Moving from transactional to transformational engagement

Emma Bridger

27 Jan 2023
Employee Engagement
Employee Experience
Is employee engagement inside your organisation merely a tick box exercise or something that is genuinely transformational?

In their original Engaging for Success report to the UK Government MacLeod and Clarke differentiate between level 1 engagement, which they term transactional engagement, and level 2 engagement, which they term transformational engagement.

Transactional engagement is defined by a reactive set of transactions aimed at improving engagement, often in response to survey results.

A transactional approach to engagement often begins with an engagement survey, which highlights a number of areas for action. An action plan is then put in place and actions are ticked off the list until they are complete, at which point engagement is considered ‘done’, and forgotten about until the next survey comes around. Does this sound familiar? A transactional approach is often identified by a project or program aimed to improve engagement, with an end date. Engagement is not integrated into the business strategy and culture, but is a separate, bolt-on activity.

Transformational engagement however, is integrated into the business strategy and baked into its culture. It is proactive with employee insight, ideas, and opinions regularly sought, harnessed, and acted upon. A survey is not necessarily required to understand how employees feel about the organisation, or to drive action - because this already happens as part of the business focus, culture, and leadership style. A natural desire to improve engagement exists within the business.

In reality these two types of approach to engagement are not discrete, more often organisations sit somewhere between the two. Discussing whereabouts your organisation is on this scale can be beneficial to improving engagement

What does transformational engagement look like?

Companies with a
transactional engagement

Start with an engagement survey and use the outputs from the survey to take action to improve engagement.

Take a deficit approach – looking only to improve what isn’t working.

See engagement as a project or an initiative, owned by HR or, worse still, a project team.

Once the actions from the survey have been delivered, engagement is not talked about until the next survey.

Don't view engagement is not part of the overall business strategy.

Have budget for the survey but no budget for what happens after the survey.

Don't invest in the skills and capabilities of their managers to ensure they can engage their teams.

Don't give employees a voice other than the annual survey. Don't listen to employees in an ongoing way.

Companies with a transformational engagement approach...

May not even need to do a survey – they have their finger on the pulse and aren’t reliant on an annual survey to tell them how their employees feel.

Ensure engagement is integrated into everything they do: every employee touch point from recruitment, to on-boarding, to performance management and even exit is designed to ensure it contributes towards employee engagement rather than eroding it.

Employee engagement is a key part of the organisation strategy.

Managers are developed to ensure they have the skills and capabilities to engage their people.

The organisation is a listening organisation: this listening is ongoing and authentic, not simply a once-a-year survey opportunity.

Employees genuinely have a voice and can contribute to the success of the organisation.

There is a high level of trust in management.

Take a strength-based approach to understand the conditions under which employees flourish at work Engagement is seen as everyone’s responsibility.

If you want to find out where your organisation sits on the scale take a look at the transformational diagnostic tool.

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