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Building engagement from the ground up: How top organizations leverage networks to drive employee engagement

Cross, R, Gray, P, Gerbasi, AM and Assimakopoulos, D (2012) Building engagement from the ground up: How top organizations leverage networks to drive employee engagement Organizational Dynamics, 41 (3). pp. 202-211.

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By all accounts, the frenzy and stress associated with many jobs today have had crippling effects on people’s willingness to bring their best to work — a situation described by an industry commentator as ‘‘a perfect storm for disengagement.’’ Although many organizations have implemented programs to keep employees committed and productive, employee engagement remains at an all-time low. According to a 2011 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Manage- ment, 99 percent of HR (human resource) leaders anticipate that employee engagement will continue to be a key strategic challenge. It appears to be a significant problem even among ‘‘high potentials’’ — rising stars who receive additional care and feeding as they are groomed for success. Indeed, a recent Corporate Executive Board survey found that one-third of high potentials felt disengaged from their organizations, and 12 percent were actively looking for a new job — a figure that will surely grow with economic recovery. Efforts to improve employee engagement typically focus on select populations — generally high potentials and leaders. A May 2010 article in Harvard Business Review by Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt describes the lengths companies go to in order to keep top talent engaged: for example, Johnson & Johnson handpicks rising stars for multiyear individualized plans centered on extensive leadership development and coaching, while Procter & Gamble channels high potentials into roles that offer strong developmental opportunities. Other companies try to tackle engagement through financial incentives such as profit-sharing plans, but these are generally offered only to the relatively few highly visible leaders or experts whose engagement (or lack thereof) could have an outsized impact on profitability. Evidence continues to mount that such efforts, though well intentioned, often do not live up to expectations. A significant driver of this is the limited scope of these programs; the chosen few reap the rewards while the majority looks on with envy. When directed largely at high potentials or select leaders, such programs touch, at most, 10 percent of an organization’s workforce. What about the remaining 90 percent? Why focus on the tip of the iceberg when an organization’s performance depends on all employees being more engaged and bringing their best efforts to work every day? Our research over the past decade has uncovered an important means of assessing and influencing employee engagement by analyzing and working through the informal networks of relationships that exist in every organization. Although these networks are often invisible to senior leaders, they have a pervasive influence on most employees’ experience of and engagement with work. They are critical to how people find information, solve problems, and capitalize on opportunities. They are paramount to how high performers get their work done and distinguish themselves over time. And they are intimately intertwined with employee satisfaction, well-being, and retention. Our approach combines traditional means of measuring employee engagement with organizational network analysis (ONA) — a rich set of analytical tools used to assess patterns of collaboration throughout an organization. While engagement ratings reveal where employees are (or are not) enthusiastic, committed, and devoted, ONA uncovers their relative influence on colleagues and their position within the organization’s collaboration network. Together, they point to two novel means of developing engagement in the workforce: (1) building energizing relationships and (2) identifying and then leveraging informal opinion leaders. Below, we discuss these important and sometimes complementary approaches to improving organizational performance from the ground up.

Item Type: Article
Subjects : Management
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > Surrey Business School
Authors :
Cross, R
Gray, P
Gerbasi, AM
Assimakopoulos, D
Date : July 2012
DOI : 10.1016/j.orgdyn.2012.03.004
Copyright Disclaimer : © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 11 Aug 2016 14:39
Last Modified : 31 Oct 2017 18:34

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