Another blog on improving employee engagement

…and how to stop talking and start engaging now

I was recently invited to participate in a HR professionals working lunch where the topic under discussion was that of employee engagement. Surveys suggest that levels of engagement remain disturbingly low, with over 70% of employees being partly or poorly engaged. Not surprisingly, this is now becoming a top priority for businesses. However, while the problem is increasingly well-known, what to do about it is less clear.

Here are some key takeaways from the discussion:

Why are you doing this?

First and foremost – is your organization suffering from an engagement problem? If so, why? And what are the reasons for wanting to improve engagement? Is there an appetite for, and commitment to, an engagement strategy in the business? A lack of engagement is not a HR but a wider leadership issue. Any engagement-related initiatives must result in an improvement in business and financial outcomes.

Who are you trying to engage?

In many businesses, the modern workforce is very diverse; engaging different cultures and generations in an increasing dispersed and mobile workforce can create significant challenges in a constantly changing world. Who are you trying to engage – everyone or specific groups? How will you create a consistent level of understanding across the business? Where do you want the highest levels of engagement across the business? What is the ‘source of truth’ and where do people go to find it when information tends to be scattered?

How can you improve engagement?

There are many ways to improve engagement. The power of listening through anonymous quizzes, surveys, focus groups and the like can be so important, so long as people feel secure in giving honest feedback and providing it doesn’t fall on deaf ears. Actionable insights should form the basis for making improvements. Do you have good data? Is there commitment to doing something given the feedback? Can you communicate results quickly and effectively throughout the organization?

Are your leaders open to it and ready to change?

Feedback can be a shock – how do you manage management denial (old habits die hard) or that other initiative killer – ‘we’ve always done it this way!’ In an organization where command and control cultures exist, such improvement may be very difficult.

So, what are the ingredients of an engaged workforce?

Company values, culture, as well as clarity of purpose and direction all form the foundation for creating an engaged workforce. Good collaboration, with teams working to common goals and purpose, is another ingredient in a recipe for success. Training, development and career progression are also important, while incentives can also be useful, such as vouchers, gift cards, or spot bonuses tied to a specific outcome or initiative.

Excellent two-way communication is essential, as is speed of delivering results and feedback, with expectations being made clear through publically stated proposed actions, owners and timelines. Change leaders must be responsible and accountable for stated changes through continuous improvement supported by appropriate metrics. Often the best ways to improve engagement comes from the employees.

Ultimately though, it can be the little things practiced consistently across an organization that can make the biggest difference: recognition, appreciation, being thanked, being heard, being asked, and being included.

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