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Pioneer Research: Are Your People Engage-able?

15 Sep 2016 - Blog, News, Whitepapers

Are your people Engage-able?

It is a widely accepted methodology that employee surveys are carried out to assess employees’ levels of engagement, then action planning is undertaken and improvements are made as a result to benefit both the business and its people.

While this is generally an effective approach on average, the reality is more complex, as individuals not only differ in their levels of engagement, but are also likely to differ in their ability to be engaged, i.e. their Engageability.


This was a key concept, explored in People Insight’s inaugural Pioneer meeting last month. The Pioneer Network* is a group of leading organisational development professionals and academics, who meet to explore the things that make great organisations work.


Question: Do we select the right people who have the potential to engage or to be engaged? Does this engageability change over the lifecycle? How do we get people more engaged?

There are a number of elements that are likely to affect levels of engagement in a given individual:

  • Engagement is likely to be affected directly by organisational factors[1] – which is a key reason why we carry out engagement surveys and action plan – to change these factors. Let’s call this: “What happens to me”.
  • Engagement is also likely to be affected by personal factors, such as personality[2], many elements of which may be stable, but individuals can receive coaching/training to recognise or counteract certain traits. Let’s call this “What I’m like”.
  • Engagement levels may also be affected by other personal characteristics or behaviours, such as learning styles, coping methods, knowledge, skills, personal resources, lifestyle factors[3]. These may be amenable to change through training. Let’s call this “What I do.”
  • There are likely “cohort effects” (e.g. generational effects) where a large part of a group (e.g. age bands) have been exposed to developmental experiences that affect them differentially to other groups. Related to this, different cohorts are likely to be at different life/work cycle stages[4], and are exposed to different stimuli and situations. Let’s call these “Where I’m at.”


So how does this help organisations to not only improve engagement and outcomes, but also to get more of the right people (in terms of engagement and engageability) in the first place?

Firstly there are things that can be done before a person commences employment (pre-recruitment), to get the right people (including those with high engageability), and secondly there are things that can be done afterwards (post recruitment), to improve engagement itself.

Pre recruitment

Off-the-shelf validated psychometrics (e.g. 16PF, OCEAN, MBTI, etc.) are the standard way of measuring personality or enduring behavioural traits, which could be a key element to assessing the what I’m like factor in predicting levels of engagement[5] [6] or engageability. A mapping exercise would need to be done to determine what a successful employee within your organisation “looks like”, both in terms of general cultural fit, and more specifically in terms of job role, level of seniority, etc.

Assessing what I do is possible with established assessment and selection techniques, such as situational judgement tests, work samples, assessment centres, certain ability tests, or competency based interviews. The design would need to be used to see how well an individual might “fit” into the culture of an organisation, as well as have the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities. This is likely to have a powerful predictive relationship to their levels of engagement.

Some high-profile employers are using elements of this thinking already in their recruitment processes such as Macdonald’s and John Lewis.

Post recruitment

The significant amount of engagement related activity in the employee engagement field relates to element 1) what happens to me, which is measured by various recognised methods (e.g. surveys, pulsing, employee focus groups, etc.), and followed up with action planning activities tailored to the findings.

Organisational changes or action planning may include deep organisational development or redesign activities, culture change programmes, job redesign, training needs analyses, equality and diversity programmes, or anything else designed to improve employee perceptions. This should lead to improvements in engagement and other business critical outcomes (reduced employee turnover and absence, increased profits, reduced accidents, etc).

For what I’m like, activities are likely to be focussed around coaching and training, psychometrics, and personal/leadership development activities in order for employees to understand their personalities and preferences, with positive knock-on engagement and performance effects. This could include 360 feedback, and team development activities or team-role analysis.

For what I do, assessment could include 360 feedback, development conversations, and training in areas such as resilience, lifestyle, time management, coping, PDP activities, new ways of working, etc.

For where I’m at, data may be more anecdotal or qualitative in nature, e.g. from focus groups, qualitative survey responses, or individual feedback. An awareness of the differing views and needs of different cohorts is crucial, hence exploiting all data options (e.g. from demographic cuts and analyses of survey data). Activities to focus on this element may be more eclectic, and could relate to differing communication methods for different groups, office design & facilities, rewards and benefits, flexible working, flexible training and development systems, equality and diversity issues, or more general OD or culture change programmes.



An attempt has been made above to highlight 4 key areas that may affect engagement and engageability, with implications for practice, both pre recruitment, and post recruitment. What is clear is that the true picture is even more complex, and there are overlaps between all of the different elements and interventions discussed.

Nevertheless, the idea of assessing, and/or intervening to improve engagement and engageability using these 4 components is compelling, and thinking about things in this way may provide a useful lens to help make sense of a complex and evolving topic area.

*If you would be interested in joining the People Insight Pioneer network, please contact Dr. George Margrove, Head of Consultancy, People Insight.







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