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“Show Appreciation and Gratitude”, Leadership Lessons With Daniel Bodonyi, Creator of Attuned

Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel Bodonyi, Head of Product. Having led the team at Wahl & Case that created Attuned, from extensive field research to a full-fledged SaaS tool, which reached the finals at startup competitions at the Wharton People Analytics Conference and Unleash (formerly HR Tech World), Daniel is continuing to develop the product and helping clients on three continents get the most out of their employee engagement initiatives.

Thank you for doing this! Do you think employee engagement is just a buzzword or feel-good initiative, or does it have a quantifiable, measurable impact on companies’ bottom line?

If you’ve ever felt excited, enthusiastic and energized — in other words, engaged at work, you probably have a good intuitive grasp of how much an engaged employee can accomplish. By contrast, If you’ve ever had to deal with an off-handed, inconsiderate or downright irritated customer service representative, you know how much damage a disengaged employee can cause a brand.

Decades of research into the outcomes of employee engagement bears this out. Study after study has found that engaged employees and teams perform better, take more initiative, and behave more innovative. This, in turn, leads to a measurable increase in customer satisfaction and loyalty, sales, and profitability. Glassdoor’s 50 Best Places to Work and the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For consistently and notably outperform the overall stock market.

Gallup has been measuring employee engagement levels for a long time. What can companies do to see meaningful improvement?

There are many reasons why employee engagement programs might go awry, including measuring the wrong thing, failure to promptly communicate or act on the results, lack of executive buy-in to make profound changes if needed, and insufficient attention paid to developing and empowering people managers at every level in the organization. The best employee engagement programs will have strong executive sponsors with enough clout in the organization to make tough choices if needed, employ measurement tools that meet strict scientific standards, connect engagement metrics with business outcomes, communicate transparently and act promptly on the results, and work closely with line managers to give them the training and tools they need to become the best managers they can be.

Having said that, we at Attuned also believe there is an underlying methodological problem with how companies have been measuring employee engagement. Most companies use measurement tools that assume we all care about the same things.

We know from decades of psychological research that this assumption is false. Engagement is closely related to one’s values, and values are preferential, meaning that what matters to you most may not be all that important to another person. People are extremely diverse in what combination of factors drives them to perform at their best, and failure to acknowledge and measure this complexity will lead to engagement programs that only work for the proverbial and non-existent average employee.

Whose responsibility is employee engagement? Can HR departments alone create an engaged workforce, or do other parts of the organization need to be involved?

It takes a village, and then some! If you’re in the C-suite, you need to communicate the importance of employee engagement and provide the requisite resources for a cutting edge program. If you’re in HR, you need to connect engagement metrics to business outcomes, be up-to-date on psychological research, psychometric methods and related technologies, translate analytics into action informed by best practices, and provide training and resources to people managers across the organization. People managers, in turn, need to engage with their team members as individuals, understand what drives them, and provide the right incentives and resources for them to reach their true potential.

What are three things that a manager can do today to motivate their team?

First, show appreciation and gratitude. Thank a team member every day for something they’ve done. And don’t just say thank you: be specific, use adjectives to describe how they’ve been prompt or proactive, and make an effort to make it personal. The best feedback I’ve ever received from a manager was a “Stay Calm and Let Daniel Handle It” T-shirt. Such thoughtful gestures can go a long way in energizing your team.

Second, ask your team what they need. Are there any tools, training or information you can provide to help them do their job? Any obstacles you can help remove? Management is a support function: if you look at the first modern-day org chart, from the 19th century, you’ll see that managers don’t sit at the top of an imaginary pyramid, but at the bottom, at the root of the chart, supporting the rest of the organization like its roots support a tree.

Third, establish a channel for upward feedback. Ask team members regularly what they think you should do differently to help them succeed at their jobs. Ask them to rate your performance as a manager on key criteria like information sharing, clarity of roles and responsibilities, delegation, helpful feedback, on-the-job training and others. By modeling transparency and showing some vulnerability, you’ll make it much easier for your team to feel you’re all in this together, and to accept similar feedback from you.

Can you tell us more about Attuned and what separates your company from others?

First, we personalize the engagement survey experience for employees. Attuned measures what matters most to every individual, and sends people personalized questions based on their own motivational drivers. We don’t treat people like robots, as if they all cared about the same things, but as individuals, allowing companies to create and manage psychological diversity in the workplace.

Second, it is predictive, using a combination of clustering and decision tree algorithms to predict where and why employee turnover might occur in the organization. This way, we help companies focus their engagement efforts on the areas that represent real risk. No company has unlimited resources, so it’s crucial for our clients to know what actions are most likely to meaningfully move the needle on employee engagement.