Closing the digital engagement gap with effective leadership

author Brett Dixon, March 17, 2017

If the future of work is meaningful collaboration in the digital workplace, where purpose drives engagement, then there is a major disconnect between senior management and the workforce. Where employers rank employee engagement in their organisation at 83%, only 59% of employees themselves claim to feel engaged. This is what digital analyst Brian Solis terms the ‘engagement gap’, where your company culture either underestimates or misunderstands the importance of employee engagement and how it can best be cultivated in your organisation. Let the engagement gap flourish in your company and it will cost you dearly in talent retention and lost productivity, around $450-to-$550 billion a year according to Gallup.

The digital workplace has a significant role to play in boosting employee engagement. Yet according to a Deloitte survey across major European organisations, only 9% of employees believed that a suitable technological environment existed to foster communication and collaboration and fewer than half the respondents felt their organisation fostered a culture of trust and collaboration allowing innovation to flourish.

Technology has a powerful role to play in the development of co-worker relationships and the construction of a meaningful social identity where employees can demonstrate expertise through the use of social intranet software. These actions add value and purpose to work and drive employee engagement, but only when the following conditions exist:

  • Flexible working supported by HR policies, enterprise technology and corporate culture
  • Recognition of competence and achievements through meaningful feedback in the digital workplace
  • Reputation building through gamification and enterprise social networks
  • A reciprocal relationship between organisation and employee fostered by sophisticated yet user-friendly consumerised technology
  • A company-wide culture of trust where relationships are empowered by social intranets
  • Opportunities for learning, development and innovation driven by the digital workplace
  • Autonomy of action supported by social communication channels.

The evolution of leadership

As the workplace changes, so leadership is being forced to evolve from command to consultation. Modern leadership is no longer about being the corporate strongman but demands a level of authenticity, compassion and vulnerability where a leader becomes an influencer, in daily digital conversation with the workforce. The modern CEO treats their employees with respect, engaging through social intranet software to create a culture of genuine collaboration and recognition.

Where there is a lack of a shared holistic vision for the organisation and a fragmented or poorly implemented digital workplace makes work difficult and lacking in purpose, employees disengage and productivity falls. This is when leaders need to re-calibrate their actions and attitudes for the digital workplace, seeing it as an opportunity to communicate honestly and to listen effectively across silos.

Leading by example

The social communication channels inherent in a well-designed social intranet allow leaders opportunities for both top-down communications through blogs and video messages and bottom-up communications through active participation in forums and Q&A sessions. Shaping the conversation is a powerful way for leaders to empower and foster collaboration, and to overcome the fear that intranet software will be abused. A successful social intranet is powered by content, and proactive leaders will model the kind of content they wish to see employees creating. Commenting on an employee’s blog means they’ll be 83% more likely to blog again.

Setting expectations

When a leader becomes actively involved in setting the tone for an organisation’s intranet, they create a style guide for employees to follow that is far more effective than HR guidelines alone. By actively demonstrating the kind of content that is useful and acceptable, effective leaders create the ultimate set of guidelines that empowers employees to create content that will be similarly valued and valuable. And empowered and engaged employees are more productive, creative and innovative.

Sharing important milestones

Innovative digital leaders use communication tools like video to share important company milestones, and by demonstrating to employees their influence on the achievement of common organisational goals help to build morale and engagement. Successful digital leaders don’t shy away from failure. Instead, they model it as a learning opportunity both for themselves and their organisation as they strive for future success. Powerful digital communication tools create both understanding and a shared vision.

Creating a culture of trust

Honesty and transparency can be established through some very simple actions. An updated profile, participation in group discussions and hosting idea jams reassures employees that they have a voice and that their contribution is valued as part of the ongoing work of organisational self-improvement. Transparency builds trust and unlocks the innovation and creativity in a fully engaged workforce.

Moving beyond hierarchies

The ultimate goal of an empowering leader should be to flatten the organisational chart and to unleash the power of the team as the most productive unit in the organisation. By modelling best practice in collaboration, communication and company culture, the role of the modern digital leader is crucial in creating a digital workplace where employees view themselves as valued talents who strive to improve organisational performance.