Why companies are still failing at engagement

Why companies are still failing at engagement

Why companies are still failing at engagement 1920 1465 XTRF Summit

In this XTRF Summit #online 2021 session, Paul McManus, CEO of XTENSOS, tackled the topic of employee engagement, discussing why so many companies are still lagging behind in this area, and how to go about improving engagement. This article is based on that session.


I’ve been in the localization industry for 25 years now. I’ve worked at multiple different LSPs, including big players like SDL and Welocalize, before going on to start my own company, XTENSOS. And I’ve seen the same problem crop up time and again, in small LSPs and in global organizations – how can you engage staff, and keep them happy? This has become an organizational priority. Because without engagement, it’s very difficult to progress at the pace needed to compete.

What is employee engagement?

Many people confuse employee engagement with employee satisfaction. They may equate it with their Net Promoter Score or think that by having a wellbeing campaign or offering their staff a decent benefits package, they’ve checked that box. But that’s not employee engagement.

At XTENSOS we define employee engagement as:

The Mental, Physical and Emotional commitment
that an Employee has to the Organization,
its Values, and its Goals.

It’s also important to recognize that different people within an organization have different perspectives on engagement:

Engagement's 3 Perspectives

But the only perspective that really matters is the employee’s. They want to know there’s someone who cares about them. They want to be able to develop professionally, grow, and become better and more knowledgeable professional. And, in most cases (though this is often ignored), they also want to be able to develop personally, which means they want growth and mentoring. Ultimately, the goal of employee engagement should be to understand what employees need and try to give it to them in a style that suits them, not in a way that only suits the company.

Why is employee engagement important?

Organizations may choose to measure engagement for a number of reasons, from the vanity of wanting to see staff loyalty, through to seeing other organizations doing it and feeling you should follow suit, or simply following instructions from HR. But if you start from a position of sincerity, where you genuinely care about employee engagement and want to make it better, then engagement will be much easier to understand and much easier to improve.

At the end of the day though, the numbers say it all. According to Gallup’s survey of 1.7 million employees in 96 countries, employee engagement results in:

  • 81% lower absenteeism
  • 64% fewer safety incidents
  • 41% fewer quality issues
  • 23% higher profitability
  • 18% higher sales revenue
  • 18% higher productivity

Why are many failing at engagement?

If the benefits of employee engagement are so clear, why are many still failing? In fact, the vast majority of people in companies are either not engaged or are actively disengaged. The latter are those that are already thinking about leaving. The former are where companies really need to focus their efforts.

But there’s no quick fix for engagement. And the localization industry is particularly susceptible to disengagement. In fact, our industry presents many barriers to engagement, many of which are due to the lack of predictability we face, where we can’t accurately forecast beyond 12 weeks. This means we need to hire quickly, which leads us to hire the wrong person, and means we end up in a vicious cycle of bad recruitment.

Let’s look at hiring project managers as an example. Project management as a service is loss-generating. And in the face of rising costs, we try to solve this problem, often using one of these three methods:

  • Automation
  • Cost manipulation
  • Headcount tightening

But if not done well, these methods may solve the problem but create serious employee disengagement. Even if done well, they can still substantially disengage employees. I’m not saying we have to necessarily stop doing these things, but we do need to put other strategies in place to mitigate against these effects.

But how do we go about improving engagement? A Gallup survey identified that engagement efforts often fail because:

1. Initiatives are too complicated
2. Incorrect KPIs – we’re not measuring the right things
3. Overuse of surveys

To this, I’d add a fourth factor:
4. Leaving employee engagement to HR

How to improve employee engagement

Engage people as individuals

Engagement is personal. You can’t engage a whole team in one go. Instead, focus on the individual. What’s more, people generally engage on a person-to-person level, rather than with an organization.

People are motivated and demotivated by different things. Use something like DISC profiling to understand your employees’ personalities and cater your engagement efforts to them, rather than assuming that what motivates you will motivate them – it may well have the opposite effect.

The Manager is crucial. Gallup research found that 70% of engagement variance is down to the manager. So make sure you focus on developing your managers and checking their performance.

Go-Active Management

At XTENSOS, this is our name for an approach to management that I’ve personally seen work really well in organizations of all sizes.

But before you can even hope to have engagement in your organization, you need to have various elements taken care of. I refer to these as Hygiene Factors. The most important Hygiene Factor is Zero tolerance for “Chief Disengagement Officers”. These are people who don’t care how they behave, who may create a lot of drama, and who inflict their personality on everyone else, in turn disengaging them. It’s essential you take care of any Chief Disengagement Officers in your company, whatever level they may be at, before trying to improve engagement. Otherwise, all your efforts may be in vain.

Once the Hygiene Factors are in place, you then need to implement the following elements which make up Go-Active Management:

  1. Thoughtful job design
  2. Competency-based recruitment
  3. Professional development planning & execution
  4. Behavioral management at all levels
  5. Coaching and mentoring between managers and employees

Summary – three key steps to engagement

So, to summarize, to engage your employees, you need to:

  1. Engage individuals, not a whole group and never the whole workforce
  2. Never leave this area to HR, engaging employees is the manager’s job
  3. Measure your managers using the Go-Active Management Scorecard


Paul McManus


XTRF Summit

XTRF Summit brings together prospective and current customers, as well as wider localization industry stakeholders for a day of learning and knowledge‑sharing. The action-packed program includes networking sessions to mix and mingle with colleagues from across the globe, eye‑opening panel discussions, and live interactive presentations led by some of the best in the business. It’s an unmissable opportunity for members of the localization community to help each other be better prepared for this ever-changing market.

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