Time and time again, research has shown a strong relationship between employee engagement and performance, yet organizations often fail to assess these two important factors together. As a result, companies miss out on identifying critical insights which could help drive better individual, team, and org-level decisions. Though many People leaders want to better understand these relationships, they often don’t have the right resources or tools to effectively connect the dots between engagement and performance.
This challenge was front and center for PwC Australia, a professional services firm, when they discovered through an internal survey that their Senior Consultants (SC’s) were prone to lower engagement and higher attrition in comparison to the rest of their workforce.
Given that Senior Consultants makes up a quarter of the organization’s workforce and are key contributors to PwC Australia’s success, their retention and engagement outcomes have a huge impact not just financially costing the firm millions, but an impact on the firms’ culture and retaining the future of the firm.
PwC Australia’s Human Capital (HC) team set out to identify the root of these problems. Camilla Britton, the Alignment Leader across People, Partnership and Culture for PwC Australia, said we wanted to better understand how these issues evolved over the course of the Senior Consultant’s journey – especially when it came to their highest-performing SC’s.
The team knew it would take a powerful tool to get under the hood and explore the problem in-depth, so PwC chose to partner with Culture Amp to understand how they can better engage and retain their high-performing SC’s.
“Senior Consultants are such a critical segment of our workforce and are our future leaders,” says Camilla. “That’s why we asked Culture Amp to dig deeper into our data and join the dots between performance and engagement, help us understand the drivers behind why our senior consultants are leaving us, and how we can help them stay and thrive.”
PwC Australia initially took the problem into its own hands. The HC team conducted internal research to explore why the Senior Consultant cohort was not as highly engaged as other employees and was harder to retain. While the findings were helpful, they realized that they also need external expertise and benchmarks to compare the results to, which is where Culture Amp’s platform came in handy.
“Culture Amp’s Foresight Engine really helped us connect the dots between performance and engagement. It gave us a lot more specificity in our data and challenged some of our underlying assumptions from our internal research,” says Camilla. “Plus, it surfaced some really, really interesting insights so we could get crisper around what we needed to do moving forward.”
Here are four of the main findings Camilla and her team uncovered in partnership with Culture Amp:
Finding 1: Engagement differs by performance level
Comparing their engagement and performance data confirmed the strong relationship between engagement and performance. Specifically, there was also a 15% point difference in engagement favorability scores between high and lower-performing Senior Consultants in 2019. This difference grew slightly from 2018 despite a minor overall drop in engagement amongst Senior Consultants.
Finding 2: Tenure has an effect on attrition
The core reasons for attrition change as SC’s move through different tenure stages. For instance, earlier-tenured top-performing Senior Consultants who felt negative about diversity & inclusion (D&I) efforts and colleagues’ contributions were 1.7 times more likely to leave within a year compared to other PwC Australia employees. But as those top performers moved beyond the six-year mark, concerns about rewards and recognition were the top indicator of attrition at 1.8 times.
Finding 3: There’s an inaccurate perception around equal pay
Despite active D&I initiatives, such as thorough compensation analyses and ongoing communication that demonstrated there is no gender pay gap at PwC Australia, Camilla, and her team was surprised to find that there was still a negative perception around equal pay. Specifically, half of the high-performing female Senior Consultants felt unfavorable about “equal pay and incentives” while only 39% of high-performing male Senior Consultants felt unfavorable.
Finding 4: There’s a positive perception around performance
Top performers generally felt quite positive about the performance process, performance conversations, and understanding what drives outcomes. On the flip side, lower-performing Senior Consultants had a much less favorable view. From an organizational justice perspective (which is how employees judge the behavior of an organization) this means PwC Australia is in a fairly good position as to how conversations are had with our people throughout the performance process - despite top performers generally feeling not as positive about compensation outcomes.
Translating data into action
These insights proved to be very revealing for Camilla and her team. Certain findings, such as the negative perception around equal pay, were especially surprising given that PwC Australia invests a ton of resources on D&I initiatives. Not only do they have a supportive CEO and leadership team, but they are also the first professional services firm in Australia to transparently communicate their 0% gender pay gap.
“This blew us away because as a firm D&I is really important to us," says Camilla. “Our executive board, our leaders, and our CEO are all measured on it. And we have some really significant metrics as a firm that we track. Our CEO is also a male champion of change, and he's such a phenomenal individual in terms of his leadership across the firm and in the market around diversity and inclusion.”
While some of the other findings weren’t quite as unexpected, the PwC Australia team still found it incredibly helpful to be able to connect the dots and reveal key insights between performance and engagement.
“It's no surprise that high-performing employees are more engaged,” says Camilla. “But I think having that confirmation and then understanding the motivators that keep people is critical. It forces us to ask ourselves: what do we need to do more of to ensure that we continue to challenge them and support them to move forward in our organization?”
Now that the PwC Australia team was armed with the information they needed, the next steps were to take action and create change. Below are the initiatives they came up with:
Understand what work-life flexibility means for a Senior Consultant. According to Camilla, work-life flexibility really stood out to her in terms of being a leading indicator of attrition for their more tenured high-performing employees. While the definition of work-life flexibility may differ by individual, she wants to reflect on how PwC Australia can continue to accommodate the general needs of the Senior Consultants so this becomes even more meaningful for each individual.
Find a way to promote existing D&I efforts. PwC Australia has many meaningful D&I initiatives that they measure, track, and communicate. The fact that Senior Consultants early in their career track isn’t necessarily on the same page about this indicates that these efforts need to be more broadly shared, communicated, and understood.
Amplify rewards and recognition for top-performing Senior Consultants. The findings made clear that rewards and recognition are extremely important to this cohort. Previously, PwC Australia prioritized recognition and didn’t focus as much on the rewards aspect given reward benchmarking is done annually. However, their work with Culture Amp disproved this assumption and now Camilla and her team are strategizing ways they can both recognize and reward their Senior Consultants in more meaningful ways.
It’s both important and empowering to connect the dots between engagement and performance. Because PwC Australia took the initiative to explore their data in-depth, they were able to produce extremely specific solutions designed to drive change within one of their most valuable roles.
Improve employee engagement, performance, and retention
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