Employee Engagement Expert Advice – Interview with Andee Harris


Andee1 copy-2 copy 2As Chief Engagement Officer at HighGround, Andee Harris brings more than 20 years of experience working with HR leaders and practitioners to her role as the Chief Engagement Officer at HighGround. She joined the team in April 2016 and is responsible for thought leadership, market share growth, new business development, multi-channel marketing strategies and revenue management. 

Most recently, she served as the vice president of sales and marketing for The Marcus Buckingham Company. Before that she led sales and marketing for Syndio, a people analytics software company.

We’re counting down the hours until the annual Employee Engagement (EE) Awards & Summit at the incredible Morgan MFG in Chicago, IL. We were fortunate enough to grab some time with Andee and she shares her perspective on employee engagement with us.

HR Gazette: What does employee engagement mean to you?

Andee: In the workplace, engagement is synonymous with connection; it’s how employees connect to their work, to their organization. Engaged employees know their place in the organization and feel a sense of purpose and loyalty. Their individual aspirations are aligned to the broader objectives of the organization. Truly engaged employees have a vested interest in the workplace and are willing to put forth discretionary effort.

Engagement is purpose + voice + belonging + trust = commitment

In order to create a culture of engagement, organizations must do so authentically and transparently. The mission, vision and values can’t just live on a poster in a conference room. You must live out those values every day, across all aspects of the organization. True engagement also transcends the perks. Employers can throw unlimited vacation time and competitive retirement plans at employees as much as they’d like, but it isn’t sustainable. You want people leaning in in very natural ways because they want to, not because they have to.

HR Gazette: What are your three tips for companies looking to drive engagement in their organisations?

Andee: Start with the end in mind. If you set out with the goal of helping your people get better and be recognized for their accomplishments and make it super easy to use they will want it, crave it in fact. Our customers tell us that their employees are now demanding more input from their managers and their peers. They want that coaching, they like to see that their initiatives are making a difference.

Prioritize real-time, continuous conversations. I firmly believe that engagement and development are completely intertwined. There’s a reason the annual performance review is knocking on death’s door. It combines an entire year’s worth of constructive criticism and praise into a one – two-hour window. If an employee is struggling with one area, he needs to be told immediately so he can make adjustments or ask for help. The same goes for recognition. Telling employees they did a great job on a project from six months prior doesn’t nearly resonate the same way immediate feedback would. It is all about developing an on-going conversation that encourages both employees and managers to share feedback and grow as a result. Employees also want their voices heard. Implement a system that empowers employees to speak their minds and provide constructive feedback on a regular and consistent basis.

Learn to treat your employees like customers. Today’s employees expect the workplace to provide them the same level of service, convenience and instant access to information that they get from consumer technology. They increasingly crave feedback and collaboration. Tailor solutions with a “keep it simple” design approach and leverage mobility to facilitate more frequent, bite-sized discussions and touch points between the employees and their leaders.

HR Gazette: What do you feel are the biggest pitfalls that companies should avoid when executing their engagement strategy?

Andee: Frankly, the biggest thing to avoid is short-sightedness. Any solution an organization implements in addressing employee engagement needs to come equipped with the tools for a self-sustaining program. Engagement is not a buzzword that will fade to obscurity in a year or so. It has profoundly changed the way that companies view how to develop their employees and managers. Therefore, an infrastructure needs to be put in place with longevity in mind.

HR Gazette: Why do employees fail to buy-in when companies try to ramp up engagement?

Andee: The same reason employees haven’t been buying into corporate initiatives since the beginning of workplace culture: a perceived lack of authenticity. Any half-hearted attempt to spur engagement will likely have the opposite effect. It is important that leaders take employee engagement efforts seriously, committing full resources to research, planning and implementation. If an organization rolls out a comprehensive and diverse plan which tackles the major relevant pain points, employees will recognize that effort and respond accordingly. Companies cannot expect employees to be engaged if they haven’t established that baseline of trust.

HR Gazette: What skills are most useful for everyone to have when trying to move towards a culture of engagement?

Andee: Rather than a skill, I think it is a mindset that is most critical. Growth mindset companies reward employees based on progress over perfection and build a culture of learning from your mistakes. In its simplest definition, a mindset is “an attitude, disposition or mood.” It determines how we interpret our successes and failures, and in turn, whether or not or how quickly we achieve our goals.Stanford professor Carol Dweck spent years studying mindset and developed a framework that explains two distinct mindsets. Those with a fixed mindset believe talent is a quality they either have or lack. Those with a growth mindset see challenges as opportunities and see the potential to develop new skills over time. Employees of companies with a growth mindset feel empowered and committed and receive more support for collaboration and innovation.

HR Gazette: You are a sponsor for the North American 2016 Employee Engagement Awards. What was your main motivator for supporting this amazing event?

Andee: The Employee Engagement Awards recognize companies that put their people first. That is not only a key mission for myself as an individual and an executive but as member of HighGround, a company that prides itself on its employee-first mentality. We’re seeing in real-time a dramatic shift to empower employees and front line managers. The Employee Engagement Awards shines light on successful programs and best practices that can be quite useful to other organizations as they embark on a similar journey.


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