News Analysis: ISO and Resolving the 'Tower of Babel'
In the absence of formal standards and nomenclature, organizations must contend with a continual debate over definitions and approaches, when in fact the answer to engagement lies in applying the same systematic approach that ISO 9001 did with quality.
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By Bruce Bolger
The world of Enterprise Engagement is like quality in the 1980s: chaotic. People talk about customer engagement and employee engagement in different silos, and all sorts of solution-providers and technologies tout the ability of their products and services to engage customers, distribution partners, employees, etc. And now, because engagement hasn’t improved much in the last 10 years despite billions spent on motivational speakers, engagement surveys, recognition and other tactics, thought leaders are looking for a new buzzword, with “employee experience” being the latest. As if merely changing the name will solve the problem.
The Enterprise Engagement Alliance and its Academy Learning Platform at EEA.tmlu.org
have embraced ISO 10018 Quality People Management standards because we believe this consensus-based process has yielded a systematic approach that addresses the true reason why engagement remains low: organizations lack a formal, research-based process that connects the dots between culture, values and goals among stakeholders and leadership, as well as addressing assessment, communications, rewards, recognition and other tactics organizations use to engage people, including the employee experience. It sounds complicated, but it’s not.
ISO and the Role of Framework and Definitions
The original ISO 9000 standards issued in 1987 can be credited with helping to rapidly advance the Quality movement by establishing a basic nomenclature and framework that is updated every three years to remain timely and relevant. ISO Annex SL and ISO 10018 can similarly increase the chances of developing a sensible, fact-based process for connecting culture to results, and reducing the sorts of debates breaking out that actually reinforce the very silos and internal struggles, just like what occurred in the Quality field until ISO 9000 showed people how to connect all facets of the organization to the Quality mission.
A recent article by Forbes contributors and O.C. Tanner Institute consultants David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom illustrates the time potentially tied up in debates in a world without standards and agreed-upon nomenclature. The article, ”Employee Experience vs. Engagement, and Three Things You Should Start Thinking About Now
”, notes that “Employee engagement is a top-down philosophy. It’s the hope of an organization that employees choose to engage with the company’s ideas, culture, work, and results. Employee experience, on the other hand, is a bottom-up concept—where processes, places and workflow are designed around the pre-existing tendencies of the employees. Just like retailers are changing based on customer activity and desire, workplaces are following suit.”
The Benefit of Agreed-Upon Definitions
Because there are no standards, people are free to invent definitions. Where do these authors derive their definition of engagement? There is nothing in the Enterprise Engagement framework, or in ISO Annex SL or ISO 10018, that defines engagement in this manner. (The official EEA definition of Enterprise Engagement is: “Fostering the proactive involvement of all stakeholders to achieve organizational goals.” As the definition implies, a fundamental element of Enterprise Engagement and ISO Annex SL and ISO 10018 is the empowerment of all stakeholders. Of course, employee experience is critical, but unless the “experience strategy” aligns with the overall culture, values and organizational goals, and provides employees the tools they need, what purpose does it serve? Also, is it the role of employees to define the culture, value, and organizational goals, or is that a prerogative of the board and management with input from employees and all stakeholders? That’s a question for each organization to answer on its own. (Sounds like a good debate for socialists and capitalists.)
What ISO 10018 does is help organizations make sense of the conflicting claims of experts and suppliers and put them into the context of a system that looks at human performance holistically. ISO standards don’t do away with creativity and unique approaches, such as the Forbes authors’ concept of having processes designed around the “pre-existing tendencies” of employees (which some might consider a debatable proposition). The Quality consulting business has flourished with myriad multiple solutions precisely because standards and agreed-upon nomenclature made it easier to do business, and because ISO isn’t owned by anyone; the standards provide an impartial referee so that organizations can focus on how to make all of the great ideas out there work better in a measurable process, rather than seek out the brightest shiny object of the month.
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Online: The Enterprise Engagement Academy at EEA.tmlu.org, providing the only formal training on Enterprise Engagement and the new ISO 9001 and ISO 10018 quality people management standards. Provides preparation for professionals to support organizations seeking ISO 10018 employer or solution provider certification.
Enterprise Engagement Benchmark Tools: The Enterprise Engagement Alliance offers three tools to help organizations profit from Engagement. Click here to access the tools.
• EE Benchmark Indicator. Confidentially benchmark your organization’s Enterprise Engagement practices against organizations and best practices.
• Compare Your Company’s Level of Engagement. Quickly compare your organization’s level of engagement to those of others based on the same criteria as the EEA’s Engaged Company Stock Index.
• Gauge Your Personal Level of Engagement. This survey, donated by Horsepower, enables individuals to gauge their own personal levels of engagement.
For more information, contact Nick Gazivoda at 915-591-7600, ext. 238, or Nick@TheEEA.org.