Everyone wants engaged employees. But let’s face it, when HR shows leadership an engagement score, what do they get? —Maybe a blank stare, questions about the numbers, changing the subject... What’s up with that? Well, the main reason engagement takes managers out of their comfort zone is they don’t get how to change engagement. Let’s fix that.
Engagement can be a useful umbrella concept, but it is actually an index made on a number of more concrete items. When you look at the individual items that are used to calculate engagement you have data that is easier for managers to understand and act on. For example, if we look at one of the better known engagement indices, Gallup’s Q12, we see it is made of items such as, "I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right," and "In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work."
If we go to a manager with the vague concept of engagement they may struggle. If we go to them saying that the data shows that many employees feel they don't have the material and equipment to do the job then the manager immediately gets it and it's clear how to take action (find out what tools employees are missing).
On the question about recognition you'll have to spend a little time explaining why giving recognition is important. This will be along the lines of "because the data shows regular recognition leads to better performance." After that it is pretty clear what the manager needs to do to improve their score. Furthermore, what they need to do (giving more praise) will probably take less than an hour a month.
At the heart of this is that instead of trying to convince manager's that an HR factor is important, shift the conversation on to concepts they understand and outcomes they care about.