By: Elizabeth Waltz, originally written for San Diego HR Roundtable
Back-to-school season is upon us, and those returning to work can learn just as much as students returning to school. Today’s lesson: how to build a wildly successful organization by tapping into the talents of your employees.
Open any business magazine, and you can’t help but hear about the importance of “employee engagement.” It’s a trendy buzzword, and seems to be sold as the cure for all organizational ills. But what does it actually mean?
What is employee engagement, anyway?
Employee engagement means inspiring employees to go “above and beyond.” It results from building a workplace culture where people are free to unleash their passion and commitment to each other and to the organization as a whole. It means building a workplace culture that talented people want to be a part of—and want to stay a part of.
You know in your gut when you’re in a company that’s getting it right; you can sense it. People treat each other well. They rally together around shared goals. There’s a sense of energy and excitement. The business is successful.
You know even more clearly when a company is not getting it right. Management is secretive. Employees whisper around the water cooler. Turnover is high, and you have trouble getting new people to apply for or accept positions.
Yes, engagement matters—and is worth the effort
We’ve all heard of the companies that are exceptionally good at appealing to top talent: Google, Southwest, Zappos. Can you guess what they have in common? You saw this one coming: they’re all known for strong company cultures of engagement.
Applicants have better odds of getting into Harvard than getting a job at Google, which receives an average of 2 million job applicants each year. Imagine having a culture that attracts that much interest! It’s no coincidence that these are some of the most successful companies in the world.
Research indicates that organizations with engaged workforces beat their competitors on many critical performance measures:
- Gallup studied 1.4 million employees in 34 countries and found that the most highly engaged workforces are four times more successful than the least engaged.
- Top performers have 25% lower turnover, 37% less absenteeism, and 22% higher profitability.[i]
- The Harvard Business Review surveyed executives at top companies around the world and found that 71% of leaders rank employee engagement as a top factor contributing to their future business success.[ii]
The news keeps telling us that we’re facing a “war for talent,” so these numbers should make every leader sit up and take notice. As the economy improves and talented professionals have more options, it will become harder to attract them to your company and then keep them around.
3-point lesson plan for inspiring and energizing employees
Those who work in your organization aren’t just employees, they’re people—and they find value in the same kinds of things that you do. Just as you want respect, control, and meaning—so do they. Keep that in mind as you make decisions, and you’re well on your way to engaging them.
There is no magic bullet; no one secret thing you can do to motivate your staff overnight. Engagement comes from sustained effort over time, and success starts with treating people like more than cogs in a machine. All efforts should stem from that core principle.
Here’s a simple framework you can use to guide your efforts: the ABCs of employee engagement. How you implement these strategies will depend upon your organization’s unique culture, direction, and priorities.
A. Treat employees like adults.
First and foremost, the assumption underlying your policies should be that most people are inherently good, mean well, and want to do good work. It may sound deceptively simple, but there are many ways that organizations are inadvertently sending the message that they don’t trust their employees—and in response, employees don’t trust the leadership or give them their best efforts.
Here are a few quick ways to show that you value and respect employees as equals.
B. Be all ears.
Companies run into trouble when they assume they know what employees want. You can’t know unless you ask. Train your managers to ask good questions, to encourage their staff members to come to them with ideas, and to be attentive to the responses.
If knowledge is power, obtaining the answers to a few simple questions will put managers in a much stronger position to make informed decisions. Asking these questions is also a way for managers to demonstrate that they respect and value the people on their teams.
C. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Communication should flow both ways. For maximum effectiveness, an organization needs to create a two-way dialogue and keep employees in the loop. You need to understand what employees think and value, and they need to understand the big picture and the rationale behind decisions.
Employees are making decisions every day that affect your customers, vendors, and the achievement of the mission. If they don’t have current information, they can’t make wise choices.
The bottom line: You’re never “done” engaging employees
Engaging employees is at once an enormously complex concept and yet a profoundly simple one. It’s complicated because every aspect of a work environment can potentially engage or disengage the people who spend time there—and even the best executives cannot control all of these factors. Yet it’s elegantly straightforward in that a few small changes can have a big impact.
Motivating employees isn’t about offering free food or building nap pods. It doesn’t come from quick actions you can check off a list—it’s about handling the fundamentals well. The ABCs of employee engagement aresimple, but certainly not easy. Creating engagement has to be an ongoing organizational priority, and you have to work at it. These guidelines can get you started.
About the Author — Elisabeth Waltz is an employee engagement expert who specializes in creating win-win HR solutions: building company cultures where employees are empowered to do their best work, while developing employees who produce amazing results for the organization. Still a New Englander at heart, you can find her sampling all the cheese and cider available in her new home, San Diego. Say hi on LinkedIn atlinkedin.com/in/elisabethgwaltz.
[i] Gallup, Inc. “State of the Global Workforce,” 2013, pg. 21. Available from gallup.com, accessed August 26, 2016.
[ii] Harvard Business Review Analytic Services. “The Impact of Employee Engagement on Performance,” June 1, 2013, pg. 4. Available from hbr.org/hbr-analytic-services, accessed August 25, 2016.