10 Steps to Rev Up Employee Engagement

Jan 24, 2019

By Tony DiRomualdo

Passion for the mission. Extra effort to get the job done. Commitment to the organization. These are traits and behaviors exhibited by employees who are highly engaged. i4cp's research on employee engagement confirms that in high-performing organizations (HPOs) employee engagement involves far more than a periodic survey followed by activity-planning. Engagement is the result of a series of activities that need to be embedded into every step of the employee life cycle process from the employer brand portrayed, recruiting and onboarding, to leadership, learning and development, and reward and recognition.

The following are 10 vital steps—gleaned from high-performance organizations and highlighted in i4cp's new report Employee Engagement: Strategies and Practices—that can help achieve that:

1. Design/enhance your employer brand around key engagement drivers
Engagement is a driver of performance—there is no better way to bring future stars than by engaging them from the start on those attributes of the job and the organization that drive their passion and energy. Build an employee value proposition and workplace environment around attributes that most engage employees. More than half of Harley-Davidson employees own motorcycles (and many have the company logo tattooed on various parts of their bodies). REI, a retailer of outdoor gear, sporting goods and recreation equipment, centers its mission on outdoor adventure and stewardship, and it attracts employees who are passionate about these. This creates a culture that continually engages employees and helps improve internal employee referral rates.

2. Hire people who are more likely to fit your organization from a values/culture standpoint
Embedding values and behaviors into candidate identification, interviewing and assessment practices inculcates new staff more quickly into the organization. Southwest Airlines places disproportionate weight on each candidate's personality and spirit during its evaluation process. The company hires for personality, concentrating on recruiting people with great attitudes, people skills and sense of humor across all positions in the organization. Applicants go through interviews with managers, frontline employees, and even customers to assess cultural fit.

3. Focus the onboarding process on assimilation
Implementing a process to ensure managers meet with new staff on start dates, have working environment prepared including technology and are assigned “buddies” to help new staff with acclimation and introductions to key people in the organization. For new hires at companies such as Cisco, there's no delay spent figuring out what to do on your start date—your colleagues, workspace, technology, and a buddy are ready to receive you. This accelerates time to full productivity and reduction of learning curves for new employees. At W. L. Gore & Associates, a global technology-driven manufacturer, each new hire is assigned a sponsor who has made a commitment to help the newcomer become successful as quickly as possible. The sponsor mentors new hires to find opportunities and be responsible for their own careers.

4. Train (and retrain) frontline leaders on effective performance management practices
Companies must ensure that their employees have line of sight from the work they do to the bigger strategic goals of the organization and/or business unit. Leaders can help connect the dots by educating employees on the business, making company performance data available, identifying drivers of performance, and showing how what employees do affects them. i4cp member company Hertz trains all its managers on how to work with employees to set individual goals and give feedback. Line of sight between employee and organizational goals and performance creates a greater sense of ownership among employees and establishes transparency about executive leadership actions and objectives.

5. Involve employees in organizational strategy
Listening to employees is essential to increasing engagement. Some organizations do this formerly through an employee council to gather inputs and feedback from employee representatives on the organization's strategy and plans. Others use focus groups, town halls, and other vehicles that encourage employees to voice feedback and submit ideas for improvements. One-on-one interactions between employees and leaders are also important. 3M, also an i4cp member company, trains managers to involve employees in decision making. These approaches build and sustain employee trust, a condition of engagement, and promote ownership of organizational strategic goals among employees.

6. Focus on developing better leaders and managers
Training managers in coaching and mentoring skills such as giving and receiving feedback, conducting performance appraisal meetings, addressing employee performance issues, and employee goal-setting equips them to become better at engaging employees. 3M emphasizes skills to build employee engagement in all its leadership classes and through mentoring initiatives such as “Leaders Teaching Leaders”. Embedding engagement awareness and skills in leaders ensures that engagement is part of the day-to-day management process rather than an annual measurement event.

7. Hold leaders accountable for engagement
The tone of an organization's culture is set by its leadership and the basis upon which employee engagement is built (or not). If the conduct of the organization's leadership is in conflict with the messages being sent to the workforce, investments in building engagement with employees are wasted. Tie engagement scores of direct reports and/or business unit to appraisals and rewards. i4cp member Jack-in-the-Box shares engagement scores with managers quarterly and makes the scores part of each managers' formal assessment process. Such practices reinforce the importance of engagement with and by leaders, sending the message that what is measured truly matters.

8. Provide ample learning options and opportunities
Learning is a powerful driver of engagement for many employees—the more opportunities the better. To stoke engagement, establish development plans and career paths for all job roles. Offer blended approaches of classroom, online, and experiential learning. Provide career development support, including online portals and tools and coaching and mentoring. Organizations such as REI and W.L. Gore attract and keep highly engaged entrepreneurial talent by providing stretch assignments and formal mentors to accelerate and guide career development. These approaches build commitment to the organization as a place to learn and grow.

9. Use social and collaborative tools
Social media provides a vehicle for organizational transparency and open communication. It also reinforces key engagement drivers as well as surfaces issues that may soon (or already do) impact engagement. Implement a social media rich intranet to facilitate quicker communication, information sharing, collaboration, and connecting team members to communities or groups in which they have interest. Use social media and collaborative tools to tap into individual diversity and unique creativity of your workforce. Says Arkadi Kuhlmann, Founder, ING Direct USA, “We wanted to hire ‘workers,’ but ‘human beings’ show up. Social media is driving that. Work is becoming an expression of personal values.”

10. Prioritize and communicate ongoing employee recognition and rewards
Making employees feel valued and appreciated is another surefire way to increase their engagement. Implement programs such as spot rewards, through which managers can reward employees who go above and beyond. Spotlight employees (e.g., in a company newsletter) who consistently demonstrate organizational values and/or come up with innovative ideas that improve company performance.

For more information about the study, visit www.i4cp.com

If you would like to learn more about how to engage employees, consider these AMA seminars:
Recruiting, Interviewing and Selecting Employees

Successfully Managing People

Keeping employees engaged requires understanding their values and motivation. Learn about the new generation of workers with this free AMA webcast.

About the Author(s)

Tony DiRomualdo, is vice president of research at i4cp