When your team’s performance isn’t quite up to scratch, it might be time to look at your company culture more broadly, to gauge its impact on employee engagement.
As a leader, company culture may not be something you can always steer directly. So how do you foster a highly engaged workforce?
Whether you’re a human resources manager, a line manager, a team leader, or a senior leader, this article unpacks the key drivers of employee engagement and will provide you with the tools you need to enact change in your work environment.
What is employee engagement?
Engagement isn’t just your people showing up to work on time every day, it’s about their relationship and commitment to your team and your business.
When your employees are actively interested in the work that they’re producing and understand how it relates to the mission of your organization, then they’re more likely to commit more effort to their work. Engagement isn’t just naturally in some employees and not in others, good employees can also lose sight in their organization and become disengaged.
As business leaders, the responsibility for creating a culture that engages employees lies with us. Here’s how you can do it.
7 Ways to drive employee engagement
- Live your values
- Be transparent and authentic in your leadership
- Communicate with your people
- Hone in on engagement
- Give feedback
- Look to the future
The driving force behind creating an engaged culture stems from strong leadership. Culturally, the direction is set from the top of your business, which sets the standard for the company culture, and how work should be done.
As a leader, your actions are visible and set the tone: whether it’s your CEO regularly working 15 hour days while also working on weekends, or a CEO that takes extra long lunches every day and skips out early, your people are always watching. If your organization holds a value of having a good work-life balance, and your leaders don’t live that, then your people won’t either.
So what happens when your leaders aren’t living your values, yet those values are being reinforced at lower levels?
If your senior leaders are working around the clock to produce results yet they’re asking their employees to go home at a reasonable time, then there is a clear mismatch of values.
Even if the workload is manageable for a normal working week, if the team is seeing the manager work late every night, they’ll expect that for them to progress they must mirror this behavior.
How to do it?
Jon R. Katzenbach from the Harvard Business Review recommends Cultural Intervention as a first resort when an organization’s actions fail to meet its values. Culture runs deep, and it takes time to build trust in new processes and change ingrained ways of thinking.
Think about what you’re trying to achieve as a business. Will your organization’s values help achieve this overarching goal?
If the answer is yes and the organization is still failing its targets, then your senior leadership needs to shift their priorities to help the organization achieve results. However if the answer is no, then your values need to be rethought so that your people can know how to go about achieving their goals.
In keeping with living your values, it’s important for the leaders of your business to demonstrate transparency and be authentic. This extends to your employees believing that your leadership team can achieve the goals they set out for your organization.
In 2020, Deloitte conducted a survey on talent from the employee perspective. They discovered that just over one in four employees who planned to leave the business trusted their business leaders, whereas those who planned on keeping their job trusted their corporate leadership two out of three times.
When employees trust that their leaders can achieve what they’ve set out to do, they’re much more likely to stay on board and aim to achieve the goals together.
How to do it?
The most effective way to increase trust in your leadership to drive employee engagement is to improve communication. In the Deloitte study above, they discovered that 95% of employees who trust their leadership team also found that their managers did an effective job communicating their company’s goals.
The only way that upper management can be authentic and trusted in their leadership is through clear and transparent communication with their employees. This may be through line managers, who then speak with their teams and align on goals, or by communicating clearly with the entire organization.
We’ve established that trust in leadership is an important factor that drives employee engagement, but that extends beyond simply releasing a strategy document, or holding a yearly run-through of the figures.
For communication to be effective there must also be room for response. Generally, people will have questions about what informed the business strategy, and the targets they’ll be working towards. This is referred to as ‘two-way’ communication.
We spoke to Business Psychologist Eleni Dracakis who helps high-performing leaders, teams and organizations go from good to great, she has years of experience in unleashing the potential in teams about why effective communication is so vital.
If communication has been off within your organization, and your people are confused about what’s going on, it will be reflected down the chain, Eleni advises.
Humans have inbuilt BS detectors. If we detect something that’s off i.e. values misalignment, we automatically tweak and perk up that something’s not quite right here. It’s a surefire way to get people to stop, think, and talk about the ‘way things should be’.
Just as it’s important for business leaders to communicate the organization’s vision, it’s also just as important to ensure that your people understand what’s being said, and a big part of that is asking questions and seeking clarification.
The format in which information is delivered is an important consideration. In the context of a large company meeting, it may be a great chance to speak about a new company direction but may not be the right forum for detailed questions from your team to be asked. People may also be hesitant to speak up with so many others around and in such a formalized environment.
To ensure this understanding is driven across the organization, personalized one-on-one communication is key.
“It’s really important for line managers to maintain open lines of communication when an employee wants to talk about a values misalignment and work together to come up with a mutually acceptable solution or change to satisfy the matter at hand,” Eleni said.
How to do it?
- Host a town hall meeting. If your senior leadership is launching a new strategy, consider organizing a town hall meeting directly afterward, so that your people can ask questions they may have. Alternatively, you could schedule the town hall for a future date and ask that staff provide questions in advance so that your leaders have time to prepare adequate answers. It’s important to have a dialogue, but it’s also important that your people see that your leaders understand their questions and have adequate responses for them.
- Organize team meetings. Once a new strategy has been released, encourage your managers to meet with their teams to discuss the new goals and how any changes may impact them. In these meetings, encourage your managers to ask for ideas from your people, so that they’re being brought along on the mission.
- Send out regular communications. If there’s a new project that impacts across the organization, provide regular updates so that your people feel they understand what’s happening and what’s impacting them. Brief your managers beforehand so that they’re aware of what’s happening, and can field and questions that their team might have.
- Have an “Ask me anything”. Get your teams to send in any questions that they might have and answer them in a public forum. This could be hosted on a messaging platform or through video conferencing.
We’ve detailed a few examples of how leadership can foster a positive culture and drive employee engagement. Now we’re going to delve into how team leaders can encourage their people to engage in their work.
Your people want to work hard and create meaningful work. Generally, people are keen to contribute value to objectives and be part of the team’s achievements. No employee sets out to create subpar work or be completely disengaged for eight hours every day.
If your people are letting their standards drop with the work they’re putting out, it may be that they don’t see a point to the work or they’re confused about how it relates to company goals. Perhaps they think there’s a better way to do things.
How can you create value?
There could be any number of reasons why your people feel that they aren’t creating meaningful work. And as people leaders, it’s your job to find out. Here are some common reasons that people might feel their work doesn’t create value:
- Their recommendations haven’t been listened to and it’s resulting in needless work
- Projects they’re been working on have been changed without consultation
- Their work isn’t contributing to company goals
- They don’t have enough work to keep them engaged
The best way that you can understand these issues is to speak directly with your team members one on one. A great way to start that conversation is to first send out an engagement survey or pulse with a few key points that you can work off of.
In your engagement survey, make sure you’re asking questions such as “do you see value in your work?”, or “do you feel satisfaction when you complete a large project?”. Ask your people to supply a rating for this along with an explanation, so that if rankings are low, you can understand why.
Go into these conversations with an open mind and work with your team members to find a solution.
Through the process of ongoing and regular feedback, employees are able to grow and stretch as they integrate feedback into their work.
How often are your managers providing feedback?
We spoke to Eleni about the importance of providing feedback to your employees.
“We are humans first. Throw all the money and good conditions at us, but the need for approval and belonging will always get you what we call in psychology ’emotional’ engagement,” Eleni said.
“Emotional engagement is up to three times more powerful than other forms of engagement. i.e. doing something because logically you know you should do it (cognitive engagement).”
Feedback is necessary for employees’ continual development, whether it’s providing notes on a draft of a project, or providing positive feedback after a presentation has gone well. It’s important for your employees to be able to benchmark their performance against what their manager thinks.
It’s this that creates emotional engagement.
Managers who say thank you, well done, and give specific and genuine positive feedback will always have a higher-performing and truly engaged team that has their back in times of need.
How you can do it
The best way that you can encourage more feedback in your workplace is by introducing a continuous feedback cycle within your teams.
Check in with your team members on a monthly basis and see how they’re tracking with their KPIs and goals. In this same conversation, give them pointers on how they could improve their performance. Ensure that you also commend them on areas where they’re doing well.
Create a culture of feedback. Your employees need to understand where they stand with the work that they’re doing, so that they’re able to know when they’re doing well and that their work is being recognized.
Feedback is such a crucial element in driving employee engagement, so if your managers are pushing back on implementing a feedback process, check out this on the importance of continuous feedback.
Does recognition differ from providing sufficient feedback?
It sure does!
Recognition isn’t just leaving a note in a Google doc with a positive comment, it has to go deeper. Like Eleni mentioned, it’s about emotional engagement.
Reward your top performers when they achieve their goals. Recognize employees who have completed probation with flying colors. Work with your people to build a culture of positive engagement around work, and this in turn will create positive attitudes when people approach their work.
Encourage peer-to-peer recognition as well. Recognition isn’t limited to managers, it can also come from those who’ve worked on projects with your team, and have seen your team members put in the extra effort.
How you can do it
There are plenty of ways that you can introduce rewards and recognition practices with your team. Ask your team if they have any ideas around recognition – everyone likes it differently. One option is taking time at your regular team catch-ups to recognize the fantastic work that has been achieved.
There are plenty of services available to automate recognition:
- Bonusly: give your team points with a cute gif and a couple of emojis! These points can be traded in for vouchers or other work perks that you set up for your team.
- Kudos: a recognition program that can dole out appreciation tokens, with or without gift cards attached to them.
Career development is a driving factor for employee engagement.
People need to see that your organization has a future that includes them as part of it, and that you’re willing to help them get there.
In a Deloitte survey on surveying talent, they found that one of the best ways to increase job retention was to introduce career development opportunities. Your team needs to see that they’re working towards something bigger and better. Continuing to do the same thing endlessly with no room for progression will absolutely make your people disengaged.
How you can do it:
- Promote top performers. If someone is doing well at their job, provide recognition. Not only does this reward the star employees, it also demonstrates to other staff that progress is achievable if they work hard.
- Progression plans. Integrate these with your monthly check-ins. Talk to your people to show them what they need to be doing to develop their careers and track their progression. Add on some new tasks to help prepare them for the future.
- Encourage training. If there’s training available that will help your team with their soft leadership skills or improve their technical capability, book them in and watch them grow professionally.
Employee engagement in hybrid teams
What’s great about all of these takeaways, is that they’re not restricted to the office only.
Though it may be easier to have a quick catchup with your team members on the fly and provide feedback in passing, that doesn’t mean you should skimp on feedback opportunities with your team members who are working remotely if you manage a hybrid or remote team.
If anything, it’s more important to engage your remote employees.
Remote work has its many perks, but one of the downsides is that the passing or ‘informal’ conversations disappear. It can be hard for these employees to know if they’re doing a good job or a bad job. They may also generally feel disconnected from their colleagues.
How you can fix it:
As we covered earlier, continue to send out engagement pulse surveys and check-ins for your continuous feedback cycles. But additionally, you can organize more one-on-one meetings with them so that they’re being updated on information that may not be available to them through remote working arrangements.
It might also be a great idea to develop some team-building activities so that relationships within the team continue to strengthen.
FREE DOWNLOAD: Managing hybrid teams toolkit
Interested in more?
At intelliHR, we’re passionate about teams reaching their potential and giving business leaders the tools they need to enable their people to succeed. If you’re curious about how our employee engagement tools can help drive employee engagement, improve culture and give your leaders oversight of team members’ happiness, we’d be happy to start a conversation with you.