As the global economy continues to expand, more and more companies are aggressively hiring for top talent and mission critical roles, effectively leveraging boom times for building the infrastructure required for sustainable, scalable growth.

As a result of low unemployment and heavy hiring demand, the labor market has tightened significantly, putting the onus on employers to figure out the best way not only to recruit employers, but also to ensure they’re sufficiently motivated and engaged to make sure they stick around, too.

In the increasingly cutthroat competition for skilled workers, the dynamics of the world of work seem to have shifted inexorably towards workers themselves. Winning the proverbial ‘war for talent’ now means not only hiring the right people for the right jobs, but making sure those people are competent, happy and dedicated to the larger business mission, vision and values.

Engaged employees are pretty easy to spot; they’re the ones for whom work isn’t just a place to go or a thing to do, but can channel their professional passions and fulfill some sort of greater purpose. Engaged workers don’t simply show up from 9-5 and slog enthusiastically through their duties until it’s time to go home; instead, they’re the ones whose ownership mentality and dedication drive forward both overall business and bottom line.

Even the most engaged employees, however, are aware that there are other options out there, and that they, not their employers, are now the ultimate arbiters of their own careers. That’s why it’s absolutely imperative for organizations to drive retention by finding a way to tap into top performers’ psyches and find the necessary solutions to effectively reap the most obvious benefits of employee engagement: improved satisfaction, productivity and ultimately, improved business performance. Of course, this isn’t always easy.

In a world where cliched quotes, Successories accoutrements and superficial self-help books seem synonymous with “motivation,” smart companies know that employee engagement takes more than a perfunctory pat on the back or a pithy poster on the break room wall. They know there’s no silver bullet for driving engagement or motivating employees, no one-size-fits all plan or program that’s going to work for every organization, business unit or company.

The 5 Best Employee Engagement Tips You’ll Read This Year.

That’s why it’s essential employers build personalized, targeted engagement tactics that motivate individual employees to do the best work for themselves, as well as for their organizations, every day. But while what works might be far from universal, there are some underlying principles every company can use to get started building employee engagement strategies for recruiting and retention success.

1. Clarity is Key.

clarityOne obvious disconnect between organizations and employees that often impacts motivation is the inability for companies to clearly articulate performance goals or responsibilities for individual workers, instead relying on amorphous “STAR” statements, ambiguous soft skills or subjective outcomes which fail to specify what they’re actually expected to achieve.

Employees must have a crystal clear understanding of how their role reinforces bigger business objectives, and also how their decision making process and personal performance tie into those of the organization.

Make an effort to understand the disparity that often exists in internal talent pools, as well as the differing needs and drivers that will have the biggest retention ROI for current workers; what motivates one employee might not resonate with every employee, even someone else in their exact same role, level or business unit. Tailoring goals and engagement strategies might require a concerted effort or relatively resource intensive strategy to yield optimal results, but the payoff in performance should be worth it.

In fact, engaged employees tend to be about 20% more productive than their disengaged counterparts, and generally have a performance score on formal reviews that’s a full fifth higher, on average, than workers with even neutral engagement scores.

Remember to maintain a clear barrier between segments, levels and functions and build strategies that are the most likely to challenge and motivate these smaller work groups and teams; what might work in one group could be perceived as too demanding, or even threatening, for another.

Before getting started, ask employees what they want, and constantly be open to feedback and iterative changes to policies and programs to make sure that there’s always alignment between what the employer expects and what employees actually deliver. Often, many of the most pressing problems can be easily solved by simply providing more clarity and removing ambiguity from employee communications, particularly during the performance planning process.

2, Make Performance More Than An Annual Process.

rypple_funny_friday_aug_20_2010Many employers, traditionally, reserve providing employees with performance related feedback and goal setting part of a process that’s frequently a formal, annual HR initiative (and one that most employees and managers disdain).

These formal performance reviews are important, but equally important is for employers to balance these initiatives with informal, ongoing conversations that can provide the timely, regular and constructive feedback that’s inherently impossible when these discussions are limited to an annual exercise.

Feedback is fundamental for an employee to truly understand developmental opportunities, personal strengths or areas for improvement. This means making feedback an integral and dynamic aspect of your corporate culture instead of simply another workforce management process or HR-directed policy.

It’s common for managers to provide feedback only in situations where an employee has made a mistake or somehow screwed up, and these tend to be more disciplinary than didactic; it’s important that leaders use learning opportunities to provide constructive criticism so workers know not only what went wrong, but what they specifically need to do to fix an issue and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Employees need to feel like they’re not being penalized for making mistakes, but instead are offered a learning opportunity and given the guidance required to resolve these. Often, an employee’s mistake is caused by a lack of understanding of specific accountabilities or responsibilities, so it’s important to reinforce these while balancing critiques with constructive feedback and positive encouragement. Employees who know that they can make a mistake without having to fear for their jobs tend to not only do much better jobs, but studies show that they’re much more likely to stick around in that job longer, too.

Which is the entire point, really.


3. Accentuate the Positive

34664245Performance reviews and employee feedback shouldn’t be reserved simply for fixing issues or improving performance, but also for celebrating and recognizing the outstanding contributions of individuals and groups on an ongoing basis. Creating a culture of recognition shows that an employer not only supports their employees but appreciates, rather than expects, workers’ wins and celebrates their successes instead of focusing on fixing failures.

Even though many workers join employers – or leave them – because of salary and compensation considerations, a lucrative paycheck is only one element of an effective total rewards program; supporting and appreciating workers, even when there’s no compensation considerations involved, can considerably improve employees’ perceived sense of value and worth, which is always worth it when you’re trying to retain top talent.

While we’re on the subject of salary, remember that it’s almost always not just about the money, and employees who are only driven by direct compensation aren’t the ones worth trying to retain, anyway. Instead, employers need to focus on ensuring that money isn’t a motivating factor for disengagement (since it’s the easiest fix), and making sure that their salaries are not only competitive with the market, but that the overall package motivates employees in ways a paycheck alone can’t.

Consider rewarding employees with spot bonuses or performance-related incentives that reward competencies and recognize performance, instead; this way, you’re not only making your staff feel respected and valued, you’re paying them what they’re really worth at work. Salary is a baseline, but companies whose compensation actually pays for performance almost always see better performance – and outcomes – than those who offer no incentive for workers other than a paycheck for simply showing up.

4. Transparency Is Key.

giphy (3)While a little performance related compensation can go a long way, employee engagement can’t be bought with money alone.

Engagement, rather, is a set of intrinsic feelings where a worker feels valued and respected by their employer and fully reciprocate through their omnipresent passion and on-the-job productivity.

Employee engagement all comes down to a set of feelings that can’t always be articulated, but can only be attained when workers feel comfortable enough at the workplace to do their best work. As we discussed above, workers should be compensated beyond direct compensation, but even when paying a premium for performance, companies need to make sure that any remuneration decisions are made as consistently and transparently as possible.

If employees know the type of work required to be compensated accordingly, they’ll have a much more clear idea of what work they need to do to get there.

5, Experimentation Is Key To Experience.

failingWhile you hire and promote your workers due largely to direct experience or specific expertise required by their actual roles, getting more out of top talent means encouraging career planning to emphasize breadth, not just depth, of experience.

Today’s workers don’t want to be pigeonholed or feel like they’ve got to get out of your company to move up – instead, they’re looking for roles that will provide diverse experiences and exposure to new challenges so that they’re not just doing a job, but instead, building the competencies they need to advance in their careers.

If your organization doesn’t give employees the chance to develop internally, or if your culture fails to embrace internal mobility, training or advancement opportunities as core competencies, than chances are your workers are more likely to look for a new job than focus on delivering in their current one.

When it comes to retention, it’s essential to work closely with individual employees and understand their career ambitions and professional objectives so that you can offer them opportunities or align responsibilities with these long term goals so that their short term work has a long term purpose, and they feel like the work they do today will pay off tomorrow – and provide the career trajectory they want without having to leave your company to get it.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that top talent is motivated by new challenges and constant learning experiences; no one wants a work culture that’s boring, monotonous or overly bureaucratic. Most employees can’t stay engaged if they’re doing the exact same thing every single day, and employers have to recognize it’s their responsibility to constantly seek new ways to appeal to the intellectual aspirations and professional objectives that current staff couldn’t replace simply by moving to a new employer.

Top talent has options, and if you want to make sure they stick around, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got an engagement strategy and company culture that’s worth sticking around for. Fight flight, or lose the war for talent. It’s really that simple.

About the Author: Steve Brown is a regular contributor and author on a variety of business related topics. His work can be seen on many high traffic, high visibility sites such as PeopleInsight, a UK based consulting firm providing employee engagement and staff survey expertise across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.