Interview: Microsoft’s Naomi Moneypenny on Improving Employee Engagement

According to Gallup, 87 percent of worldwide employees are not engaged. This is a problem, and while companies are slowly starting to see the benefits of investing in employee engagement, too many still aren’t taking it seriously.

Naomi Moneypenny is the Senior Product Manager for Enterprise Search and Discoverability and Social Intranet at Microsoft, and a leading expert on internal communications. We caught up with her at the European SharePoint Conference to understand what organizations need to do to improve employee engagement. Read the full interview below.

When it comes to employee engagement, what challenges do many companies face?

The biggest challenge companies face is both understanding the impact of why employee engagement matters and then trying to engage those employees.

We have some great stats from Gallup that show companies generate a huge amount of profit when employees are engaged. A lot of the reason behind the lack of engagement is a lack of understanding of a company’s vision and values and how an employee fits in. It can be really challenging for companies to understand why employee engagement matters at all and why they should invest in it, and then thinking about how to make it easy for employees to engage, especially for first-line or remote workers.

When we look at employee engagement, it really comes down to making sure that leaders can connect inside an organization and then having that community spirit trickle down to other employees so they, too, feel connected.

How are companies failing to address employee engagement?

A common failed practice is when companies try the survey approach once a year. A survey gives you an idea of sentiment and an understanding how people feel inside of your organization, but it is not the same as engagement. A lot of times, companies will equate engagement with some survey that says, “We have 90 percent employee satisfaction.” Many companies don’t understand the real impact engagement has on employee productivity.

How does the latest workplace technology help address employee engagement?

The ability to scale and scope is the biggest benefit. Companies should have this idea of continuous engagement. Even though you may get started with leadership engagement and an all-hands meeting, you want to augment that with a community around the leader to be able to ask questions, seek guidance and offer feedback. Tools within Office 365 can help a company reach all different employees, from first-line workers to remote workers, and keep the engagement going. This is particularly important from a news perspective–giving team members the ability to publish news they think is important. 

What does the future of employee engagement look like?

I hope we get to a point where people are being driven by how they visualize the workforce of the future. It’s not just about having engaged employees, we also want leaders who are invested in this.

However, as the workforce changes, and you’ve got millennials coming in and more and more turnover, there will be disambiguation. Employee engagement will still matter, and companies are going to make investments to get their vision and values out there so employees are encouraged enough to go that extra mile, but employee engagement does fly in the face of many trends that say things will get disambiguated overtime. It will be interesting to see what happens as a result.

At LiveTiles, we’re interested in AI and the impact of workplace bots. How will AI impact employee engagement?  

When I look at AI and machine learning more generally, the opportunities are the way that we scale inside of an organization. AI will help employees get answers to questions through improved search by machine reading comprehension and a syntactical and semantical understanding of a question that somebody is asking. For example, getting the information from HR policies or anywhere on your intranet and doing that without manual intervention.

Ultimately, what is the key to employee engagement?

A key lesson we need to get across is that anybody can be a leader. Leadership engagement is the first step to bringing the rest of employees on board, and it doesn’t have to come from the CEO. You can be a leader of a community of practice or a leader of a community of interest. It can be anything from people who are interested in machine learning in a company forming a group to all of the financial analysts in an organization coming together.

The key to employee engagement is not just having big formal programs, but telling everyone that they can be a leader and making them feel empowered to reach out in the organization. 

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