Engaging your Employees Will Impact Your Bottom Line

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People don’t know what is expected of them unless you tell them.

Innovative ideas and greater productivity are locked in your employees’ heads, and it’s your job to crack the code to bring those advantages to bear for your company’s profitability and sustainability. Often, bright and talented people have great resumes, pass the interview process with flying colors, are hired and initially are productive, contributing ideas to the team; but over a period of time, they become shrinking violets, to the chagrin of the management team. For you, an upper-level manager or CEO, innovative ideas and increased productivity can make a huge difference in the bottom line. It’s the difference between survival and growth.

Owners and managers often find themselves contending with employees who do just enough to keep their jobs, but add little to the long-term strategic value of the company. And you know there is so much more that they could contribute. But do your employees even know that you want them to be more engaged? Managers and executives often assume that employees somehow just know the expectations of the company; yet these expectations are nowhere to be found. Ask yourself whether your written procedures and communications clearly articulate a policy of engagement and whether your culture supports those initiatives. If not, a good place to start is to tell your staff exactly what you want and expect.

Once you’ve clearly stated your goals, the question remains: How do you actually encourage employees to become more engaged? There are six strategy areas where you can begin developing a culture of engagement in your company:

  • Create a safe environment
  • Reward contributors
  • Make everyone feel they are a part of the team
  • Set expectations and review
  • Encourage failure
  • Brainstorm without analyzing

Set expectations and review: Don’t play the mind-reading game. People don’t know what is expected of them unless you tell them. It’s very possible to have an employee who feels they are doing a good job and a supervisor who doesn’t. Written, measurable expectations are best because they can be analyzed. Review and give feedback in a timely manner. The results of an annual review should not be a surprise to the employee receiving it. Daily, weekly or monthly evaluations with feedback are critical and provide the opportunity for mid-course corrections.

Create a safe environment: Engagement comes from the top down. What type of environment are your employees working in? Oftentimes, the physical characteristics of an office create a very real distance. When an employee walks into a supervisor’s office, is there a giant, intimidating desk in between the supervisor and the employee? A few simple solutions would be to have a small round table added to the office for the purpose of conducting discussions between the supervisor and employee, or for the supervisor to sit next to the employee. Encourage your supervisors to get on the same level as the employee he or she is engaging: If the employee is sitting, sit; if they are standing, stand when discussing.

Reward contributors: Many employees stop feeling and acting engaged because they come to believe they are not being heard. Stop multi-tasking when someone is talking to you and devote your full effort to listening. Thank people for their input. Give credit for good ideas. Sometimes a simple thank-you is enough. Buying lunch, a gift card or giving a cash bonus may be more appropriate, depending on the circumstances. The closer the reward is to the action, the more reinforcement it offers, and the more engaged people will learn to become. While monetary rewards aren’t compulsory for stimulating engagement, employees aren’t that different than the company they work for – bottom-line impacts can have the most effective results.

Make everyone feel they are a part of the team:  Some employees want to be recognized by the group, and others prefer to be recognized personally in a quiet manner. Some employees value being recognized as employee of the month. Others may see it as a disaster because of the ridicule they may receive from the other employees who didn’t achieve the same recognition. The key is to know your players and what motivates them to be engaged.

The same principle applies in conflict resolution. When you have a “good” employee who is causing strife, the situation needs to be addressed in a manner that does not alienate them from the group or cause them to suffer a loss of reputation among their colleagues. In private, explain what the situation is from your point of view, why you feel they are causing strife, and how you expect it to change. Inquire about the cause of the unwanted behavior and engage the employee to discuss the situation as opposed to simply “defend.” Seek to discover if the root cause is work related. If so, what simple changes can be made to alleviate the situation from their point of view? Oftentimes issues at work are an outgrowth of personal issues related to their family life. Making the employee a part of the solution allows them to own their behavior and own the growth they achieve.

The Dale Carnegie course on “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” or a similar course, may be beneficial and oftentimes dramatically increases employee empowerment and engagement. People only change if they want to.

If you have an employee that is technically a “good” employee, but who conducts themselves in a way that is causing division, strife and grief among your other employees, and you’ve done everything in your power to encourage change, then it’s probably best to let them go.

Encourage failure: Recognize failure as a hidden and often misunderstood opportunity for growth. A mistake that remains hidden can snowball out of control, while one that comes to light presents us all with the chance to learn and avoid the same mistake in the future. We live in a dynamic world in which the speed of change is accelerating. Any company that does everything the same way day in and day out, year after year, will eventually cease to exist. The road to greatness is paved with failure. Consider instituting an annual trophy for the biggest failure of the year tied in with positive recognition to be earned as a badge of honor.

Brainstorm without analyzing: Meetings, whether formal or informal, set the tone of the organization. In an idea-generating brainstorming session, do not evaluate or comment on any ideas during the idea generating phase, as this stymies the creative process and will lead people to close their minds as well as their mouths.

Strategies to encourage the most participation include:

  • rotating the meeting leader to give everyone the chance to facilitate,
  • having the highest ranking person speak last to give others a chance to voice their ideas,
  • have an agenda, time limits for the meeting, and to encourage brevity, standing during a meeting.

In non-brainstorming meetings, if one or more individuals habitually talks without contributing anything of value, consider limiting the number of times someone may talk, having a timer, or both.

Strategies to engage your employees pay off by driving innovation and increasing productivity. When employees feel heard, valued, and safe to express their ideas, they strive to perform at the top of their game, helping to make your company a benchmark organization.


Additional Reading

Staffing for Operational Excellence

Team Empowerment – The Honor Code 


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