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Enough of the ‘Why’ on Employee Engagement, Give Me Some ‘How’

Most executives agree that employee engagement is good business. The numbers don’t lie. In retail for example, it costs an average of $3,000 to replace a $10/hour associate, and that doesn’t even factor in lost productivity.

Those same executives have also heard enough of the “what” about engagement. They want to move on to the “how,” but knowing where to start on the “how” can be tough. Engagement is an abstract concept, and figuring out how to create it is just as abstract.

Creating engagement doesn’t need to be abstract, however, because the basics of engaging a workforce are commonly recognized business principles. Author and former high-tech executive Kevin Kruse, who has written three books on employee engagement, distills engagement down to three basic elements.  They are communication, recognition and growth. Supplemented by new technologies, they help create workforces with a motivation to stay with their employer for longer and do their best work.

Let’s start with communication. The phrase “people want to buy from people” could just as easily be “people want to work for people.” Companies have to have a face – or faces – for their employees because people engage best with other people. Good communication between executives and their workforces builds trust among widely distributed workforces, helps tamp down negative gossip, and creates a common purpose among employees.

All employees should be able to recognize the CEO and key executives. They should also have the opportunity to hear from senior leadership early on and regularly. The CEO needs to be visible to all employees. On their very first day, new hires should hear the CEO’s vision for the company, how their efforts will contribute to that vision, and why it’s good for them. The CEO and other top executives need to regularly update employees on developments in the company.

When everyone understands the organization’s goals and how they are critical to achieving those goals, it creates cohesion. Senior leadership should explain how the quality of every employee’s work contributes to the success of the whole organization. 

Video can be very helpful for this task. Using recorded messages and role-play examples, leadership can explain to the front-line teams firsthand how their work will enhance their and the company’s success. Armed with this knowledge, the employees will take pride in their work and feel empowered.

Establishing a steady flow of communication between executives and employees also helps if a crisis arises. Employees will know where to turn for the best information and for direction. Again, an established channel with video at the core will provide a quick delivery vehicle for messages and instructions.

Recognition is the next ingredient for creating engagement. It’s easy, inexpensive, and engages your employees by making them feel like people instead of gears in the machinery.

Recognizing employees’ efforts gives them a sense of pride in their work and accomplishments. It motivates them to repeat what they’re doing right and even improve on the activity that brought them the recognition. Recognition will not replace compensation, but recognition is a powerful tool that can be used repeatedly without the negative effects that “pay as reward” can have on a group by creating unhealthy competition.

The direct leader should offer the recognition personally to the employee. Next comes broader awareness of this recognition among co-workers. It might be in a group meeting or it might be posted on a corkboard somewhere.  However, if no one sees it or remembers it, recognition has no lasting effect. 

This is another instance where digital media can be beneficial. When recognition is a regular occurrence, it is often better to simply post results rather than deliver the recognition. A digital display in the employee area will give the local manager a chance to display local results and easily recognize any employees who have gone above and beyond. This recognition could become part of posting current performance objectives.

The final ingredient in engagement is growth. Good employees want to improve, expand and contribute more. If the employee can see a career path, they can set personal goals, timelines and objectives.

The path does not have to lead from the mailroom to the boardroom, but it should show a way that the employee can expand their personal contributions and increase their value to the organization. Successful organizations must have a clear demonstration of how individual contributors are every bit as valuable as leadership roles. If the only way to grow in the company is to become a leader, then many of your top employees will not have a path and will leave.

The growth path contains elective items where employees can choose to invest their own time and energy. For example, the opportunity to move from retail associate to senior retail associate requires the completion of three elective computer based training courses. These courses may cover handling customer complaints, converting customer returns into new sales and the importance of getting customers to join the loyalty program. By completing these courses, the associate is now able to work in multiple parts of the store and contribute to overall company performance. This expansion of knowledge creates real value that will enhance employee engagement.

High turnover can be crippling to the bottom line of an organization. Engagement, forged from communication, recognition and growth will reduce turnover. Employees who understand the company’s mission, vision and values and who routinely see and hear from senior leadership will feel a connection to the company. People will stay where they are appreciated and recognized.  They will increase their efforts in order to capture that good feeling of recognition again. If there is a sense of expanding value, growth, contribution, appreciation and recognition, the employee will not seek it elsewhere. If an organization offers the chance for an employee to develop additional skills and enhance their value, they will continue to feel connected and have an increased desire to stay.