This article originally appeared on Forbes
If you are like many top HR teams today, you’ve completed an employee engagement survey, and HR teams and managers are all studying the results carefully, analyzing who is engaged by department, location, job description, and other factors. And that’s good news because employee engagement has been directly tied to better performance. But it’s hardly ‘game over.’
But now what?
The survey is just the first step in a long-term practice of building and supporting engagement because measuring employee engagement is not the same thing as engaging employees. “Employee engagement” measurements are how you score. Engaging employees is what you do. Better performance—in profits, shareholder return, customer satisfaction, net promoter scores or other metrics—is the result of greater engagement.
If you follow standard operating procedure, you’ll implement management training to increase engagement. Managers might learn to recognize employees for extra effort or mentor and coach their staffs more closely or implement more flexible team structures. Executives will consider structural changes that might encourage greater engagement.
Isn’t someone missing in this scenario? This top-down thinking treats the frontline employee as a passive observer, but today’s agile, fast-moving organizations need just the opposite attitude. Beyond being “managed” toward greater engagement, employees should have the tools, structure, and autonomy to increase their own sense of engagement.
To determine what they need, consider the qualities of engaged employees: They are able to solve problems. They are eager to learn. They embrace change. They believe in the organization’s mission. They empathize and form positive relationships with customers, peers and—believe it or not—managers!
Research shows that a fundamental skill underlying all these qualities is resilience. Resilient salespeople bounce back from 20 rejections to make the big sale. Resilient customer care reps deal with frustrated or angry callers with empathy and patience. Resilient product managers persevere through setbacks and continue to innovate. Resilient executives inspire confidence and perform with excellence despite the nonstop pressures of leadership.
Critically, resilient employees remain engaged even during periods of uncertainty, for example when a beloved boss is transferred, or a department is restructured. Their combination of optimism and realism inspires peers to stay engaged as well.
A resilient workforce is more adaptable and agile in the face of change (and whose business isn’t changing today?) Recruiters can advertise resilience training as part of the company’s total rewards package—a benefit that says a lot more about company culture than another foosball table. For individual employees, resilience confers the sense of security needed to take risks, which is a key sign of engagement.
Analytics over time can determine which practices are increasing engagement. For example, are more employees able to solve problems on their own initiative? Does empathy for customers, vendors, and colleagues increase? In what departments, locations or job functions do people feel most connected to the mission, and where do they feel frustrated or unable to make a difference? Where are employees growing in both skills and resilience, and what effect does that have on job performance? Detailed longitudinal data like this builds a permanent and strengthening culture of engagement.
The science is incontrovertible: more than training, aptitude, loyalty—it’s resilience that helps people engage and perform. Resilience skills give employees a sense of agency, effectiveness, mission, and purpose. With resilience added as a core competency of the workforce, you’ll see next year’s engagement score headed in right direction.