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Five Steps to More Engaged Employees

employee_engagementAccording to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace: 2010-2012 report, employee engagement levels remain stagnant in the U.S, with only 30% of American workers saying they feel “engaged, involved in, enthusiastic about, or committed to their workplace.” Which means that seven out of every 10 employees are just going through the motions.

That’s no way to win!

According to the report, leadership awareness of employee engagement as a bottom line enhancing tool seems to be increasing. However, there remains a huge gap between understanding its importance and actually doing something about it. To increase employee engagement, Gallup recommends the following strategies.

Use the right employee engagement survey.
The problem with asking employees for their feedback is that they expect you to do something with it. Most companies understand this, but they unintentionally collect survey data that makes it difficult to act upon. To engage employees, suggests the study, companies need to use surveys that are specific, relevant, and actionable at all levels of the organization.

I agree with that assessment, and would go one step further. The best surveys minimize the amount of interpretation that has to occur once you collect the data. For example, if I ask “Are you satisfied?” and you say “no,” I don’t know why you’re not satisfied. I can assume that I know what to do differently. But the chances of my assumptions hitting the mark are slim to none.

Our assumptions and meanings are our own, and don’t translate well to others. Any survey (or other method of soliciting input) should provide responses that leave little to no room for interpretation. Survey questions should provide concise answers that tell us what to do without having to fill in the blanks.

Survey Monkey and the SHRM foundation recently created a survey template based on their research and knowledge of employee engagement. Visit to access their base of 42 questions.

Focus on engagement at the local and enterprise levels.
Employee engagement starts at the local workgroup level. But it won’t happen at any level unless senior management sets the tone and expectations. Employee engagement should be an integral part of performance expectations for managers. But even this won’t work unless leaders empower managers to make a difference in their areas of responsibility. Most important, the definition and measures of winning have to be known by all, at every level. The seat you sit in is not the same as anyone else’s, especially if you sit high up in the hierarchy.

Select the right managers.
If you want employee engagement, hire people with the talent, aptitudes and traits to effectively manage others. Most companies still interview and hire based almost entirely on technical and/or functional skills. Then they expect the management capabilities to magically appear. To hire better managers, we need to examine and change the thought bubbles that tell us technical skills are more important and harder to develop, and that management skills will develop on their own when someone is on the job long enough.

Coach managers, and hold them accountable for their employees’ engagement.
According to Gallup, companies should “coach managers to take an active role in building engagement plans with their employees, hold managers accountable, track their progress, and ensure they continuously focus on emotionally engaging their employees.” I agree. To hold people accountable, we first have to define excellence, and then communicate it constantly. And we have to tie it to every system that touches employees in any way – hiring, promotion, performance management, bonuses, project assignments, etc.

Define engagement goals in realistic, everyday terms.
Engagement has to make sense to employees before they will buy into it. I recommend a process called destination modeling, whereby you paint the picture of winning with specificity so that everyone can see it, understand it, and act towards achieving it every day. Again, communicate it on a regular basis in weekly meetings, planning sessions, one-to-ones, and other methods. Get it visible so everyone is reminded as often as possible on what winning looks like.

Find ways to connect with each employee.
To this I would add “on an individual level.” Every employee is different. What excites, motivates and engages one employee my not work with another. Managers need to know each employee well enough to find out what it takes to get them engaged. It is about them and not about your wants, needs or desires. This is especially hard to remember when you are running to fast to think, so carve out the time to pause periodically and consider how to do this well.

Here’s the interesting part about employee engagement. We’ve had the data for years, and we know that most of this is just plain common sense. But we don’t do it because we’re running so fast to do things that our brains tell us are more important. Our often illogical behaviors in this regard do not serve us well.

By the way, Gallup’s research also shows that employee engagement is strongly connected to business outcomes essential to an organization’s financial success. The hard data, not just soft, fuzzy stuff is clear. It pays to slow down in order to go fast.

Call to action: Identify one action you will do today to encourage employee engagement.

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