Building Engagement is About Balance

Puzzle PiecesA large number of surveys have been completed over the years, asking what employees are really looking for from their employers. Some say money doesn’t count, it’s more about the perks.  Others say the perks don’t count and it is all about opportunity.

In my experience is there is no single answer to this question. As humans, we are a paradox; in some ways, we are very simplistic and in some ways, we are very complex but the key is in the balance between the two. In our perceived complex work environments today we continue to look for simple solutions which may or may not help with arriving at effective engagement.

I have seen a number of lists that proclaim they can solve the engagement problem in anywhere from 3 to 5 steps and while these steps are all good influences, they don’t have the impact that is promised.

I have talked at length about the value of engagement and the fact that engaged employees are an invaluable asset in today’s global, competitive workforce. You should be aware of the fact that engaged employees are more committed, passionate, and inspired — and they inspire others with their example. But the big question is how can you empower employee engagement at your own organization?

Below are seven not so simple desires or elements that are known to build employee engagement. Much has been written around these but we continue to ignore the message that they are important to growth and they take time, effort, and commitment. Your teams must feel secure in the balance of these items to be truly engaged, participative and productive.

Keep in mind, even though there are only 7 in this list, there are many other elements that can have an impact plus under each one there is an infinitesimal number of options, iterations or applications based on the uniqueness of your organization.

That being said, you can’t be fear locked! All you need to do is pick a starting point and begin investigating, asking questions, continuous learning, adopting, listening and retrying to get it right.  It is, by design, a dynamic process, please don’t view it as a destination! So just START SOMEWHERE!

Desire for great leadership

To be engaged employees must have meaningful relationships with their managers and senior leaders. For example, do you realize, according to some research, that praise from a direct manager is almost twice as effective at motivating employees as giving them stock options?

Make things PossibleThe great aspect of this is that praise is free! Effective, honest and transparent praise can be one of the single greatest predictors of employee commitment resulting in a high retention factor and reduced turnover. This simple act builds the relationship between employees and their managers. I don’t want to understate this fact: when it comes to engagement, good leadership is critical.

When employees feel they are trusted to perform their job functions they have the freedom and confidence to engage creatively and participate in solving problems, which in turn creates a feeling of value, maximizing their contribution.

Always make sure you keep any commitments you make to them. Broken promises will remove any feelings of trust they may have! When you keep your commitments it also influences your people to do the same thing when they make commitments.  Always ensure that leaders train new leaders.

Desire for Honest & Transparent Communication

In my opinion, great leadership always starts with communication. This means that you need to make sure you communicate with your employees openly, honestly, transparently and often. Don’t talk TO them, talk with them!

Never hide news of business failures from your employees, don’t let them hear about it from anywhere else, especially outside of the company. Hearing it from you will engender trust and confidence, even in negative situations.

Generally, people engage more readily in a task or project if they know both the purpose of the task and the contribution their effort will make to a bigger picture. I always encourage leaders to spend time ensuring their employees understand the business goals and vision. This activity will be rewarded with increased levels of engagement. This isn’t just about organizational flow charts, canned mission statements, and revenue charts.

People really want to understand how the goals that they accomplish contribute to the overall success of the company.

Desire for a positive, thriving culture

It is a well-established fact that a positive corporate culture results in happy employees who want to come to work every morning. If people enjoy coming to work it creates a number of other positive effects such as making the company more profitable.

If you aren’t convinced, then look at the research from Gallup, Edelman, Aon, Deloitte, PWC and many others that indicate that investing in employee engagement can have measurable and positive impacts on many areas of the P&L ranging from revenue to profits.

A crucial part of fostering employee engagement is acknowledging and utilizing the unique skills and qualities a person brings to the table, including respect for their intelligence and contribution

Studies have shown that if people aren’t given the chance to satisfactorily use their skills and talents, their level of engagement is reduced and their job commitment diminished.

Respect also goes beyond the projects and tasks assigned to work. Understanding and supporting an employee’s commitments outside of work, such as family, charitable responsibilities, or community service activities increases loyalty and job commitment, both of which translate into profit for you!

Desire for rewards and recognition

With the rise of gamification and the growth of automated tracking, many employees say they would work harder if they were recognized more.  This includes formal, structured recognition, like years of service or employee-of-the-month programs, as well as informal programs like company “points”, birthday cards, badges for new skills or even thank-you cards.

While many firms offer bonuses and incentives as part of a structured compensation package, recognition rewards don’t need to be about money for them to be effective. By far, the most effective motivator of all is public recognition where the recipient enjoys the elevated social status, the joy of praise and, possibly, increased responsibility and promotional opportunities.

Learn to celebrate every win, not just the big ones, embrace lessons learned from initially failed tasks. Incorporate this into every facet of your company. Have an internal newsletter, introduce an employee of the month award, or just do a “shout-out” in the middle of the office!

A well-defined recognition and reward system allows employers to effectively differentiate between good and poor performers and tie recognition and rewards directly to the behavior that matters for the success of the organization. What gets recognized gets repeated and people become more engaged.

Desire for professional & personal growth

The opportunity to develop new skills and capabilities is vitally important to ambitious employees. The best employee development really occurs on the job and usually takes the form of new projects or responsibilities, but could also include regional conferences, new reading materials, or certification courses. Keeping your employees engaged is enabled by finding out how they’d like to stretch and giving them appropriate opportunities for growth in that direction.

Generally, I find that employee who are fully engaged and demonstrate some level of job satisfaction and initiative don’t want to be stuck doing the same tasks day after day. If you really want people to be productive, contributing members of your team, then offering career growth opportunities is a sure-fire way of making that happen. But it needs to go further than just providing training, there need to be ways they can effectively use the new skill or process they have learned.

Other ideas for encouraging this in your organization can be compensating advanced education, funding attendance at conferences, provide access to career coaching and participation in internal mentorship programs.

Don’t ever refuse to offer career development because you fear they will leave your employ. Career development enhances employees’ skill sets, which will further enrich your business, however, if you don’t allow them to exercise the new knowledge or skills they will leave for a company that is willing to allow them to use them.

Remember career development should communicate to employees that they are important members of the team who are expected to learn new and better ways to meet goals and objections. If you are perceived as not caring, then plan on turnover issues being a huge part of your day.

Desire for accountability & performance

Generally, I find that everyone wants to be part of a winning team or organization that is providing solid, recognized services or products to clients. People who perform well feel good about themselves, the people they work with and where they work.

But like any team, they need coaches who can provide honest feedback. Immediate praise reinforces desired behaviors, and timely criticism can help avert future problems before they snowball.

People work their best and hardest when driving to meet a specific, well-defined challenging goals.

Goals can be applied to jobs that entail punching out widgets on an assembly line, or to the CEO running the company. Every employee should know what is expected of them in their job and ideally have had a part in developing those goals.

Well defined goals give employees and leaders a roadmap to both chart their progress and determine the resources needed to accomplish the goals down the line. More importantly, setting goals infuses daily work with a sense of purpose.

Engaged, happier workers usually consider their jobs meaningful, which adds to their feelings of value, which as we have already learned, improves your bottom line.

Studies show that people who were focused on the purpose and vision of their jobs exhibited a 60 percent drop in absenteeism and a 75 percent reduction in turnover – performance metrics any company would be pleased to have!

Desire for a clear vision and values, internally and externally

When you have a clearly defined vision and well-discussed values, people can better understand the big picture and how they fit into it. They can make a conscious choice in terms of alignment of vision and values they agree to work with on a daily basis.

A clearly communicated vision and statement of core values give employees something to rally around. If employees feel like a part of something bigger than themselves, they are much more likely to go above and beyond to contribute to that greater purpose. Clear vision & values when aligned between employees and leadership allows for people being more accountable and participative in the growth of the company.

I find that most people want to know that they are “getting it right”, or at the very least, know how they can improve to be the best they can be.

Providing consistent feedback opens up communication between employees and leaders and the benefits flow both ways – employees gain a better understanding of where they’re succeeding and what requires more attention; leaders glean insight into office dynamics and daily workflow.

But feedback is effective only when it is delivered objectively and fairly and it should always be treated as a tool of improvement, not punishment. Failure happens so the key is encouraging people to pick themselves up and try again, not get paralyzed by fear of retribution.

Summary

I have been studying and applying engagement processes for the last 15 + years and find that we so often choose expediency over long-term development and that is why these seven concepts are so important. We need to focus less on increasing profit dollars at all cost and focus on developing people at all costs. Engagement studies show us that revenue and profits will grow better with engaged people.

I am also a fan of the flat or self-managing organizations wherein to be successful you must have self-managing individuals so these seven concepts need to be understood for the leadership style of the individual as well.  It will be difficult for any individual to survive in a self-governing organization if they don’t subscribe to these concepts.

I truly believe that moving from hierarchical structure to a self-managing model in business will help organizations minimize risk and grow in our increasingly VUCA business world.

If you would like help understanding how to apply these in your organization, please check out my website at TLGCoaching.com or call me to discuss the opportunity at 630-454-4821.