Getting employees to engage in company-driven initiatives can be likened to pulling teeth. Often quoted stats from Gallup – showing employee engagement just above 30% – reinforce that employees have become desensitized to the value of any corporate program. This boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome has created a near insurmountable challenge for human resource professionals who strive to implement progressive programs for their employees.
I spent nearly twenty years managing hundreds of employees in many different capacities. My employees ranged from professionals to factory workers. While each demographic posed unique challenges, the common narrative echoed by my employees was how little faith they had in the success of any company program. “Oh no, not another stupid program. I can’t wait to see this one fail.” Understandably, hearing these comments only sabotaged the programs, thus becoming a self-fulfilling prophecies.
Despite the challenges, progress needs to be made. Programs need to be implemented. And the lost confidence and trust between employees and their employers need to be bridged.
Jumpstarting employee engagement, while by no means easy, isn’t necessarily that complicated. Here are some tried and true ways to create a solid foundation to drum-up employee engagement:
1. INVOLVE THEM IN THE PROCESS
The top-down approach doesn’t work anymore. It might look good on paper to develop strategic plans and drill them downward, but (if true change is desired) companies need to authentically engage their employees in organizational strategy.
This doesn’t mean placating them with a brainstorming session that will have no impact on the final execution. It means providing a framework upon which to build plans that serve the employees, employers, and shareholders alike. Employees are no longer lemmings. They can see through programs that compromise their ability to have a positive experience at work.
Employees are also seeking meaning from their work. More than ever, employees want to feel fulfilled by their choice of vocation. A surefire way to provide this meaning is to involve them in decisions that will drive the future of your organization.
• Provide a loose framework for strategic goals, then provide a platform for employees to give feedback for the actionable goals needed to attain these higher-level goals
• Make a commitment to implementing employees ideas because, yes, they will have great ideas
• Celebrate the great ideas that employees provide and consider compensating the employees that provide especially transformational ideas
2. MAKE PROGRESS FUN
Most organizations get lazy and aren’t creative enough. Any company can drum up a strategy that stands the test of a spreadsheet. That’s not hard. Understanding customers, choosing the right way forward, and galvanizing a strategy, while not a guarantee for success, is the price of admission. The true creativity in developing organization goals is finding a way for these goals to exist in a culture of fun.
Not all companies can offer what some tech companies (such as Facebook) provide but there are ways for all companies to foster a more enjoyable work environment.
Corporate America has a paradigm that associates progress and results to grinding it out, long hours, and burned out employees. These limiting beliefs have reached the end of their tenure. Only attrition will end this way of thinking unless companies are proactive. The new generation understands that obtaining excellent results isn’t correlated to pain.
Enjoying what we do can be the foundation for solid and SUSTAINABLE results. When employees enjoy what they do, results will exceed what we previously thought possible.
• Add some life to brainstorming by providing opportunities to think of crazy ideas unbound by convention. Google took this one step further. In 2004, an IPO letter was overt about encouraging employees to spend 20% of their time working on anything they thought would benefit Google
• Coach senior leaders on the ‘soft-skills’ that corporate America used to laugh at, such as empathy, emotional intelligence, and listening
• Adopt a culture of play. Embrace fun as a way of working
3. ATTACH YOUR COMPANY’S GOALS TO A GREATER PURPOSE
If your organization is incapable of thinking of a greater purpose for existing than ‘increasing shareholder value’ then you will soon find yourself extinct. There is an awakening happening. The scarcity mentality (i.e., needing to take from someone else to make a buck) is coming to an end. How do you expect employees to engage in groundbreaking ideas when they could be working themselves out of a job?
Shareholder value can work in concert with a greater purpose. Cost-cutting and squeezing out every last dollar has a shelf-life. Growth does not. Find the purpose in what your company is about and just maybe your employees will rally around that purpose, catapulting you to new levels of success. Much like lightning, or a tornado, when energy is focused on a common goal, the results can be immensely powerful.
Seven Generation has leveraged their purpose – “to inspire a consumer revolution that nurtures the health of the next seven generations” – to become a top employer of millenials.
• If you don’t already have a strong belief or purpose, organize focus groups to analyze your business and get to the true service your company is providing for the greater good
• If need be, bring in help to lead these ideation and messaging sessions. Often times is it hard to see the forest for the trees when you have been viewing your business a certain way for decades
4. BE A POSITIVE INFLUENCE IN THEIR WELL-BEING
One doesn’t need to look far to see a stat regarding our impending wellness apocalypse. Whether it be stress, obesity, the typical Western diet, or our newly embraced sedentary lifestyles, all signs point to ‘doom’. It doesn’t need to be this way.
Getting bogged down on the ROI required to justify a wellness program implies that we don’t believe it is needed. The cost of a credible and effective wellness program will dwarf any cost associated with its implementation.
Wellness programs that work include the following components:
• Virtual coaching
• Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (e.g., gamification)
• The ability for employees to choose their own focus
• Company challenges
• Community connection
• Make wellness a part of your company culture. All levels need to embrace employee wellness as a strategic imperative
• Seek out software based options that leverages virtual coaching and gamification to drive habit change
Employee engagement has nowhere to go but up. Now is the time to get creative and engage with your employees, so they will engage with you.
- Old methods of motivating employees (i.e., purely financial) are no longer in vogue. Meaning in their work is key to engagement
- Involve employees in the future of the company. Provide them a platform to express themselves
- Celebrate great ideas. Highlight people who foster team connection. Leverage individual strengths
ABOUT THE WRITERS
Gary LeBlanc (B.Eng, MBA) – CEO of Ikkuma and positivity grenade – spent over a dozen years managing strategic operations for tier 1 companies. He’s now following his passion… to engineer a solution for our generation’s wellness.
Beth Corcoran (MA, CHRL) – Managing Director at Corcoran Consulting and shoe enthusiast – is a business consultant and coach, based out of Toronto, Canada. Beth has worked with thousands of employees as a coach, advisor, trainer, teacher and clinician.