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Practical Ways to Address Employee Engagement

Originally posted: July 6, 2010 on TrishMcFarlane.com

Last week, I was reading ‘Enough of the Platitudes- Answer the Rest of the Question’ by Paul Hebert.  Paul has his own incentive and reward design consultancy, i2i,  (shameless plug to check it out and hire Paul) and  he maintains an active blog as well.  In that particular post, Paul waxed philosophical on the fact that on several media platforms today, including Twitter, people are just throwing out grandiose ideas with no substance behind them as to how to answer the questions.  He then provided results from a recent Twitter search on “employee engagement” and “SHRM10” to demonstrate all the deep thoughts.

I decided to take on a couple of the tweets he posted and add some examples of substantive ways organizations could address the rest of the question:

  • Employee engagement is the holy Grail! Trust, pride in corporate symbol, opportunity/well being=3 main drivers

Ah, the mention of the Holy Grail reminds me of the Monty Python movie.  Here’s an exchange from the movie that may actually fit with this theme.

King Arthur:   “Well, who is your lord?”
Dennis’ Mother:   “We don’t have a lord.”
King Arthur: “What?”
Dennis: “I told you, we’re an anarcho-syndicist commune. We take turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.

Certainly rotating who is the acting executive officer for the week would be a creative way to increase employee engagement.

All kidding aside, an example of how to increase employee engagement is to build the trust, the pride in the mission (corporate symbol), and provide opportunities and well being of the employees.  By asking staff level employees to step up and give input and take ownership of key areas that affect employee engagement you can actively work to change the culture.  This is truly the only way to increase engagement long term.  You have to have the buy-in of the staff. Instead of having HR “own” the employee engagement survey, form a committee of staff level employees that represent the various departments in your organization. Facilitate the committee but make sure that the employees are the ones driving how to increase employee engagement by sharing ideas, best practices, and determining the best way to communicate throughout the year.

  • Massive collaboration to initiate and integrate sustainability. Direct employee engagement at innovation rather than competition.

Now, these are two completely separate concepts that can act alone.  But, when done in concert, I would imagine the results could be miraculous.  One option would be to launch an organization-wide sustainability audit and then institute an internal task force to come up with ways to address the areas of highest vulnerability.  This should include employees from staff through leadership levels.  I would appoint someone in middle/ early management as the project lead with a leader as a mentor.  This will provide skill development for the more inexperienced manager and also give credibility to the project so that the staff level will be more likely to speak up and participate.

For the innovation piece, tell the committee up front to “dream big”.  Tell them to brainstorm solutions regardless of what they think they will cost, how many people will have to be involved, etc.  In other words, tell them that you want them to be as creative as possible in their sustainability solutions.  Then, as leadership, provide them with tools to aid in their innovation.

  • Al Gore at #SHRM10 “employee retention and engagement key to future of business.”
Ok, I was not present for Al Gore’s speech, however, if this is an accurate quote of what he said, I think he was on the right track but ultimately missed the boat.  Why?  Well, in my experience, employee retention is not the key to the future of business.  Retaining the RIGHT employees is key.  There is always a need to let low performers or employees who do not promote the corporate philosophy and mission go.  We do not want to retain them in most cases.  So, I would change his statement to be “Key employee retention and engagement leads to a stronger future for the business.”  The challenge is actually retaining the key employees.  Now, some will be motivated by money and others by challenge or opportunity. I’ll throw it back to Paul Hebert to address a real-life example of how to incent people to stay with the organization.
  • Cross departmental teamwork is critical to overall engagement.

This one will only work if you make it measurable.  Set up cross-functional teams that actually align several department or several parts of departments.  Focus on providing service as consultants would, even if the customer you are dealing with is internal.  Set this new team up for success and instead of rewarding individual performance, reward the team when they accomplish specific milestones together.  This may be a revenue target, number of new customers served, or whatever metric makes sense for that particular team and the work they are doing.  The point is to help employees understand that they can accomplish more and feel greater fulfillment when working as a cross-functional team.

So, there are a few ways to get to the rest of the story.  What do you think?  Have examples of how you’re organization has done this?  Share it in the comments.

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