20 Steps To Hacking Employee Engagement

This is You.

You are leading a medium-sized company and there’s a ton of things on your mind, at any one time.

Starting from growth to innovation to cash flow to that company retreat you’ve been putting off for too long. But on this specific occasion, the thing is employee engagement.

Your healthcare costs have been going beserk. Productivity has been dipping and turnover skyrocketing. The quality of work itself has been suffering.

On top of it all, your managers seem to be going through a rough patch motivating executives. They hardly ever communicate the mission and vision of the company and they don’t seem to be able to inspire those around them. 1 on 1 conversations are rare.

And then you read in the Bersin report that US organizations spend 720 million dollars per year on employee emotivation. Or in the Gallup State of the American Workplace report that disengagement costs businesses between 450-550 billion dollars per year.

Yes. It is that bad.

 

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The size of the problem

In 2014, 68.5% of employees in the US considered themselves “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work, according to a Gallup poll. And this was the highest peak of employee engagement since 2000.

Engagement began to drop in 2008, according to the same study, then continued to fall without recovery until 2011. Between 2011-2014, it has been growing at pace, reaching its peak with the figures shown above.

Among the industries, employees in manufacturing or production jobs recorded the lowest levels of engagement with an average of 23%. Employees in transportation (25.5%) and service (28.2%) roles also had engagement levels that fell well below the national average.

The least engaged of all age groups were, of course, millennials. The explanation for this, the study goes, is that they cannot be said to have the opportunity to do what they do best. Their skills and talents are not properly put to use in today’s job market, which is why they quickly lose motivation.

Conversely, the same research shows that the top 25% of teams — the best managed — versus the bottom 25% in any workplace — the worst managed — have nearly 50% fewer accidents and have 41% fewer quality defects. This translates into substantially lower healthcare costs.

Engagement also drives growth. Gallup found 9 business indexes directly correlated to it: customer ratings, profitability, productivity, turnover, safety incidents, shrinkage, absenteeism, patient safety incidents, quality (defects). And the difference it makes between organisations with motivated employees and those without them is in the neighborhood of a 240% boost in performance-related business outcomes.

Gallup writes: “Organizations in the top decile of engagement outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share, and have 90% better growth trend than their competition.” And still, worldwide employee disengagement soared at 87% as of 2013.

 

So how do you hack engagement?

Here’s a list of actionable advice that will help you cross out employee engagement from that TO DO list.

Start with the managers. Managers account for 70% of the variance in engagement scores. Hire for people skills, as well as for results-oriented performance. Make sure those people who manage your teams have the flair and the tact to do just that. They will support and encourage your executives in their development within and without the company. Get them to build a relationship with employees and give work a touch of ‘personal’. Avoid “managers from hell”, as Gallup CEO Jim Clifton calls them. They will not be able to perform without a team beside them. And the team is not going to be there forever, unless it feels it’s getting just as much as it is giving. Justin Bariso hits a chord when he says, focus on giving and motivate people to give back, rather than talking on and on only about what you need to receive.

— When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion. [1]

Cultivate leadership at management level. Ask of them to be well versed in forming and communicating a vision. Tell them to remind their teams of the mission of the company and their own part in it. Expect them to successfully influence people and garner support, through soft power. And make them put it all in writing – why not have them send biannual reports to executives as well as to the senior board? The people in their teams will appreciate being cared for and cared about.

— People work hard for a paycheck, harder for a person and hardest for a purpose. [2]

Set clear expectations for everyone. 35% of US workers say they’d forego substantial pay rise for seeing direct manager fired. That is often because teams are not aligned to a cascading goal-setting system. They don’t understand what their part in the puzzle is. They have no set expectations to live up to, or feel motivated to attain. Do this by having managers circulate clear monthly plans with timelines, goals and tasks for everyone involved. Don’t assume employees don’t want to do the job – sometimes all they is just need a bit of clarification. Nobody has ever risen to low expectations.

Get – and keep! – the conversation going. Make sure your managers have frequent meaningful conversations with each individual member of their teams – and that this goes on well beyond the 6-month honeymoon. Gallup shows employee engagement at 52% in the first 6 months in the job, with a dip to 44% beyond that time … and no positive change for as long as 9.5 years afterwards. Encourage effective communication in the company. People need to be asked about what they like, what challenges they have, what tasks they’d want eliminated, what changes they think should be made. Make sure your managers understand the problem – any problem executives might have! One way to do this is by making them have side-by-sides every 3 months. And even better – ask them to pair these up with regular anonymous polls and surveys about team wellbeing and team management.

 

Cultivate praise culture at work. Have managers take time at the end of each month to produce short appraisal reports on the top performers and share them with the team. Tell them to take every chance to commend employees when they do well. This will increase likelihood that, when they don’t do that well, they accept negative feedback and feel motivated to change, rather than reject it outright. Recognition and praise not only solve motivation in the short run, but they also build bonds and nourish team wellbeing in the long run.

Focus on strengths. A corollary of the praise culture is a mentality focused on employees’ strengths. Ask your managers to collect weekly employee reports on their strengths and associated goals. Ensure they understand these by asking them to also report back on the strengths of 5 people they work with. Round this up with a meaningful line manager – employee discussion about strengths every 3 months.

— Millennial generation expected to make up 75% of the marketplace by 2025. [3]

Adjust strategy by generation. We already know millennials are some of the least engaged age groups. More than 1 in 4 say they’d leave the organization they work for, if the job market improves in the next 12 months, according to Gallup. They are fickle, they are ambitious and they need to work for purpose. Treat them as a separate category in your engagement strategy. Try to set up an entrepreneurial environment within the company, where they can flourish. Ask them to come up with their own ideas for how the business could develop next and give them the space to drive that business development. Roundtables every 6 months with the top management and regular communication between top management and millennial employees might just do the trick!

 

Employ in-house task forces. It is no wonder that engagement goes up in smaller, tight-knit teams. Provide the context for these teams to be formed and assigned projects. Use special communication groups to spread and share work-related information. This will make employees feel special and singled out for some particular type of ‘mission’. Selective or early access to information, even when that is not classified, sends out a powerful message of appreciation of an employee’s work and performance.

Provide adequate resources and tools. Once you have the task forces, make sure they get all the needed equipment, training and support. Give them tools to communicate easily, bespoke training plans and a budget to manage. Accountability and autonomy do wonders in terms of self-motivation. There’s nothing like an empowered employee, when it comes to business growth and innovation.

Have meaningful perks on offer. It’s easy enough to stay with the traditional flexi time or work from home. Ideally, you’re already paying maternal/paternal leave. But that’s not enough anymore. For benefits to be meaningful to your employees and show them you care, they have to be the extra mile. If a few of your employees are horse riding fans, get them a group subscription with a local club. If they’re big on trekking, organize a team retreat in the resort of their dreams. Some things they may not be able to afford normally, or would simply not be too high up on their expenses list. Go for those! Use a quick questionnaire to find out their interests and hobbies. Then act on those. Measurement without action is useless, as many have said over and over again.

Be transparent. No matter what, in good or bad times. You work on company audits on a regular basis either way. Share some of those with departments concerned. Tell them how you stand, as a business. They’ll understand the context sufficiently well to figure out their part in it and next steps. Go further and ask them for a top 3 recommended actions list, where each department can come up with local solutions to nudge growth. And if things are going well, reward and acknowledge them publicly!

Build company culture on an ongoing basis. Every employee impacts your company culture. Accept and embrace that. And after you do, tell employees about it. Hold yearly town halls where you can openly talk to them about the culture and how well they feel they’ve been welcomed in it. Ask them how it should adjust to reflect the team. Let them take charge here, because you’re growing the business together with them. Don’t forget to share and widely communicate each new company ‘policy’. You need their buy-in to make it into culture – so you might as well ask nicely and show them you value their help.

 

Push professional growth as well as personal development. People’s interests are varied – in and out of work. Seize the opportunity to give them as much support as they need to develop personally in a company context. Offer chances of lateral professional development as well as options for them to do volunteering, or pursue social responsibility projects they are inspired by. Set up a platform of communication on the topic, if nothing else! Give them a context and they’ll take it from there – and they’ll come back happier than ever!

Develop business acumen in all employees. It’s said that the most engaged employees are those that act and think like owners of the business. To have them do that, educate them about basic business measures. Acumen Learning surveyed over 20,000 people in 30 different countries and found that 90% of employees don’t understand important business measures. Choose the 3-4 crucial ones for your business model and train around them. Explain to your people how every role impacts the bottom line. Also tell them how the company is doing on those – transparency, remember? – and they’ll find it a lot easier to focus their work. Give them the chance to send you a list with ways they can personally contribute to reaching company goals.

Gamify, gamify, gamify. Everybody loves some good fun. Use your learning management systems or internal communication platforms to engage your employees routinely with small games. These could relate to the workplace, regional objectives for the sales teams, getting to know your teammates, etc. Add small prizes at the end to motivate them, or simply get them hooked by holding a company-wide score that gets updated monthly. Seeing their names go high up the Fun List might be a bigger driver of engagement than you imagine!

Design and sponsor in-house mentorship. Send out a survey to find out what in-house mentor employees would like to partner up with. Then make those partnerships happen! Sponsor the mentorship program, along with training materials and time devoted from the company budget. A study by Deloitte in 2012 showed retention higher by 25% for people who engage in such mentorship programs. Don’t forget to make this longer than just 2 sessions. Give mentors and mentees private access to their own communication channel via your LMS. And then make them plan the program and set objectives that they can keep track of easily, over time.

 

Start a learning clubThere will surely be books of movies that are directly related to your work, as a business, or at least extremely relevant to it. If you didn’t take the chance to offer those books or DVDs as Christmas presents, you still have an option. Start a learning club, where people can discuss openly a book or a movie each month. Use internal communication platforms to inform them about the choice of the month. Send them teasers to generate interest before the meet-up. After the meet-up, ask participants to think about 3 things they learnt that can impact their work. Debating ideas and arguments will do wonders for teambuilding! Not to mention you will become that leader or manager who actually takes time to talk about books with their teams.

Bring in motivational speakers. We all know this one and we all do it. But here’s the catch: what if that speaker is, in fact, any influencer that your employees have always wanted to meet? Send out a quick survey and give them the chance to nominate or make their pick from a host of options you’re thinking of. Then make sure they do their homework and send questions before the event. That way, you reward the diligent and also keep the conversation going with them.

Create an online Photo Wall. Whatever app it is you’re using right now, make sure it has that one section where all the team photos are posted. Social networks function so well because they place the onus back on the individual. And in the 21st century the culture of individuality is stronger than ever before. After each company event, ask your photographer to send over the 10-15 best shots and share them with everyone before the entire album is shared with the company. Keep your people coming back to the place where you communicate with them by also giving them a chance to reminisce about fond memories!

Have a monthly ‘CEO Reporting’ session. Instead of having your employees send reports higher up, how about you, the CEO, take some time to talk to them every month? And not just anyhow. Make a short video of yourself and post it on the online communication platform. You can even go further and send out 2 or more different such videos to selected groups of employees – for instance, only to managers, or only to the Finance Department. Take that chance to tell them again about the company purpose. Remember, millennials, especially, pick their jobs overwhelmingly based on that! And don’t forget to praise and give credit, where credit is due. It will all make for a great workplace memory – and it’ll be worth tons more than that usual trophy.

 

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