How to Improve Employee Engagement
By Robert Dumigan.
I have had the great fortune and pleasure of being a leader for over 20 years.
I have built and led teams of every scale and scope. From amateur soccer teams of 20 players in sport, to professional teams of hundreds of highly skilled sales engineers in Global technology companies.
I have led teams to some very successful outcomes, and I have also led teams through some more difficult periods of change. When I consider the most successful teams I have had the privilege to lead and be a part of, and consider what made those teams more successful than others, the simple answer is crystal clear in my mind.
“The most successful teams are those that share a strong emotional connection to the goals of the team, and to the success of each other”
Aligning Team Goals By Improving Employee Engagement
As a leader, if you engage all team members deeply around the goals and purpose of the team, and create an un-selfish team spirit where collective success is more important than individual success, then great things will follow. Put another way, and within the context of the corporate World, a high-level of employee engagement is the solid foundation upon which successful businesses are built.
So, in this post I thought it would be great write about the ways you can improve “Employee Engagement”, about the strength of the emotional connection employees have to the purpose of the organization and how this manifests itself in the discretionary effort employees put into their work.
I fully appreciate that much has been said and written about this fundamental concept already. However, much of what has been said and written is, in my humble opinion, overly and un-necessarily complicated.
So my objective in this article is to share 10 very simple and accessible tips that if followed will demonstrably and measurably elevate the level of employee engagement in your company.
Hire the right people
Achieving increased employee engagement all starts before the employee has even joined the organisation.
Talent acquisition is obviously a very broad topic but in the spirit of simplicity and aligned to the objective of improving employee engagement, I want to offer a single tip.
“Hire people that are passionate about what they do”
I worked in Cybersecurity for many years and as a hiring manager I learned a simple truth very quickly.
Employees that are passionate about Cybersecurity, are much more likely to develop a strong emotional connection to their work at a Cybersecurity company.
It really isn’t very difficult to discover at interview if a candidate is truly passionate about something. Just engage in conversation with the candidate on the topic, listen to their responses, observe their body language, and combine that intelligence with their documented achievements in the area. No need for an AI algorithm!
Focus on personal development
“Employees that feel the company truly cares about them are much more likely to be highly engaged employees”
Bean bags in “Zen” areas, Fussball tables and free food are all very nice and might serve to make employees a little happier, but what will truly move the needle on employee engagement is if the company authentically focuses on the personal development of all employees.
People who work for a company that ensures every employee has a personal development plan, which is aligned to achievement of a career development goal, and is in turn supported by both their Manager and by company investment in training resources, are much more likely to feel the company truly cares about them.
Manage through periods of change correctly
Change is the only constant in business. Changes in company strategy, changes in go-to-market strategy, changes in processes and systems etc… However, change, often (and unnecessarily in many cases) negatively impacts morale and engagement. Most of us fear change, but some of us embrace and welcome it.
This area, like many of the others covered by my top tips, has had many books dedicated to it.
So in the spirit of simplicity, I want to offer the best piece of advice you are ever likely to receive on managing organisations through transformational change
“Don’t forget to remind employees of everything that is not changing”
I am not saying that the organization should shy away from communicating what the change is, why it is happening, the impact it will cause etc.
But I am saying that it is super important to remember to remind your employees of everything that is not changing.
On many occasions I have seen this very simple tactic have a massively positive impact on reducing fear, uncertainty and doubt during times of change.
The many that fear change, are reminded and re-assured of everything that is not changing.
Communication is key
“Employees that are kept well informed about what is happening across the organisation, are much more likely to be highly engaged”
Continuous, relevant and appropriate communication is a key driver of employee engagement, and not just during periods of change. This has long been widely understood by organisations and their “C” level leaders.
In addition, we are also now witnessing a paradigm shift in Internal Communications, as the excellent community of Internal Communications professionals out there continue to persuade the C-suite that communication should involve everyone and be bi-directional, instead of top-down and coming only from leadership.
As such, employee communication apps that are intuitive and allow for a more “social” and bi-directional employee user experience are now considered must have not just nice to have.
They are a must have not just for improving internal communications plans, but also considered a must have for elevating employee engagement by making employees feel like they have a voice and can join the conversation.
Connect employees to organisational goals
This is another topic around which a lot of research has been conducted. So let’s recap on what we all know to be the fundamentals
- Ensure all employees know what the organizations’ strategy and related goals are – “Who We Are?”
- Ensure all employees are aware of what the organizations’ purpose is – “Why We Exist?”
- Ensure all employees are aware of how their role and efforts contribute to achievement of the strategy and fulfillment of the purpose – “How You Help The Success Of The Company?”
So far so good, right?
However, defining organisational purpose, strategy and goals, and then creating associated logos that look pretty when printed onto the walls in all of your offices is the easy part.
How do you effectively and sustainably connect employees to this?
My tip is to ensure there is a systemic way of linking employee behaviours and activities to goals, so that you can bring the goals of the organisation to life and ensure they aren’t just something written on the walls in your reception area.
This is best achieved by linking internal communications, both those published by the organisation and by employees, to the organisational goals.
Bring the organisational goals to life by linking employee behaviours, activities and achievements to them in a systemic way
Recognition should be spontaneous, visible to peers and linked to achievement of goals
You don’t need to read one of the many scholarly articles on the impact of recognition on employee performance, to understand the positive impact a simple act of recognition, like a pat on the back for a job well done can have.
What is less widely understood however is the importance of how the recognition is delivered. To explain this tip, I would like to refer back to my experiences in sport.
I coach boys soccer teams.
If 10yr old Johnny plays very well, makes many great passes throughout the game and generally serves as a fantastic example to his team mates, then there are a few different ways that I could recognise that.
I could take Johnny aside during training the following week, congratulate him for playing well in the last game, compliment his passing, and conclude by telling him “well done, keep it up”.
I bet that would make Johnny feel good and appreciated.
However, I could instead bring all of the team together directly after the match and speak of how well Johnny played, how his excellent passing created scoring chances, how his contribution helped the team achieve its’ objectives, how his attitude serves as a great example to all of the team and then lead all of the team in a round of applause to recognise Johnny.
I bet that alternative way of delivering the recognition would have a bigger and more positive impact. What do you think?
Recognition that is not delivered in the right way, is a wasted opportunity to elevate engagement.
It sounds so simple and obvious, but when we look at the detail of the recognition programs many organisations have in place, they are not spontaneous as they often require layers of approval, they don’t support linking recognition to organisational purpose and goals, and very often there are no notifications sent when recognition is given and received so that the recipients peers have no awareness of the achievement.
If you want to show your team members that you appreciate them, check out this huge list of employee appreciation ideas.
The vast majority of companies are layered with organisations within organisations and cultures within cultures.
This is especially the case for multi-national companies.
So in terms of improving employee engagement, equally important to the emotional connection an employee has to the organisation and its’ goals, is the emotional connection an employee has to their team and team members.
We all want to feel a strong emotional connection to the community we are a part of and to feel that we are part of something positive. We are social animals !
Healthy organisations have communities within communities and cultures within cultures
To improve employee engagement in this area, organisations should recognise and encourage the existence of communities within the organisation.
Communities can be office locations and/or divisions and teams.
They can equally be groups of employees that share a common professional or personal interest.
Digital tools are necessary and should be provided to encourage the creation of communities that drive collaboration, knowledge sharing, increase camaraderie, and ultimately elevate employee engagement.
Q: How do you know if employee engagement is increasing or decreasing if you don’t measure it ?
A: You don’t
Don’t expect what you don’t inspect
It is important to be able to measure the engagement level and related engagement drivers, not just at a point in time but also how they are trending over time.
Research has also shown the importance of more qualitative measurement via employee surveys, and soliciting feedback and suggestions from employees via polls.
It is important to employee engagement that employees believe their opinion matters and trust that feedback will be listened to and acted on.
So a tip in this area – Keep it Simple (!) – use polls and pulse surveys to capture employee feedback.
Usage analytics from the companies’ internal communications app can also serve as one strong indicator of the level of employee engagement.
We need to move on from complicated 50 question annual employee surveys that take months to interpret, learn anything from and then take action on.
Shorter and more frequent “pulse” surveys coupled with more ad-hoc employee feedback via polls is now widely regarded as best practice.
Don’t underestimate the impact of people managers
Investing significant focus, time, resources and budget in elevating employee engagement can easily amount to nothing, if your strategy does not recognise that line managers are THE most important stakeholders when it comes to improving employee engagement.
A team manager with poor communication skills and/or a lack of empathy can impact the improvement of employee engagement in a significantly negative way.
I completely accept that this issue is much more nuanced than there simply being “good” and “bad” people managers.
Where there are “bad” managers, often the underlying issue can be organisational, for example where span of control is so large, and the manager is being asked to manage so many people that they inevitably fail to do so successfully.
I also fully accept that addressing the challenge is equally nuanced and starts with ensuring the recruitment of people managers, is focused on attracting positive and empathetic leaders with strong communication skills.
Provide your people managers with the tools they need to communicate with their team and to encourage an un-selfish spirit of teamwork and collaboration
That said, I do have a simple tip to offer in this area – provide your people managers with the tools they need to communicate with their team, to recognise their team and to encourage an un-selfish spirit of teamwork and collaboration.
Email alone is not a fit for purpose tool to communicate in an engaging way and to create a sense of community.
Managers must be able to ensure that communication is bi-directional and can come from everyone.
The people manager also needs to be able to link employee behaviours and activities to achievement of team goals.
They should be able to recognise team members,for making a positive contribution to the achievement of those team goals.
Remember, in a healthy organisation there are communities within communities and cultures within cultures.
The human touch
Last but most definitely not least, never forget to simply be kind.
Yes indeed, I have left the most obvious tip to improve employee engagement for last.
Being obvious though does not necessarily mean that every organisation is authentically focused on the need to create and encourage a culture, where colleagues respect and are kind to each other.
Where diversity is celebrated and where openness, transparency and honesty are values demonstrated by leadership.
I expect we have all seen the Richard Branson quote a thousand times:
Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.
Seeing it a thousand times doesn’t make it any less true.
But just how do you “take care” of your employees?
By providing a competitive salary and benefits, providing learning opportunities and ensuring career development paths exist.
By ensuring all employees have the right tools to perform their job, providing regular feedback in parallel with fair and balanced performance reviews etc. are all super important.
However, my tip in this area is even more basic and simple.
How You Can Improve Employee Engagement: Conclusion
Encourage a “How are you?” culture.
We all have lives outside of work, some, all or none of which we may want to share with our colleagues.
But creating a culture where employees ask their colleagues that question, actively listen to and are genuinely interested in the response, will help to foster a deeper sense of community and could more positively improve employee engagement than all of the other tips combined.