Want to increase employee engagement? Start engaging!

Times are a changin’

Work as we know it is in flux.  The talent market is evolving, markets are shifting, workspaces look and feel different, and employee expectations are changing how we behave.  For those worried about these changes, there is good news: none of this is new or unique.  Change is persistent.  Technology continues to change how we work, and new generations continue to enter the workforce with new expectations.  These changes are forcing organizations to think differently, and creatively.

Employee engagement

One of the strongest drivers of an organization’s success is an authentically engaged workforce.  If viewed as more than a fleeting trend in HR, and instead actively fostered and persistently measured, an engaged workforce can drive retention, and bring about the best work your people have to offer.  It’s not about putting in longer hours; it’s about caring more and doing better work.

There isn’t a shortage of unnecessarily complex definitions of employee engagement.  To reduce the noise, a simple way to think amount employee engagement is this: how much your employees care about the company they work for, the work they do, and the people they work with.  Engagement is not just about happiness; it is about the care and awareness that your employees exhibit in the work that they do.  And so it’s crucial that you truly understand what drives your employees

What drives engagement?

When you have any conversation, the amount you care about the topic drives your level of engagement.  Employee engagement operates similarly.  The more your employees care about and are invested in their work, the higher the level of engagement they experience.  Your job as a leader is to make the efforts to understand what your employees care about, and what motivates and fulfills them.

The secret to engagement

The biggest secret to engagement?  Simply engage.  That’s it!  It’s all about making the time to connect and understand what is going on with your people.   Accomplishing this involves creating an environment of trust, where your employees know they can and are expected to be honest with you.  It also requires you engaging in the right conversations to understand your employee's current motivations.

How to engage?

To assist, we’ve got a few super simple activities to help in understanding your employees’ motivations.

Activity one | Pushes and pulls

This one is as simple as they come.  You can easily implement this technique during a regular one-on-one, or even over lunch.  This tip was originally shared with me by a co-worker (Natalie Johnson) from the book (Book Title).  There are two questions to ask your employees:

1. What are three things that keep you working at (your company)?

2. What are three things that push you away from wanting to work at (your company)?

Knowing these pushes and pulls is fantastic, but doing something about them is when trust is established, and authentic engagement happens. For example, if you notice that one of the key elements that keeps an employee actively engaged is being threatened, you can proactively remedy, or at least have a conversation about the experience.

Activity two |  Dynamic motivation cards

We’ve learned that motivations are dynamic, and are in a constant state of change based on professional and personal evolution and growth.   What motivated you ten years ago is most likely very different than what motivates you today.

Motivation cards or document

We’ve created a deck of twelve physical cards that have one word or phrase that represents a motivation: Leadership, Relationships, Achievement, Creative Work, etc.  You can create your own cards, or simply build a presentation or slide that has the motivators listed on them, which would help when conducting the same activity with remote employees.  We intentionally keep the words and phrases pretty vague, as that allows employees the space to create much more personal and meaningful narratives.

Image of motivation cards

Step one | Selection

Ask your employee to review the cards and select three that are the most important or meaningful to them. Give them a few minutes to make the selection.  Leave the room to grab a cup of coffee and allow the employee some solitude.   Creating this time and space, free from any pressure, is critical.

Step two | Engage

Next, simply ask the employee to explain their selections, and why they matter.     

Step three | Listen & ask

The goal of this exercise is to simply facilitate a conversation that creates awareness about what matters most to your employee.  Ask open-ended questions to learn more about each motivation. Why does this matter? What can you do (or stop doing) to be more supportive?

Step four | Awareness & action

Through this awareness, you are able to focus on things that actually matter to your employees.  Use this information to help guide personal and professional development plans.  These insights will also help you to become much more proactive; you can much more easily identify when any of these motivations are threatened or negatively impacted, and your employees will feel more empowered to speak to you about it.

Step five | Repeat

Motivations change, so we recommend conducting this exercise at least once per quarter.  Make them a part of your regular performance evaluations or conversations. This will help you keep in touch with any motivational changes your employees might be experiencing.

Engagement is an everyday activity

While formal engagement tools and systems can be tremendously helpful, there is nothing more impactful than simply building engagement activities into everyday interactions. The more time that you take to understand your people, the greater the opportunity you’ll have to build trust to drive engagement to ultimately drive the performance and success of your organization.

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