The very first step when engaging employees

Do your employees have clarity around why their job even exists? What lens are they looking through when viewing your organisation’s culture?

This fundamental first step when engaging employees begins, either deliberately or unwittingly, before they even start their first day with the organisation. It actually starts during the recruitment and onboarding process.

Employee engagement on the whole is made up of a range of different factors or drivers. With some drivers weighting more than others depending on the environment, team and the individuals. However, one of the key drivers of employee engagement that all organisations should be able to nail, is clarity of purpose.

I agree with Simon’s Sinik’s sentiment that organisations which provide their people something to work towards are more likely to engage employees rather than just giving them something to work on. As Simon says, “If the leader of the organisation can’t clearly articulate WHY the organisation exists in terms beyond its products or services, then how does he expect the employees to know WHY to come to work?

Research shows that giving employees clarity of purpose and connection with end-goals substantially increases productivity and effectiveness – helping navigate towards success.

Employees with clarity and purpose not only approach their own tasks with more enthusiasm and dedication, they frequently go the extra mile to be helpful and courteous to their colleagues and more dedicated to the organisation. Fostering strong employee engagement and strengthening organisational culture.

After working in recruitment for a number of years, I understand the temptation of painting a picture that doesn’t accurately align with reality – just to get the ‘right’ people in the door. I also know how if feels to be sold a job or an organisation that doesn’t end up fitting the picture I was led to believe. You’re not doing the organisation any favours by getting people in the door under false pretences (or wishful thinking). And for an employee – it’s disengaging.

Checking in with employees, at any stage of the employee lifecycle, and asking a few simple questions about the lens in which they view why they do what they do, and what value they’re adding, helps managers accurately assess perception and then articulate the actual purpose of the organisation, the team and the individual.

Don’t underestimate the power of starting a meaningful conversation around clarity of, and connection to, purpose. It’s an important driver all managers should have on their employee engagement checklist.  

Absenteeism – more than just a nuisance

When was the last time you reflected on the absenteeism of your team members?

Think about your team or those who seem to be noticeably MIA lately (maybe they’re present in body but not so much in mind). Have you stopped to wonder or – heaven forbid – ask (in a caring, non-judgemental way) what’s going on with them?

  • Are they ill? If so – do they know you genuinely care about them and their long-term wellbeing?
  • Are they burnt out? If so – do they know you genuinely care about them and their long-term wellbeing?
  • Are they suffering from a mental illness? If so – do they know you genuinely care about them and their long-term wellbeing?
  • Is someone close to them ill or struggling and your employee needs the headspace to help them through this difficult time? If so – do they know you genuinely care about them and that includes the wellbeing of their loved ones too?

(Side note for all of the above – are your employees aware of the support you/HR/your organisation offers, whether it’s EAP services, flexible work arrangements, access to health benefits, etc. Maybe consider a time and place for a meaningful, non-obtrusive conversation.)

  • Or are they disengaged with their work/manager/colleagues and simply can’t face coming to work? Ahh – lets explore that in more detail…

Employee engagement is one of the driving factors for how people show up to work… or not – as the case may be. The energy levels they put into their job. The connections they make and the work they produce.

Absenteeism can be a by-product of a disengaged employee. And connecting with them, having a conversation about how they’re going, just might give you some insight into their frame of mind.

Don’t wait until the dreaded annual review, take the time to connect with them because you care about them and their engagement with all things ‘work’ (tasks, environment, development, stakeholders, peers, etc). Have a coaching conversation where they do the talking and you do the listening.

Make sure they feel safe and comfortable having the conversation, it’s not a subject that you want to bring up in the middle of an open plan office, but you might not want to conduct it in a formal setting either. So find a neutral environment conducive to a positive, solutions-based conversation.

The insight gained for both of you can be priceless. For you it can assist with strengthening the culture of your team. It could lead you to other areas to focus your engagement energy. But more importantly, it could lead to the individual reengaging, reconnecting and maybe starting to feel like they’re adding value again.

Why I focus on new and emerging leaders

How often do we see managers promoted into positions because they’re technical experts, only to realise they don’t have the people management skills to lead a team… yet.

I love seeing organisations supporting vulnerable green shoots into loyal managers who know you care enough about them to invest in their future. To provide them with some of the basic navigation tools to best position them (and the organisation) for success.

I respect those companies who foster and grow talent from within, building and nurturing a culture of learning, growth and development. Giving confidence where it’s found the least and means the most.

Why focus all our efforts on high performers who are already doing great things and are more likely to walk out your door at any given moment (we’ll have that debate another day). By focusing on new and emerging leaders, you’re accelerating a connected, positive crew of devoted organisational champions. In turn setting an example of how you want your company culture defined and practised.

This is a powerful tool because this group of individuals, supervisors, team leaders, etc, usually has direct contact with a large portion of your workforce – like operations or customer service teams. A powerful position to be in when you think of company culture as “the way we actually do things around here” … not the words written in your induction manuals or intranet.

I love working with green shoots, those who show real promise of great leadership if only given the opportunity – because their potential is off the charts!  In my experience they’re open to and absorb learning and development at a great rate because they don’t have to hide their vulnerability – in fact, it’s pretty much expected.  And they welcome, no – thrive on building their tool-box of knowledge, tips and tricks.

Wouldn’t you rather define your organisation’s culture through design, rather than default?

Engagement (or any) surveying is not enough

Asking someone a bunch of pre-determined questions on one particular day, of one particular week, in one particular month in their career journey with your organisation is a standard way of ‘measuring’ employee engagement. But how do you know you have all the right puzzle pieces?

I can think of many times in my career that a survey was administered in a time of turbulence for me or my team. It may have been the shitty time of budget cutting; or maybe a new project was just launched; or the team was disrupted in a multitude of other ways. But I knew (or at least hoped) that the survey results weren’t a true reflection of their engagement overall.

Without a deep dive, or even just a focus group ‘sanity check’, how do you know the true value of the feedback you’ve collected? If it’s been a crappy day/week/month for someone, does that reflect on their survey answers? In my experience, hell yes! You may still need to address the issues front and centre, but you definitely should check the validity of the engagement data before making any decisions about long-term action planning.

The best way to find the root cause of disengagement or even that tipping point between fully connected and just doing ok, is discussion. Using insight-encouraging questions to gain clarity, a deeper understanding of your employee’s engagement levels, is critical if you want to turn meh into good, or good into lets-smash-this-out-of-the-park.

If you’re serious about employee engagement, focus groups and deep-dives are important. Use them, or better yet – get an unbiased perspective (like me!) to run them for you.

Put the spoon down

Helping others develop and grow is an important part of being an effective leader. The type of support and direction individuals’ need will vary depending on the situation.

One thing that won’t change … let them do the thinking (and the talking) … don’t spoon-feed them.

Insights or ‘ahha’ moments tend to occur when we’re not thinking about the problem directly. Doing something repetitive (like driving), or that we are good at or enjoy (like cooking), frees up our cognitive resources to find answers to things that have been puzzling us. It also quietens our brain so we actually notice these new connections and combines existing data in new ways.

So insights are really very useful, they:

  • Are required to progress or solve complex problems.
  • Are more memorable than linear solutions (at the moment of insight, feel-good neurochemicals are released that help embed this new connection).
  • Generate a deep sense of engagement and ownership (we become very attached to our new way of thinking).

Therefore it’s important to facilitate insights, try not to always give answers.

At any opportunity, ask questions that bring about reflection, create self-awareness and generate a greater sense of responsibility. These are HOW questions, not WHY questions with a deliberate focus on solutions rather than problems.

To increase the chances of facilitating insight:

  • Provide quiet moments, don’t expect your team to go at 100km an hour all the time, staring off into space can be very productive.
  • Encourage your team to look inward, pause and reflect.
  • Limit threat and create positive emotion (think of their SCARF drivers/triggers).
  • Reduce conscious attempts to solve the problem, don’t sit in front of the whiteboard, marker poised until the answer presents itself – because it probably won’t.

Can you recall a time when someone has facilitated an insight for you? Asked you particular questions or just gave you the space needed to think outside the proverbial square? There’s nothing quite like that rush you get when you can finally grasp that elusive ‘AHHA!’. It can be a powerful motivator and spike productivity too.