Employee engagement seems to be the definition of the month. I’ve been reading a lot of blogs about employee engagement and how important it is to an organization.
According to Wikipedia: An "engaged employee" is one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about their work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interests.
So how do you foster it, support it, through better tools, better systems? No, all the tools, gadgets, and software packages in the world won’t help you improve employee engagement – better behavior will.
I just want to remind everyone one thing, you work with PEOPLE! I know it’s an obvious statement and I mean it tongue-in-cheek but I’m finding the way in which businesses are conducting themselves they need to be reminded that they are, indeed, working with people.
People don’t respond to better systems, they respond to better communication, an environment of trust, a pat on the back, and feeling necessary. In other words, they respond to being treated like adult human beings.
Here are some thoughts I have on things companies do wrong as well as give some ideas on things they should be doing right to foster employee engagement.
Rules and regulations wrapped up as a Benefit
I often hear about awesome benefits at companies and then read the details and cringe. For example: 3 weeks of vacation upon hire. Simple, straight forward, and healthy.
Then when you are hired you get a detailed description of all of the benefits and suddenly that three weeks vacation upon hire benefit has caveats, like: can’t take time off for the first six months, can’t take more than one week at a time, must give one months notice prior to taking time off, can’t take time off during the end of the month, can’t add on vacation time to business trips.
Suddenly that benefit has become an example of corporate micromanagement and why people don’t care. It’s because you treat them like children in elementary school.
Who can put their lives on hold for six months? “Sorry dear, we can’t take a holiday with the family this summer because my company won’t let me go out and play.” Who wants to be in a company like that?
If you say three weeks vacation upon hire, mean it. If you have to give bullets to a benefit, it’s not a benefit, it’s a rule.
Either trust the people you hire or hire better people or better yet, retire. Because a rule wrapped up as a benefit quickly creates a culture of us vs. them and makes people feel micromanaged.
Once again, STOP DOING PERFORMANCE REVIEWS
I say this in every blog I do, stop doing performance reviews. If you trust the people you hire, if you respect their intelligence, abilities, and work ethic then you should NEVER have to do performance reviews.
Do you wait every six months before talking to your child, your spouse, your family about life, about day-to-day stuff, about how things are going? If you do, how’s that working for you?
Instead, have collaborative one-on-one sessions between the direct manager and the individual where you discuss what is going on, what problems are arising and how to solve them. It isn’t a manager telling his or her staff member how to perform, it’s a collaboration of assessing things and working together to do the best the individual and the team can do to reach their goals. And if you are having performance issues, discuss them honestly and respectfully and work together in helping that person overcome them and be as productive as he or she can be.
Employees will stay engaged as long as you give them the tools and training to be successful, as long as they are rewarded for their work and they have opportunities to grow in their career. Performance reviews don’t accomplish any of that and just create an environment of mistrust, misrepresentation and a top-down culture that leads to disengagement.
Reward staff for doing the right thing
Most companies have a set of values that they hope help guide people towards a particular way of conducting themselves. But it‘s the unwritten culture of the company that truly guides people, and most companies want to retain that culture because it is what has made them successful.
One thing you will want to do is reward people for conducting themselves in accordance with the culture of the company you want to see, those things that speak to who you are as a company.
Create a lightweight easy-to-use rewards program that employees can give to each other with a simple gift and a nice card that says “thank you”. Be sure the program supports the culture of the company, i.e. have an online system if you are a tech company, have a monthly coffee and pastry staff gathering that is more personable if you are a social services agency. Again, be sure the awards program is conducted in a manner that speaks to who you are as a company.
Being told by your peers that you are appreciated for the work you are doing goes a long way in helping people know what they do matters and they are part of the solution in helping the company reach its goals. It is huge!
Value trust above all
If staff trust you, they will be engaged. If they don’t, there isn’t enough money, benefits, promotions, or perks in the world to make them engaged. Trust is the Holy Grail of business, plain and simple.
Similar to my rant regarding performance reviews, I scream about the important of trust. In every organization I have worked at the underlying issue or underlying strength has always been trust. If you have it, do everything in your power to keep it. If you don’t, work harder than you have ever worked in your life to gain it. It truly is the Holy Grail of business.
Let’s not forget, trust is earned, it’s not given. No one is automatically trusted, except for maybe your parents when you were growing up. So remember that if you are new to a company you need to earn that trust. If someone new has joined the company, they also don’t fully trust you.
One thing my mentor, Jeffrey Walker, and I always said, you trust the people you hire 100% until they prove you otherwise. This may sound like a basic statement but it was with that understanding that underlined everything we did. Every benefit, every policy we created and wrote was from this perspective.
We never created a policy that said what you couldn’t do, we created policies that said what you could do because we trusted the people we hired to conduct themselves as adults. And here’s the shocker, they did!
It’s so simple and yet there is so much pressure as a company grows to protect itself from lawsuits. From fear comes badly written policies and employee handbooks that create an environment of us vs. them. And you do it at your own peril as trust is gone and employee engagement is non-existent.
Don’t let the success of your company destroy all the hard work you put in to create an awesome environment and culture that people love to be in. Help keep your employee engagement high by treating your people with as much respect as you did when you were an office of ten and you knew everyone and trusted them implicitly.
In the end, employee engagement, or lack thereof, is the difference of acting from need or acting from passion. It is those acting from passion who will give 100% and take ownership of their responsibilities and create a can-do environment that gets results. Don’t underestimate what it takes to get it and keep it. High employee engagement is worth your focus and attention from day one to day one thousand and one, and beyond.