The following is a guest post by Employee Recognition Director at Hallmark Business Connections, Jonathan McClellan.
A recent global workforce study by Towers Watson suggests that although traditional employee engagement strategies help foster high performance, companies must now also consider how to sustain higher levels of employee engagement over time to avoid a diminishing impact.
In my experience, the most effective long-term engagement strategies build a foundation on which front-line managers feel empowered to create an environment that promotes employee enrichment. Whether you’re just beginning the journey, or you’re evaluating your current strategy, here are five key considerations for strengthening you engagement strategy.
1. Draft a provocative vision and values
The operative word here being, “provocative.” A company’s vision and values should excite and inspire its employees – and, yes… even deter those people that don’t share your beliefs. In combination, they should help you find and attract like-minded loyalists to your organization.
Yet, too often companies weaken their own identities with vision statements and values that suffer from overly safe or generic terminology. Rather than investing in the words that clearly articulate the foundational ideals and beliefs that make the company unique, they opt for popular, catch-all phrases to describe their core values – such as “Problem Solving,” “Innovation,” “Collaboration,” and “Client-Centric.” Frankly, those should be the givens in every organization. Rather than inspiring everyone, they’re actually inspiring no one.
To build trust and confidence in the direction and future of your company, take the lead on finding provocative messaging that will not only align your talent around a common purpose, but also engage their hearts and minds with the belief that how you work (values) is as important as what you accomplish (vision). And, if you’re not in a position to do this for the company as a whole, look for ways you can start to apply it in your division, department or functional area.
2. Create opportunities for personal and professional growth
I recently worked for a company that didn’t believe in job tracks or formalized career paths. The expectation was you had to become the change you wanted to see. It was the employee’s responsibility – not their manager’s – to define their next career opportunity. In turn, it was the manager’s responsibility to help clear a path and coach their employees into a new position.
Of course, it required disciplined communication. Managers and employees engaged in candid, direct and authentic coaching in real time. Whether your company has formalized career paths in place or not, it is your responsibility as a manager to engage your people in those type of conversations. Connect with them. Let them know you genuinely care about their future and then encourage their development.
3. Help team members find the purpose in their work
Have you ever heard a co-worker utter this phrase, “Yeah, but it’s not like we’re curing cancer here?” Granted, it’s often said in an attempt to help put things in perspective, but what people fail to realize is that it also discounts the work everyone is doing. It suggests the work being done doesn’t matter. And sadly, people start to believe it. Soon after, it starts to show in the quality and outcomes of their work.
If a person does not have a purpose for why they do what they do, it is hard for them to produce meaningful work. As a manager, you can help team members define meaningful work by engaging them in strengths-based conversations. It can be as easy as having your team complete the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment to identify each team members’ five dominant strengths.
Talking through the results as a group, you will undoubtedly uncover a few interesting surprises while team members find new ways to relate with one another.
4. Introduce meaningful, memorable (and measurable) recognition
When I work with clients, one of my favorite questions to ask is, “What has been the single most memorable instance of recognition you have received in your career?” Without fail, the most powerful, memorable stories are related to simple, personal – and often random – acts of appreciation. The stories that consistently stand out are not about extravagant gifts or bonuses, but rather small and sincere gestures made when the recipient least suspected it.
Yet, unfortunately, these genuine gestures don’t happen near enough. As a result, it helps to have a formal, enterprise-wide recognition solution in place to provide managers with tools to inspire and connect with team members. Formal recognition solutions create visibility for the recognition that is occurring and help infuse those behaviors into the culture. Managers and employees begin to learn from each other, and as a whole, the organization can learn what behaviors are most valued.
If your company does not have a formal recognition program in place, create one for your division, department or team. It doesn’t have to be extravagant as long as it enables genuine, timely and relevant recognition that is visible to the entire group and simple to evaluate. In time, you will realize the whole will become so much more than the sum of the individual events.
5. Effectively managing through the ebbs and flows of engagement
I am often surprised to learn many people believe employee engagement is a “fixed” destination. One that, once achieved, is static over time. However, in reality, engagement levels are continually influenced by complex and diverse factors and will ebb and flow over time.
Towers Watson suggests sustainable engagement can be achieved by a manager’s ability to execute a traditional engagement strategy while also focusing on enablement and energy opportunities.
You can enable sustainable engagement by removing the obstacles to great work, providing access to the right tools and resources, and coaching team members through challenges. You can elevate energy levels by restructuring work flow to allow mental breaks during the day, encouraging a supportive and social environment, and amplifying the enthusiasm and excitement surrounding your team’s accomplishments.
Let’s face it. There’s a reason why companies struggle with engagement. It requires the right people, passion and persistence – and not every company is up for that challenge. Yet, the payoff is absolutely worth it!
It starts with the belief that we all want to engage in work that matters. Then, as managers, we have to accept that we can make that happen.
Jonathan McClellan is the Employee Recognition Director at Hallmark Business Connections. Jonathan provides strategic leadership and employee enrichment solutions for a wide variety of businesses from Fortune 50 to 500. For more information on employee engagement, view Jonathan McClellan’s recent podcasts “Defining a Culture of Enrichment” and “Creating a Culture of Enrichment“.