You don’t have to be an expert to agree with the fact that an engaged workforce is directly correlated with creating a powerful competitive advantage. That’s why it’s so important for executive leadership and business managers to actively explore strategies they can implement in their organization to drive overall engagement.
This common sense sentiment, however, can often be undermined by the fact that, as a rule, managers and CEOs don’t want to waste a ton of time, effort and resources in any internal initiative without being able to analyze, quantify and ultimately, align improved performance to bottom line business results.
That can create something of a vicious cycle, since the fundamental success (or failure) of any organizational initiative, particularly one driving employee engagement, requires, well, engaged employees.Talk about a Catch 22.
So, what, exactly, are leaders supposed to do to break this cycle and build a more collaborative, connected and collegial workforce?
First, let’s look at what, exactly, an engaged employee really is. Beyond the buzzword, it’s simple: an engaged employee is an involved employee. Spotting engagement isn’t hard if you know what you’re looking for: engaged employees are enthusiastic about their day jobs and excited about the company’s future. They also understand how their roles fit into the bigger business picture, and put the needs of the company and their colleagues ahead of their own.
To that end, engaged workers are motivated by more than monetary incentives – they understand that their financial success and that of the company’s are (in the long term, at least) two sides of the same coin. Engaged employees are devoted to doing what it takes to boost the business, and for them, the bottom line is just that.
Building a truly engaged workforce isn’t easy, particularly if you’re an entrepreneur, startup or small business without a ton of resources or a dedicated HR department to task with monitoring and improving engagement. While it’s easy to overlook engagement, it’s impossible to ignore – particularly when recruiting, referrals and retention are all directly tied to this critical core competency. That’s where the three Cs of employee engagement come in.
It’s imperative for leaders to keep their expectations for employees as simple and direct a possible, and offer direct feedback (and ongoing coaching) regarding their performance and its impact on the company. Experienced managers already know how to set up the procedures and processes required to help employees reach their professional goals and aspirations while making sure they’re mastering the fundamentals their role requires.
When going for greatness (an aspiration every manager should shoot for), feedback is extremely important. Even if those reviews aren’t always glowing. Remember, there’s no such thing as coaching without constructive criticism.
The frequency by which you communicate with your employees is just as critical as the content of those communications. It’s important to find a balance between communicating enough so that they feel their contributions are appreciated and valued while avoiding appearing like an autocrat (or worse, a micromanager).
That balance will be different for every team and organizational dynamic, but the best benchmark is simply creating an environment where people feel comfortable in their working environment and aware of how their work fits in with the bigger business. If people feel uncomfortable at the office, or that their contributions are unimportant or unrecognized, than they have no real incentive to help the organization thrive.
I know a lot of that sounds obvious, or specious, but the thing is that as much as we talk about employee engagement, it’s more difficult to achieve than meets the eye. And it all starts with communicating with your people, showing that you care about them and that little wins can be a big deal. If employee engagement suffers, so too does the business, which means that if you’ve got an issue or a weak link that’s affecting overall performance (whether a situation, a person or just an overlooked task), the only way to discover and fix employee engagement issues is by communicating with employees. It’s not rocket science, but too often, this critical competency is either overlooked or aggregated in anonymized survey results. But remember: employee engagement is personal, and that’s why your communications approach needs to follow suit.
The success or failure of a company can often hinge on its credibility. Having a good reputation is just good business. That’s why it’s important for leaders to live their values, exemplifying their ethics beyond just a hoaky mission statement or some corporate copywriting. Employees, as a rule, want to feel proud of their employers, and when their mission, vision and values actually align with their employers, it creates the ownership mentality that underpins all employee engagement. If your employees brag about where they work, you must be doing something right, right?
But similarly, when a company is either unethical or lacks credibility, than employee engagement will suffer along with overall performance. Employees can be the most effective brand ambassadors, but ultimately, they can also be the biggest brand detractors, which is why it’s so important for leaders to practice what they preach – and make sure that example is evangelized to every employee.
The power of an ethical approach and attitude to business cannot be understated. Credibility can only be fostered when there’s an atmosphere of fair play and honesty, and those overarching ethics create a powerful magnet for attracting and retaining top talent. Remember, engagement isn’t always tied to financial incentives, and while money is important, working for a higher cause is almost always more effective for engagement than working for a higher salary.
When it comes to emloyee engagement, the importance of this “C” can be hard to see, but it’s critically important. Engaged employees, after all, have the best chance for benefitting from a successful career. The business world can be a Darwinian battlefield where only the strongest survive – and this goes for both your company and your employees. By not only caring about the well-being of your people, but proactively helping them develop and thrive professionally and personally, you’re simultaneously helping the company.
That’s why it’s so important for leaders to offer meaningful, challenging work opportunities to open the door for career advancement and growth. Letting employees know what’s in it for them will inevitably lead to a sense of excitement, willingness to learn and try new things while holding them personally accountable for their professional progress by tying these important tasks and responsibilities to organizationally oriented outcomes.
Employees want to be challenged, but it can be scary for many leaders to get up the nerve to challenge the status quo and drive change. Remember that challenging employees must be coupled with confidence; you get what you give, so you should try to give as much as possible to employees in order to make them feel engaged and edified. Creating a challenge for employees makes even the most mundane tasks meaningful, because solving those challenges will build a work environment that’s stimulating, interesting and drives innovative thinking and experimentation.
Remember: employee engagement isn’t just an initiative, it’s an imperative.
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.