Inspiring genuine employee engagement is one of the greatest, yet most rewarding challenges you can take on.
It has the power to improve your organization at nearly every level, but you’ll never harness it on your own.
Engagement can’t be a singular (or departmental) effort. A lot of well-intentioned engagement strategies never get off the ground because they were designed in a vacuum, then deployed in the wild.
That’s never going to work. If it does work, it’s not likely to work for long. A sustainable engagement strategy draws both its strength and its focus from every member on the team.
If it’s not a team effort—if it’s not something everyone believes in and takes part in—it’s not going to reach its full potential.
There are a few elements of engagement that are often overlooked or misunderstood, and they are some of the most direct avenues to success. Paying attention to them can help strengthen your engagement strategy overall and increase its impact.
You can’t legislate engagement, you can’t buy it with free lunch or ping-pong tables, and you can’t hire for it.
You have to inspire it.
Inspiring engagement isn’t a switch you can flip, nor something you can approach halfheartedly. There aren’t any quick hacks or shortcuts to success.
In his recent Forbes article, Carmine Gallow shares a story about meeting Richard Branson and the impression that it made on him:
Inspiring leaders praise people and encourage them to be their best selves. Richard Branson once said, “When you lavish praise on people, they flourish; criticize, and they shrivel up.” When I spent a day with Branson I noticed that he gave compliments constantly-to his staff, crew and airport personnel. He walks the talk.
Praise and recognition are some of the most universal means of inspiring engagement, and as in the example of Branson above, it’s got to be a default position, rather than an on/off switch.
As important as it is to have a culture of praise and recognition expressed by senior leadership, its impact is magnified dramatically if it pervades every level of the organization.
So how do you make that a reality?
Employee engagement isn’t “HR’s job,” and it’s not only HR’s fault when it fails—unless HR acquiesces to that role.
It’s unreasonable to expect one department to accept sole responsibility for employee engagement. If you’re going to cultivate the necessary environment for strong engagement, you’ll need a consortium of senior leaders, middle managers, team leads, individual contributors and new hires all pulling in the same direction.
As experts in maximizing human capital, HR pros can and should play a crucial role in developing an engagement strategy, but the comprehensive nature of engagement means it’s everyone’s responsibility to develop and sustain it across the organization.
Executing on the planning, implementation and adoption of a solid framework for engagement will make it much easier and more appealing for them to do that-but that’s just one part of a greater task.
You might already know the impact that employee engagement can have across the organization. Although it may seem clear as day to you, it’s not often common knowledge for everyone else.
Encouraging global participation requires an effective educational strategy.
A successful engagement strategy affects and draws its strength from every member of the team. One of the greatest barriers to achieving wholesale engagement is incomplete buy-in, and perhaps the greatest challenge for buy-in is education.
Each of these groups of stakeholders is likely to have different buy-in criteria, and it’s your job to show those stakeholders the value and impact they will have.
That might sound overwhelming, but here’s the part that’s magic: Once they see the value, they’ll be more likely to push together to achieve and maintain it.
- Senior leaders will want to know how engagement affects the organization’s bottom line, and how your organization’s engagement stacks up against others.
- Managers are going to want to know how improved engagement helps them and their teams achieve goals more effectively.
- Individual contributors are going to want to know what kind of impact their work and their level of engagement have on the organization, their team and the rest of the world.
Solid communication is the key to expressing that value, and how you’re enhancing it.
Effective communication is important in many contexts. In the case of employee engagement, it’s absolutely crucial.
Developing a feedback mechanism can dramatically improve your engagement strategy and can help stakeholders understand that their unique voice is being heard.
There are a lot of ways to implement an employee engagement feedback system, from home-grown remedies to purpose-specific SaaS solutions. The most important thing is to have a channel for feedback available, to accept feedback for the gift that it is, and to use the insights you’ve gained to improve.
At the very least, it’s important to show that you’ve heard, absorbed and reflected on the feedback you’ve received. Even if you can’t implement changes right away, you can show that you’re working to infuse that feedback into your strategy.
Failing to follow up on any of that feedback is a surefire way to sabotage all the hard work you’re doing to build an environment conducive to employee engagement.
Good communication isn’t just about words.
Making the work you’re doing and its results visible can be more powerful than any words. In Reese Haydon’s recent TLNT article, he shared research that laid out the damage a lack of communication and follow-through can do to an engagement strategy. In the example he shared:
- One-third of employees are engaged before any surveys are issued.
- One-quarter of employees are engaged if surveys are completed but a firm does not create any action plans.
- One-fifth of employees are engaged if surveys are completed and action plans are made but no follow-through is achieved.
It’s not enough to follow through on the commitment to improve engagement. That follow-through has to be visible to the stakeholders supporting the initiative in order to keep them actively participating.
Transparency is a priceless asset in this effort. If you’re not able to implement something, or if it’s far down the road, make it clear why. If you have implemented something successfully, make sure stakeholders are aware of it.
A successful and sustainable engagement strategy is a team effort, and paying attention to a few important factors can help ensure that everyone on the team is pulling in the same direction.
George Dickson manages content and community at Bonusly. A version of this article first appeared on Bonusly.