Employee Engagement vs. Employee Alignment

Have you noticed how many law firms have won awards for their workplace strategy? In the quest to attract and retain talent, many law firms build an “employer brand” through the pursuit of third-party recognition.

This seems like a no-brainer for any organization. What firm wouldn’t want to be known for having a satisfied workforce? And who wouldn’t want to work for one?

A lot – not all, but a lot – of these rankings measure how engaged your workforce is.

Employee engagement focuses on attitudes. Do people feel good about working for your firm? Are they happy with their experience and their interactions with colleagues? Mutual commitment, loyalty and belief in the core purpose of your firm are hallmarks of an engaged workforce.

These measures are important. But they might not be enough.

In a flat or turbulent market, firms need to reconfigure their capabilities to stay profitable. For example, they might develop innovative operational processes or diversify the work they’ll pursue. This requires a workforce strategy that pivots on alignment.

Employee alignment focuses on behaviour. Are employee efforts in line with your overall goals? How are those efforts measured, rewarded and if necessary, adjusted? Do you regularly help people develop the capabilities necessary to succeed?

According to Cees van Riel of the Reputation Institute, alignment presumes that people at your firm know what your overall goals are and why they are being pursued.

That might be a tall order in some workplaces. It’s worth pursuing if you’re serious about improving value, though.

In his book “The Alignment Factor”, van Riel cites research done by the Corporate Executive Board that produced the “10:6:2 Rule”:

“Every 10% improvement in alignment increased an employee’s effort level by 6%, which in turn generated a 2% improvement in the employee’s performance.”

That could add up to some pleasant profitability reports, not to mention reductions in employee turnover and recruitment expenses as well as a boost to your reputation.

Alignment is about more than showing up to work every day and feeling good. It’s about doing the right work in the right way (and, yes, feeling good about it). It’s  a more holistic approach to workplace strategy than engagement.

Next week, I’ll continue the discussion by illustrating ways to start measuring employee alignment – what to look for, what to prioritize and how to create a system with integrity. If you have any relevant examples from your firm or others that you’d like to share, please send me a note in the meantime.

I originally published this article on Canada’s online legal magazine, Slaw.ca, on July 30, 2014.