- Leaders want fast results when it comes to employee engagement
- Engagement requires time and a strategic approach
- Improve your human capital strategy with immediate and long-term actions
In today's "just in time" world, we expect immediacy with pretty much everything.
But when leaders want to build a workplace culture of engagement, they're in for the long haul -- because employee engagement is not static.
While leaders are naturally fixated on scores (they know that employee engagement affects key business outcomes including 23% higher profitability), it is important to remember the employee experiences that underpin those scores.
Engagement is a series of everyday actions and interactions. As a result of each interaction within the ecosystem of the company, engagement ticks a little up, sideways or down.
And all of these interactions, big and small, add up to a huge cultural impact.
It can mean the difference between two coworkers complaining about a project over chat versus problem-solving the issue as best friends at work. The environment for the latter is fueled by serious leadership action that sets the stage for a culture of engagement.
So, when reviewing employee engagement strategies, leaders must consider both short- and long-term needs in order to make a difference.
Employee Engagement Strategies You Can Use Right Now
At the core of a company culture of engagement are leaders who listen. Really listening may not come easily to leaders and managers who are also required to be key influencers and decision-makers.
Work is busy, and it is easy for leaders to function in what coaches who practice a variety of listening levels would call "level one." Most people operate here. We're often listening to respond. At this level, we're ready for the buzzword to indicate what we should say next(or not do). It is easy to focus on reacting and trying to problem-solve and move on to the next thing. This does little to improve employee engagement.
To listen like the very best do, leaders must start with listening in order to understand the core barriers and obstacles that get in employees' way. This is critical for building engagement.
So, as the best coaches do, leaders need to elevate their listening to "level two" and ask powerful questions to unearth important insights about their people and their work circumstances. Using open-ended questions can help uncover barriers that need to be addressed. Ask questions like:
- What is getting in the way of our progress?
- What can we do to raise the bar?
- What will help us take things to the next level?
Beyond asking questions, the best leaders observe their surroundings to further inform their listening. They hear things beyond what people are saying. Leaders should ask themselves:
- Are people showing up for team meetings?
- When they do, are they participating and engaging in conversation?
- What is the mood of the place?
This may mean navigating conflict to seek clarity sometimes. Asking hard questions to discover what's underneath so that you can deal with underlying barriers to progress. This means being present for your teams so that you can uncover points of pain and resolve them together.
Leaders who are willing to invest in this way can make better-informed decisions. When they take time to assess their surroundings and hear what managers and employees are really saying, it enables everyone to have an open dialogue and provide honest feedback. This includes lending support to what is possible to change and directly addressing the unfeasible.
Managers must hear needs, get to the bottom of why they matter (by comprehending what motivates the concerns among employees), and then they can make a difference when they work with the team to problem-solve.
Maybe the solution is to make the issue, whatever it is, a team effort to resolve together -- everyone takes turns helping. Or, maybe the issue requires something larger -- action by the manager. Perhaps the team is stretched thin -- and the solution will require additional staffing. Or, maybe the outcome is just to have a heart-to-heart -- a hard conversation discussing how the team needs to live with the status quo for the time being.
Regardless of what the action is, acting on the issues raised shows employees they were heard and what they say matters.
Foundational (Long-Term) Employee Engagement Strategies
It starts at the top.
Leaders should know that making a long-term difference means investing in your employee engagement strategy as a core aspect of your human capital strategy. This means investing first in a plan to implement the strategy.
Leadership support is needed throughout any culture change journey, and this includes implementing a long-term engagement strategy.
Leaders should be ready to support their teams with the key resources needed to establish and implement a plan and to make necessary changes, large and small, along the way. There should also be milestones to measure progress. Engagement needs to be viewed as an ongoing, evolving journey, or it won't have staying power.
Manager development and selection.
A key part of this plan needs to be an investment in ongoing manager development. This is critical to ensure that each of your current managers has an opportunity to reach their full potential. They need the opportunity to learn how to listen and coach.
Next, leaders need to think long term. Organizational leaders set the stage for their managers to achieve successful engagement outcomes by selecting managers who have a natural knack for leading people.
Gallup research shows that managers account for 70% of the variance in team engagement. They model the organization's purpose and are everyday ambassadors for the organization's values to their teams. They live and breathe getting the work done with their teams -- they bring the organization's culture to life. In many ways, they are the face of the organization to your teams.
Manager selection needs to be a part of an overall human capital strategy. This starts by revisiting how managers are selected to increase the odds that leaders select managers with the potential to raise the bar for their teams.
A culture of purpose.
Even when managers are set up for success, great workplaces take hard work. This means leaders need to own building a human capital strategy that includes supporting an engagement-focused culture. At a bare minimum, leaders need to ask:
- Is our why clear enough?
- Is engaging and developing people a part of the why?
The best workplace leaders build their "how things get done around here" with a keen eye for employee engagement and employee development that is predicated on a strong foundation of purpose.
In short, if your employee engagement program is not working, start with an immediate plan to listen and act. And then buckle up -- it's a journey.
When you invest in your engagement strategy and continue to focus on immediate and long-term actions, you will start reaping the benefits of an enduring culture of engagement.