a mission to create a strong culture founded on their passion of helping students, but as a new business there were concerns around job security and how individual roles connected to the larger business purpose.

After conducting a 360 leadership assessment and moving offices to be more conducive to open work, the president launched the company’s first-ever employee engagement survey using the frameworks promoted in Agile Engagement. The goal of this survey was to pinpoint exactly what areas of the business needed improvement so they could apply special focus to improving those low sectors.

InfoQ: How did that work out for them?

Richardson: One early indicator of success was the high response rate for the initial annual survey. More than 80% of Student Connection’s team took the survey in the first week, and over 90% of the company took the follow up annual survey later in the year. This shows that employees want to be engaged at a business and want ways to voice feedback to leadership on how to better improve engagement for their peers. Using the results of their survey, the leadership at Student Connections is using an employee engagement mobile app to respond and improve on the lowest results of the survey. Their culture is even being cited in the news as an example for organizations looking to improve their engagement.

InfoQ: Which factors influence the performance of teams?

Richardson: There are three factors that I use to assess the engagement, and therefore effectiveness, of a team: Meaning, Safety, and Capacity. Meaning is the emotional bond that an employee has with his or her work. Safety is the ability to express thoughts about one’s job without fear of negative repercussions. Capacity relates to the employee’s ability to do his or her work with full focus and energy. If one of these three factors is lacking, engagement will suffer, so employers need to focus on measuring these engagement levels at their businesses so they can focus on creating a well-rounded engagement experience.

InfoQ: How can organizations use the Engagement Canvas to develop a more engaged workforce?

Jaramillo: Every area of a business—sales, marketing, product—has goals it must achieve and a strategy for reaching them. Why should the way you engage your employees (your most important asset) be any different? The Engagement Canvas helps frame that strategy, posing critical questions that will help you organize your employee engagement goals, think through every aspect of your current employee culture, and identify key areas for improvement. 

InfoQ: What's the Emplify Score and how can you measure it?

Jaramillo: The Emplify Score is made up of a set of ten questions that assess engagement at an individual level, which is then aggregated for the organization. It is intended to get at the heart of what it means to be engaged. We look at this from a few different aspects, but what we find to be a great indication of engagement is clear motivation and inspiration to work, ability to focus intently on work, and an experience of work as a good feeling. The Emplify Engagement Report breaks down engagement by people groups that are important to your business and other categories such as your Emplify score, psychological conditions (meaning, safety, capacity), and 15 drivers of engagement.

InfoQ: If readers want to learn more about employee engagement, where can they go?

Richardson: Besides Agile Engagement, two resources that have been particularly impactful to my research about employee engagement are Start with Why by Simon Sinek and Employee Engagement by William H. Macey.

About the Book Authors

Santiago Jaramillo is the co-author of Agile Engagement, an Amazon best-selling book that provides employers with a framework for improving employee engagement and achieving unprecedented business value. As the Co-Founder and CEO of Emplify, Jaramillo leads a team of engagement experts to support leading organizations like Duke Realty, Gaylor Electric, Which Wich, MedXcel, and the NFL Trust in their mission to achieve better business outcomes through true employee engagement. An Inc. Magazine 30 Under 30 honoree, Jaramillo has spoken to thousands of business leaders at industry events about his vision to improve the lives of millions of people by helping them be more engaged at work.

Todd Richardson is the co-author of Agile Engagement, an Amazon best-selling book that provides employers with a framework for improving employee engagement and achieving unprecedented business value. As the Co-Founder of employee engagement platform Emplify, Todd oversees the company’s own employee engagement strategy, drawing on experience as the former EVP of Administration for ExactTarget (now Salesforce Marketing Cloud), where he helped develop what Kenexa called “Best-In-Class” culture, which was cited as a key differentiator in ExactTarget’s S1 filing. A regular contributor to Forbes’ HR Council, Todd also teaches at Butler University’s Lacy School of Business. 

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