I almost didn’t review this book for Learning Solutions, because the title didn’t look like it would have much to do with e-Learning. Fortunately, I changed my mind after skimming through the first few pages.
After a few years in “the learning business” (including e-Learning), most of us learn that training is not enough. Learning is necessary, but not sufficient by itself, to improve and sustain performance. I quickly realized that in this book, Brad Federman has come to the same conclusion.
Now, many performance technologists think in terms of Tom Gilbert’s six-element Behavior Engineering Model (BEM) as the way to complement instruction. Unfortunately, this does not go over well with executives, who tend to think of the BEM as another example of “the paralysis of analysis.” Federman, on the other hand, goes for a more fundamental concept, and one that uses the language of business rather than the language of theory: employee engagement.
In his introduction to the book, Federman explains how he came to this approach:
“I began to ask myself why work felt this way for so many people. With all of the training and interventions available, why was the environment of so many companies so far from stellar? And besides feeling good, did it really matter? … I came to a few key realizations:
- “Many of the interventions in the workplace are based on old research that reflects a different time;
- Organizations do not deal with key issues, such as ‘building trust’ and ‘working through fear,’ in much of our training;
- Our tendency is to make ‘or’ decisions versus ‘and’ decisions, causing us to function in an exclusive vs. inclusive manner; and
- Our ability to truly link ‘people’ to ‘profit’ still had a long way to go.”
He decided to raise the human element of the business to the boardroom, in a way that provides a roadmap to a more productive future. As part of his demonstration that engagement is a key factor to corporate success and survival, Federman cites a 2004 Conference Board Employee Engagement study. In a survey, the Board found that 62% of firms with low levels of employee engagement had below average financials. At the same time, 71% of firms with high levels of employee engagement had above average financials. These are correlations that are hard to ignore!
Rather than focus on theory, Federman gives a quick overview of the employee engagement spectrum and the factors that determine an organization’s position in that spectrum. He moves directly to practical considerations by suggesting “Questions to Ask Yourself.” This avoids the traps that so many business writers fall into, of making prescriptive pronouncements (that may not apply to the reader’s situation), or of giving formulas (that can be applied blindly).
Most of the content of the book helps the reader understand how to design measurements and surveys that will help find the answer to all those “Questions to Ask Yourself.” There is also substantial guidance on dealing with the feedback from the surveys, and on doing the necessary action planning.
Much of the heart of the book comes in the middle, in a chapter on the two core issues that destroy employee engagement: lack of trust, and focusing on risks instead of opportunities. Federman provides tips, pointers, and, yes, more “Questions to Ask Yourself.”
The second half of the book deals with several critical engagement applications. These are the steps that prevent your efforts at building employee engagement from turning into a one-shot “program.” These are:
- Dealing with turnover,
- Onboarding (bringing new employees and new managers into the organization – don’t confuse this with “New Employee Orientation”!),
- Building leaders with problem-solving skills, leadership abilities, and business acumen,
- Succession planning,
- Helping employees understand “MPV,” or “My Professional Value”, and
- Understanding the Eye of the Customer.
On the whole I think this belongs on your bookshelf, especially if you are in any way responsible for managing e-Learning. It will give you plenty to think about when you begin working on your organization’s learning strategy. I believe it will also help you to identify the kinds of results you need to be measuring in order to state, and to demonstrate, your value proposition for e-Learning. But perhaps most of all, it will give you insight into the language and concerns of the decision-makers.
Federman, Brad. (2009) Employee Engagement.
: Jossey-Bass. 241 pages. ISBN 978-0-470-38815-0. Includes premium content on the Web, using a URL and password that is in the book. List price $50, Amazon offers it, as a Kindle book only, for $40. San Francisco