Engagement Outliers

12 Dec 2017 by  Tarandeep Singh and Ajith Nair

“How can we achieve top quartile levels of employee engagement?”

This is a question every CEO is asking his business leaders and the HR head. Why? Because the top 25% of companies in terms of employee engagement scores, consistently deliver higher revenue growth and shareholder returns.

Let’s start by studying current engagement levels and required improvements, how much the high achievers have improved and how they did it. This will help decide which engagement drivers need to be focused on.

Here are some pointers from our survey trends spanning multiple industries and geographies.

Improving by an average of 1% Y-o-Y will take most companies too long to get to the top quartile. To accelerate this improvement process, a major push against inertia is required.

Some companies have surpassed the average improvement rates. These Engagement Outliers improved by an astonishing 11+ points. We have categorized them into three buckets:

In the first category are those who have shown extraordinary improvements from the bottom quartile. The second category comprises those with significant improvement from average levels of engagement. The third category is an elite class that improved by as much as 13+ points in spite of being in the top quartile.

The Most Improved Players

About 35% companies in the bottom quartile have achieved Outlier status. Their success mantra is focus on the basics.

  • Remove the barriers - Address and improve the productivity enabling factors – processes, practices & resources
  • Turn around the company culture- Fixing critical drivers like effective leadership, talent & staffing and EMVensure that employees have leaders to look up to and compelling reasons to stay on.
  • Reconnect to purpose- Outliers nurture a sense of achievement beyond financial performance and provide meaningful work experiences.
  • Develop talent- Ongoing learning and talent advancement orientation addresses a critical need of individual employees and future-proofs organizations against disruptive forces.

The Ordinary to Extraordinary

These companies are already doing the basics well. They focus on people to improve further.

  • Strengthen leadership- Reinforce perceptions of the direction, decision-making, support and accessibility of senior leaders.
  • Plan for the future- Ensure availability of the right talent in adequate numbers for sustained growth through strategic workforce planning.
  • Empower & enableImprove levels of empowerment (job design) and enablement (organizational design) to maximize people potential.

The Best Getting Better

A few companies improved on already high performance by redoubling efforts on existing culture of engagement.

  • Senior leaders must set examples- Senior leadership must continuously engage employees at multiple levels.
  • Get serious about talent management- High performing outliers continuously push the envelope in attracting, retaining and enabling critical talent.
  • Elevate rewards & recognitionWhile this aspect remains important for all companies, it becomes most effective for those in the top quartile.

“How can we quickly create a culture that improves and sustains engagement?”

Effective leadership, people programs and enabling infrastructure are critical to building a culture which nurtures high engagement levels. While differing in immediate action plans, the key tenets of any strategy remain constant.

Enable first

Providing effective processes, decision-making, systems, and resources are foundational to kick start the acceleration in employee engagement levels. This removes threats and barriers to productivity and unleashes the true people potential.

Not just a survey score

Incentivizing managers on survey scores often result in inflated figures that don’t reflect reality. A genuine change in culture is the only way to keep employees energized about their company.

Go big

Simultaneous improvement of 20+ points across engagement drivers is essential to yield a significant hike in engagement levels

All about me

A strategy intended to improve engagement has to go beyond incentivizing managers on survey scores. This often results in scores that don’t reflect reality. A genuine change in culture is required to keep employees energized about the company and their work.

Great culture from great leaders

Leaders need to drive the building of a culture tuned to employee engagement. An engaging leader energizes, steps up, connects & stabilizes, serves & grows and stays grounded.

Engage in?

Organizations need to articulate the key behaviours of engagement that need improvement. These required engagement behaviors are typically encapsulated in a strong employee value proposition (EVP) and supported by the leadership, programs, and infrastructure to back it up.


People are critical to the success of their organizations. CXOs who get this are able to ignite their people to superlative performance levels through a delicate balance of culture and employee engagement.

Aon offers an unmatched employee engagement product supported by experienced, global consultants and benchmarks, world-class technology, and augmented by a variety of Talent Solutions. Please contact one of the contributors to this article listed below to propel your organization from good to great.


Tarandeep Singh
Partner & APME Head of Assessments
Aon Hewitt India Consulting

Ajith Nair
Aon Hewitt India Consulting

Tarandeep Singh and Ajith Nair