Here’s the thing about employee engagement: it’s more than an alliterated buzzword. Employee engagement is an office-culture adhesive. It's Gorilla Glue at the best of times. At the worst of times, it’s a not-so-sticky piece of Scotch tape that has touched your thumb for too long. While some teams are natural BFFs, most need a few carrots to coax them toward becoming a well-oiled, engaged machine.
Carrot #1: Leaders worth following
In the 2006 rom-com "The Break-Up," a frustrated Jennifer Aniston pleads with her boyfriend after dinner: “I want you to want to do the dishes.” Great leadership echoes the sentiment of this scene. Employees of great leaders want to work hard, even when that work is unsavory. These employees want to do the dishes and they’ll likely do them without asking if their leadership team keeps three things in mind.
- Have clearly developed goals and an articulated mission. Margaret Wheeler, chief people and culture officer at Stitch Fix, calls this your operating system or "OS." Even if you were in a completely different industry, elements of your OS would still be the same because they are building blocks of your corporate culture.
- Be consistently transparent and honest about the state of the business. Matt Ehrlichman, founder and CEO of Porch, sees transparency as a competitive advantage. While it can be challenging during rough patches (like the time he had to lay off nearly 100 people), it is vital to building authenticity and trust.
- Constantly invest in people. Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments (now famous for implementing a minimum $70,000 salary), looks at employee investment through a unique lens: “If this person had to be the CEO one day, how am I investing in them now to be prepared for that?”
Carrot #2: Opportunity to grow
If you think money is the number one motivator of engaged employees, think again. In an analysis of Glassdoor data conducted by Josh Bersin of Deloitte, the majority of workers under the age of 35 cite “career opportunities” as the most important job benefit. Engaged employees have access to continuous training, development and self-directed learning. These employees stick around, too.
The grocery store Wegmans is a prime example of how growth opportunities and training lead to high retention rates. “More than half of our store managers have worked with Wegmans since high school or college, starting as part-time cashiers,” their employment site states. “Many completed their education with help from our scholarship program.”
Carrot #3: A fantastic environment
There are hundreds of adjectives that bring this carrot to life: "flexible," "inclusive," "diverse" and "humanistic," just to name a few. When we think of a fantastic work environment, our minds tend to gravitate toward tools that allow employees to be rested, happy and healthy. One of the most important tools is recognition.
Recognition is a funny thing. It doesn’t work unless the recognition itself is authentic, highly personal, and immediate. Great leaders will take the time to understand how individuals prefer to be recognized, and then (surprise!) recognize them in that way!
Tip: Engaged employees may also be quiet employees. Do some digging to avoid recognizing only those who are vocal about what they do well.
Carrot #4: Work that matters
Meaningful work creates engaged employees and vice versa. In highly-engaged environments, you will find that individuals are autonomous, empowered and assigned to projects that best fit their skills and interests. Surprisingly though, you may also find these folks don’t work as much (and that’s a good thing). Even Amazon is testing out the benefits of a 30-hour work week to support the theory that people need to work less to become more productive.
Photo courtesy of www.dilbert.com.
If you haven’t realized it yet, these are big, can’t-change-it-overnight carrots; but a couple of guiding principles will help your engagement elevate slowly but surely.
- Have a healthy feedback loop. Start by measuring engagement using a simple survey tool like TINYpulse. Analyze the data, make tweaks and measure again.
- Stay engaged. Meet with your employees in formal and informal settings to check in on their personal and professional well-being.
- Be intentional. Don’t just throw noodles at a wall. Use the information you gather from surveys and conversations to make conscious changes.