“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” – Richard Branson
Employee engagement isn’t a mystery an organization must solve or magic box an organization opens to make happen. It’s not a yearly barbecue or secret friend gift exchange. Employee engagement is a confluence of thoughtful, mindful, and strategic practices that are an integral part of your organization’s culture, everyday actions that build toward success.
So, what are the key principles of employee engagement?
1. Communication. We’ve said this before, and we’ll say it again. Strategic, multi-directional communication between management, employees, team members, and departments is part of a healthy organization culture.
Strategy: Ask for candid feedback from employees (formally, through engagement surveys, and informally) and provide actionable feedback for employee growth is a good start. A key piece of communication is listening.
2. Empowerment. Giving employees autonomy and holding them accountable for their work are powerful tools in a manager’s box. This leads to empowerment.
Strategy: Set clear expectations. Make sure everyone shares the same vision of success. Be clear on tasks – who’s supposed to do what, when, and why. Let your employees work out the how. Check in and follow-up when an employee needs support. Step back and let your employees do their jobs. Micromanaging kills engagement. Drone management Steve Jobs-style is, quite frankly, pretty demoralizing, not to mention irksome.
3. Recognition. Acknowledge and reward your employees for their contributions and achievements.
Strategy: Build a culture of appreciation and recognition. Say, “thank you” often. Provide your employees with fair compensation for their work, including meaningful benefits that fit the needs of your unique workforce. Value your employees’ time by making meetings matter. Trust us on this last one – most of your meetings don’t. Recognition and appreciation mean valuing your employees, their time, their contributions, and showing them their value through actions.
4. Opportunity. Develop the talent of your employees, providing them opportunities to learn and grow. Bored employees that feel stuck will get unstuck by going elsewhere.
Strategy: Create individual personal and professional development plans with each employee that is part of your team, then assign stretch tasks and find opportunities to help them work toward those goals. Take a skills inventory of your team and prioritize training (not everyone needs the same training). Give employees opportunities to assist continued education courses, seminars, workshops, conferences, MOOCs and more. Make your organization a learning organization.
5. Inclusion. When organizations are diverse, they are more innovative. They attract top talent and improve customer service. Truly diverse organizations have higher retention rates, lower turnover, improved employee engagement, and decision-making processes. This happens when all collaborators are respected and valued.
Strategy: Prioritize workplace policies and norms regarding diversity and inclusion. Make these policies quantifiable. Build consensus about the need for true diversity (based on numbers, metrics, statistics). Look for a skills-fit, not a cultural-fit, when hiring. Train leaders, and hold them accountable, for having inclusivity as a competency. Make inclusion an element of performance management review. Take a DEI survey, and be aware of personal, community, and organizational biases. All of these biases shape each individual’s world view and can alienate others. Just because you’ve never “experienced” it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
6. Good managers matter. People quit managers, and for an abundance of reasons. But it boils down to poor leadership. An effective manager must set objectives, create key results, track performance, and ensure staff is contributing to the strategic goals of the organization. This takes skill.
Strategy: Hire (or promote) good leaders. Develop them to be great. Leadership development should be an integral part of every level of the organization. Great managers need to possess key skills (both hard and soft) to do their jobs: knowledge of the business (including functional and technological skills), strategic thinking, decision-making, time management, project management, relationship building and so much more. This is a pretty long list. Luckily, many of these skills overlap, and most people have the capacity to develop them. Great managers are gold.
There is no magic wand to make organizations great. It’s simply strategy, consistency, and hard work. Start with an engagement survey to get an overview of where you need to improve. Then develop your teams and succeed.