As a consultant who specializes in Internal Communication, I have the chance to speak to a variety of executives looking for support. When asking about employee engagement, I push them to be very clear about what engagement means to them.
Gone are the days when we simply measured retention rates and above-and-beyond effort. Positive engagement is not about a few good women and men; it’s about every-day actions that add up to collective results.
I like to think of engagement as capturing the heads,
hands, and hearts of your workforce.
As part of our communication audit process, we add an Engagement Solution discussion with a cross-functional group of executives, managers and employees. It’s fun to see the lightbulbs go on during a collaborative session of groups that often don’t sit and talk to one another. Often, we can clearly identify gaps that exist that are getting in the way of real and measurable results. Most importantly, everyone realizes that engagement is not a task or program that is simply handed off to the HR or Communication team; it’s a group effort, where every leader, department, team and individual plays a role.
1.Understand performance objectives – When having a discussion about the importance of engagement, business performance has to be central to the conversation. Trust me. Executives aren’t looking for simply happy employees. For them, engagement is about enabling their people to deliver their goals. That’s why making employees aware of the business plan, goals and metrics is extremely important. If they don’t know what the organization is supposed to accomplish, or these have not been articulated clearly, how do you expect them to help you get there?
2.Clearly identify actions – Once employees understand the business goals at a high level, they also need to understand what they need to do to help the organization get there. Have you ever asked yourself what it is specifically that employees need to do or do differently for success? This clarity for employees and leaders will more likely lead to success. When helping identify actions, even at a program level, we like to help you clearly define participation goals.
3.Live the brand – The brand is more than a logo and tagline. It is who we are and how we deliver. Employees who are engaged understand brand elements – mission, vision, values, ethics, visual identity, voice and unique value propositions – and strive to demonstrate the brand in all their work and interactions.
4.Believe in the cause – Many organizations have worked on defining their purpose. It’s the reason they exist. It’s their contribution to society. Great organizations tell their stories and their employees stories in a compelling way that their people want to follow. Whether working for manufacturers, food retailers, pharmaceutical companies, or mining companies, there is an opportunity to help employees internalize and deliver your differentiation and want to because they believe.
5.Connect the dots – Employees who are engaged can easily connect the dots from actions to behaviors; strategy to tactics; vision to product or service. But let’s be clear. This connection does not happen by accident or through osmosis. Employees who connect the dots are a direct result of a proactive strategy to communicate and reinforce these messages on a regular basis. When dots are not connected or seem disconnected, the risk is a lack of trust.
6.Get recognized right – I always talk about the importance of recognition as part of an engagement strategy. The key however, is to make sure that you are recognizing the right behaviour. Employees will replicate what is recognized and if the recognition actually encourages inconsistent or the wrong behaviours, they will have detrimental effects on the organizations reputation and ultimately results. That’s why I have always supported values-based and results-based recognition programs. They show employees what good actually looks like.
7.Can see progress – Many have heard me talk with disdain for launch-and-leave programs. Many companies and leaders feel like once is enough. We tell them the plan at the beginning of the year, and then don’t come back to it again until we’re measuring outcomes. In this day and age of 250 characters and sound bites, we need to demonstrate progress. Whether it is check-ins with employees on performance conversations or updates on results, it’s important that employees can see that the organization is headed in the right direction, or if it isn’t, understand why or what they need to do to change the results before it’s too late.
8.Proud of the past – Every company I have worked for or with was really proud of where it came from. I loved hearing about company history and often rags-to-riches stories. I always say that every corporation once started out with a dream by an individual or group of the difference they could make in the world. These pride moments are integral to engagement. I often advise organizations going through mergers or acquisitions to acknowledge the stories of the past. Having key messaging that reflects history tell people that they are valued. Although hard to measure, pride is a key element of engagement. Ask yourself: What should employees be proud of?
9.Fight for the future – Engaged employees are inspired by the vision and direction of an organization. It is human nature to want to be part of a winning team or even one that wants to win. By sharing environmental and competitive pressures with employees, they understand that extra effort will be required to fight. The most inspiring organizations I’ve worked for were the ones going through transformational change. They were the ones that had to change directions, prepare for uncertainty, and compete against new, innovative organizations. There is something exciting about fighting a battle together and when employees understand, they love coming together to prevail.
10.Make a difference everyday – Engaged employees and leaders realize the impact of their every-day actions and interactions. Many of us focus on the big goals and the big results, but translating this information into every-day contributions help employees realize the role they play and the value of that role. Having worked with organizations where I communicate with everyone from lawyers, accountants, architects, office administrators, truck drivers, miners, plant workers, cashiers, shippers and receivers (you get the idea), it is important that each individual understand the impact they can make every day. Ensuring you actually have a stakeholder analysis, targeted information, and a strategy to communicate the right information to the right individual can help.
I’ve always believed we can make a bigger difference from the inside out
I’ve always believed we can make a bigger difference from the inside out. An engaged workforce is more powerful than an expensive advertising or PR campaign. And it’s even worse when you spend the time and money on an external campaign that employees are not delivering against successfully. The risk is too great.
My approach to engagement has always been collaborative and operational. Focusing on annual surveys and prioritizing picnic tables, parties, and Foosball, that may make employees happy for the short-term, but don’t solve the larger issues that will affect behaviour and eventually results, is more of a waste of effort than taking the time to make the real changes necessary. The solutions are often common sense and encourage teams to work together.
The companies I’ve worked for have consistently met results, prevailed during transformational change, and have been recognized as top employers. We’d love to help your organization build inner strength through engaged employees.