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  Employee Engagement: The Canary in the Coal Mine of Performance

Author: Richard Stock - CCCA Magazine, Winter 2014 at pg 8

Law departments are part of a company's intellectual capital, but they typically represent a very small percentage of the positions in any organization. Progressive organizations invest the time and resources to improve the contribution of their "human" resources. At the same time, lawyers and other members of legal departments value their professional freedom. They work fairly independently from each other and, like many professionals, respond to what is put before them.

But working long and hard is not enough in the face of a fast-changing business environment. Internal clients and business units are pushed to the limit and, by association, so are their internal counsel. Corporate leadership is fully aware of the pressure these changes have on their people.

Some organizations therefore conduct employee engagement surveys. Such surveys occur every two or three years, and are typically coordinated by HR and carried out by independent third-party consultancies. This has the advantage of being cost-effective and allows findings to be compared to a national database of employers.

Engagement surveys are more than a useful diagnostic tool. According to the Best Small and Medium Employers in Canada Study, conducted by Queen's University and Aon Hewitt, organizations with the most engaged employees achieve:

  • 26 % less employee turnover
  • 20 % less absenteeism
  • 15 % greater employee productivity
  • Up to 30 % great customer satisfaction levels
  • A 65 % greater share price increase
  • 100 % more unsolicited employee applications

However, in reality, most organizations do not conduct formal employee engagement surveys. Also, for those that do, confidentiality requirements usually mean that departments with fewer than 15 employees are not given their own engagement scores. Instead, they are aggregated with the results of one or more corporate support departments.

So, how does the GC set the priorities for greater engagement if the company does not conduct a formal survey or if the law department is too small to have its own survey results? To begin, the GC can enlist the support of HR to customize and administer the survey. Using one of the multiple online survey tools makes this a simple task to design, conduct and compile. No more than 15 minutes should be required to complete the survey as there are typically no open-ended questions. Twenty to 30 statements, with multiple choice responses to capture the extent of agreement and disagreement, are all that are required.

I have had the opportunity to compare a handful of surveys and to customize several for law departments over the last 10 years. Statements are grouped into six categories.

  1. Engagement Drivers
    • Say:
      • I would, without hesitation, recommend this organization to a friend seeking employment.
      • Given the opportunity, I tell others great things about working here.
    • Stay:
      • It would take a lot to get me to leave this organization.
      • I rarely think about leaving this organization to work somewhere else.
    • Strive:
      • The organization inspires me to do my best work every day.
      • The organization motivates me to contribute more than is normally required to complete my work.
    • One Texas-based company added seven questions: three for accountability and four that they referred to as culture questions. Most of these are designed to capture team-based behaviors.
    • Accountability:
      • I received feedback on the previous employee engagement survey.
      • We participated in an effective engagement planning session following the last survey.
      • We have made progress on the goals set out during engagement planning sessions.
    • Culture:
      • My coworkers continuously learn and improve.
      • Every day, my coworkers contribute to a meaningful workplace.
      • My coworkers always play to win.
      • My coworkers are always part of the company team.
  2. Career opportunities, learning and development:
    • There are sufficient opportunities within the organization for me to improve my skills in my current role.
    • There are sufficient opportunities within the department for me to improve my skills in my current role.
    • There are sufficient opportunities within the organization for me to satisfy my personal goals for new challenges and development.
    • There are sufficient opportunities within the department for me to satisfy my personal goals for new challenges and development.
    • There re sufficient opportunities within the organization for me to advance my career.
    • There are sufficient opportunities within the department for me to advance my career.
    • Career opportunities usually go to the most qualified person.
    • I understand what is required to advance in this organization.
    • I have access to valuable guidance about my career.
    • It is easy for employees to move to different roles in this organization.
    • The organization has effective processes to help me identify my development needs.
    • The department has effective processes to help me identify my development needs.
  3. Managing performance:
    • The way my performance is measured makes sense to me.
    • My current workload seems fair to me.
    • I would welcome three job-specific objectives each year.
    • I would welcome more complex, sophisticated work in my present role.
    • I have added two questions to probe for efficiency:
    • The tools and resources I have allow me to be as productive as possible.
    • The work processes we have in place allow me to be as productive as possible.
  4. Recognition:
    • Recognition is applied consistently throughout the organization.
    • I receive appropriate recognition (beyond pay and benefits) for my contributions and / or accomplishments.
  5. Engagement:
    • The organization motivates me to contribute more than is normally required to complete my work.
    • I would add one question to probe engagement a little further.
    • I truly enjoy my work.
  6. Pay:
    • When taking into account my pay, benefits and hours of work, I believe that I am fairly compensated for my current contribution.

An engagement survey and the related follow-up on its findings must be managed processes. Taken together, they contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of the law department-something that is only possible if its members live up to their full potential. Like the canary in the coal mine, an excellent engagement score is a predictor of how well the law department is performing and where improvements can be made.

   
 
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