It's no secret that having a highly-motivated workforce is good for business. But can small and medium-sized businesses really compete with the employee engagement programs offered by larger competitors? The answer is yes. By following these ten suggestions, even organizations with a minimal budget can create an open, accountable and enriching environment for their workers:
1. Awards only go so far. 'Employer of the year' award programs are great ways to show that the organization is committed to the concept of engagement, but they do not guarantee an engaged workforce. Ineffective management can undermine even the most innovative employee incentive programs. Likewise, just because an organization has not submitted to external validation does not necessarily mean they are any less of an employer of choice for their staff.
2. If you want them to care, you have to care. This one is pretty straightforward. If you want people to commit their time, energy and commitment to things that matter to your organization, it pays to show an interest in your employees and their work. Remembering names and paying attention to the things they tell you about their families, special events, holidays, hobbies and interests is critical. This type of behaviour proves to your staff they are more than just a 'resource' for you. If you've ever watched an episode of Undercover Boss, you can see this very clearly. Sometimes, the best motivation comes from someone simply paying attention and listening.
3. Demand excellence and hold people accountable. While you may not condone his brutal leadership style, those who work with Gordon Ramsey seem to be highly engaged. A small compliment from Ramsey over a well executed risotto caneradicate the devastation of criticism he dished out only moments before. And whatever you might think of Ramsey, he is a perfectionist who holds people accountable and expects them to live up to their potential. While you may not wish to be quite so aggressive in the workplace, it certainly pays to be real when it comes to performance. A tough critic who gives compliments sparingly and asks people to redo work that is not up to par can certainly drive engagement.
4. What you choose not to do is just as important. As a leader, your every action is being closely monitored by others. If someone is underperforming, the team expects you to deal with it. If you turn a blind eye, or worse yet, delegate an increased share of work to others to compensate for this weak link, your stronger performers will start questioning why they should work as hard as they do. Without the proper feedback, a weaker performer loses the opportunity to step up or find a better fit for their skills elsewhere.
5. Don't let your lack of planning become someone else's emergency. Putting something at the bottom of your pile until you get around to it, or until a creeping deadline makes it urgent, is a clear indication that the project is not important to you or the organization. Imagine how motivating it is then to be the one who has to deal with that last-minute emergency due to your procrastination or lack of planning. If it wasn't important to you to do it sooner, then its not important enough for someone else to have to drop everything they are working on to make it happen, perhaps causing them to fall behind on other projects.
6. Help them discover their strengths. All employees want to see personal progression. For some that might mean promotion and financial reward, for others it could mean something more personal. It's worth asking your employees what would make today, this week, this month or this year a worthwhile use of their time and then show them how to achieve their goals.
7. Ask for feedback. Find out what your employees consider the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and ask people what they would tell a new potential hire when asked "what does it mean to work here?" But be warned: Asking for feedback can be hazardous, especially if you try to make excuses or try justifying any shortfalls rather than seeking ways to fill the gaps.
8. Be open and transparent with your results. I'm always amazed by how many corporate workers are removed from the reality of the business results. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to generate an entrepreneurial level of engagement if your workers are not exposed to the financial information needed to make sound business decisions. Show them how to read a balance sheet. Teach them why certain business metrics and key indicators matter in your business and how their role contributes to the bottom line. Even if they are not in sales, they can make a proactive impact by reducing costs, eliminating redundancy and improving efficiency to increase profits.
9. Give people the space and time they need to explore new ideas. Being able to influence the future direction of the business can be very motivating. Often, front line workers who engage with customers or interact with your products generally have great ideas for improving your business. Unfortunately, those with the most direct access to improvement opportunities are also the people who have the least time and authority to think about solutions. Give junior members of the team the opportunity to explore beyond their job description. Minds not yet entrenched in organizational patterns are a prime breeding ground for new connections. But be careful to avoid not-invented-here syndrome and its close cousin "we've tried it before and it didn't work." Fresh ideas plus new timing plus new champions may just be the combination needed to make it work and can be very motivating for those involved.
10. An engaged workplace is not a conflict-free zone. Constructive disagreement and collaborative debate amongst respected colleagues can be the source of great inspiration and engagement. On the other hand, conflicts that are buried can fester, creating dysfunction and disengagement. The important difference is a level of mutual respect, appreciation of diverse perspectives and a willingness to operate as if your answer is not the only way. Your role as a leader is to foster healthy debate. Encourage your people to explore alternatives to their own ideas and enable them to be honest with their differences.
What do you think? Do these secrets work for you? Do you have other secrets for creating an engaged workforce?
Gabriella O'Rourke has been focused on transforming the growth capabilities of service organizations for almost 20 years. She has been entrusted by senior executives, leaders and owners of firms large and small, in Canada and in the UK, to create and execute business strategies that drive sustainable change. Currently the Business Development Director for one of Canada's oldest and most distinguished Law Firms, Gabriella blogs for fun and personal expression at http://thewallaceeffect.wordpress.com