There’s a lot being written these days about employee engagement and retention. It seems employee engagement levels are pretty low right now, and many experts think we’ll see a significant number of workers looking for new opportunities once the economy improves.
That could spell trouble for a lot of companies. A big exodus of staff means significant recruiting and onboarding costs. But it also means a significant drain on your “brain trust” or intellectual capital. And that more than anything can impact your organization’s competitive position and ability to succeed.
So what can you do to drive up engagement?
From a talent management perspective, there are a few basic things every manager and leader can and should do. They include:
Be clear about goals and expectations, and help employees see how their work matters to the organization.
Reward, recognize and appreciate your employees in a fair and consistent way.
Give employees opportunities for growth and development.
These four things actually cover off a lot of the employee needs commonly recognized as contributing to employee engagement. Let’s look at each one in a bit more detail.
Give Employees Meaningful Feedback on a Regular Basis
For me, the two key words here are “meaningful” and “regular”. It’s about giving each of your employees the feedback they need to succeed. Tell them what you think they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. Be specific. Talk about the “what” and also the “how” – this should map to their assigned goals and competencies.
Don’t just give them feedback during their annual performance review. Tell them every day, or at least once a week. This helps them know what’s expected of them, demonstrates that you care about them and their performance, and opens up opportunities for dialogue that can help you both understand the factors that underlie their performance so you can support their success.
Be Clear About Goals and Expectations and Help Employees See How Their Work Matters to the Organization
I think one of the best ways to do this is to clearly link employee goals to higher level organizational goals. Do the mapping for them, so they can be like that famous janitor at NASA who told a visitor that by sweeping the floor he was helping put a man on the moon. This kind of context helps employees know that their work matters.
Make sure their goals are SMART and they can actually be achieved. Employees have to have the knowledge, skills and tools to do their work, but also the control and responsibility to achieve their goals. Often, we assign people goals they can’t actually achieve, then penalize them for it later.
The other thing we need to do is identify the competencies that are important for an employee’s role, as well as for the organization overall. This again helps to set clear expectations.
Finally, keep employees informed about organizational progress. Let them know, on a regular basis, how the organization is progressing in achieving its goals. This too will give them a sense of contribution and help them better understand what’s expected of them and why.
Reward, Recognize and Appreciate Your Employees in a Fair and Consistent Way
This doesn’t just mean money. There are lots of ways to reward and recognize employees. The experts tell us one of the most effective ways is with verbal praise. This is part of the feedback thing too. Find out what your employees value in terms of rewards, then cater to their preferences. And make sure your rewards and recognition are rooted in performance. That’s the only way they work as motivators.
Give Employees Opportunities for Groth and Development
Discuss your employees’ short and long-term career goals with them, and put development plans in place that give them opportunities to improve their current role and prepare for future advancement. Keep them learning. This is another great way to demonstrate that you and the organization care about the individual, but also that you’re committed to them over the long term.
While some of the things that contribute to employee engagement are outside of our direct control as managers and leaders, most of them can be fairly easily addressed with good talent management practices.