The reports speak volumes: a recent Gallup poll found that a staggering 70% of people feel "actively disengaged" at work. And according to Morton Worldwide, only 33% of employees are satisfied with how their employers communicate with them. These reports and others like them are astounding when you consider how much time Americans spend at their jobs.
Another Gallup study revealed that businesses which engage their employees had less turnover and remarkably higher percentages of customer loyalty, profitability, and revenues. Extensive studies by the HayGroup revealed powerful links between employee engagement and productivity. People thrive on being motivated, fulfilled, challenged, and recognized. It’s human nature.
So, as a manager, how can you engage your employees? Begin by trusting the unlimited potential of people and by realizing that business is a personal contact sport. The following 10 strategies, which we explore further in our book Why Dogs Wag Their Tails: Lessons Leaders Can Learn About Work, Joy, and Life, will help you get started.
- Be a leader others can follow. Leadership is a learned behavior that takes time to hone. At its foundation, leadership is comprised of several key drivers, including the behaviors surrounding clarity, credibility, and encouraging presence. Finding clarity helps leaders understand the real issues and to gain insights that contribute toward decisions and actions. Becoming a credible and encouraging presence isn’t just a nice thing to do; it makes business sense because it increases your ability to positively influence people.
- Build an organization based on trust. You must be equipped intellectually and emotionally to deliver information—good news or bad news—as early as possible. If you aren’t honest, sincere, and timely, you’ll lose people’s respect and, ultimately, your credibility. If you gain people’s trust and maintain it, you’ll have their support not only when the company is thriving, but in difficult times as well.
- Have strategic clarity. Strategic clarity is the ability to take an organization’s talent and culture and combine them with internal business processes that support a clear, targeted value proposition of what customers want. If you do this well, you achieve profitability and reach the organization’s vision. Having strategic clarity requires prioritization. Do you dig five holes 100 feet deep or 100 holes five feet deep? You have to determine what is best and then you have to articulate it.
Set strategic priorities by ensuring that you have the right people in the right positions and that they can clearly communicate priorities. Without priorities, everything in an organization is often an “A” priority. People receive mixed messages and misunderstandings multiply. Alignments and efficiencies are put at risk. Involve people throughout the organization in strategy development and involve those on the implementation side early.
- Align employee talents with meaningful work. We all have choices in the work we do and the roles we take on. Know what your employees are good at, what skills they need to develop, and what they’re passionate about. Work hard to get people into positions where they can use their top talents 70 to 80% of the time. If people do what they love, performance improves. Understanding people’s strengths and weaknesses will help you develop teams with complementary skills.
- Set achievable goals. This is different from finding that elusive “work/life balance” we all talk about. It’s about establishing realistic goals and never underestimating—or overestimating—what you can get done and how long it will take. Apply this thinking to yourself and to your teams. Encourage hard work, but be reasonable. If someone must regularly work until 9 or 10 p.m., something’s not right.
- Invest in employee development. Motivate and focus your team by developing career paths for people at all levels within the organization. And don’t neglect succession planning. Too many times we’ve seen organizations crumble when a leader leaves unexpectedly. Developing others helps clarify a sense of direction and encourages better performance. It is critical to individual growth and long-term retention and ensures ongoing high-performance, stability, and viability.
- Be a boss people want to work for. People don’t work for companies; they work for people. Bosses who care about people build high-performance teams and get great results. They provide clear and measurable goals and focus on creating a unified team. These are the leaders everyone wants to work for. Believe in your employees, help them grow, mentor them, and invest in their development.
Many clients have told us how their relationships with their bosses make or break their jobs and shape their ultimate career success. Healthy relationships between bosses and employees lead to happiness at work.
- Resolve conflicts early and skillfully. We often find that people who avoid conflict are surrounded by a lot of unresolved conflicts. Although no one loves conflict, businesses can’t grow or evolve without some degree of conflict. General George S. Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” Acquire conflict management skills and they’ll help improve your work and personal lives.
When people know you are open to new ideas they won’t be afraid to suggest innovative changes. Potential conflicts are easier to resolve the more openly you address them. That’s why we say if you want to have fewer conflicts, you should actually have more of them. Encourage open discussion and endeavor to understand the nature of conflicts. You will then be in a better position to resolve them.
- Provide ongoing feedback. Give and receive feedback with an open mind. Practice giving feedback—both positive and negative; get coaching, if necessary. Align yourself with a mentor with whom you can practice and from whom you can get advice. Become a mentor yourself. Pursue 360 degree leadership tools, DISC, and Myers-Briggs personality assessments, and hold meeting debriefings. Ask for, receive, and constructively respond to feedback.
- Celebrate, have fun, and be grateful. When you have a powerful and committed team, continually let them know that you greatly appreciate their efforts. When people speak, listen, and respond attentively. Catch people doing something good and then celebrate with positive feedback. Commit to acknowledging and affirming others. There are many ways to reward employees and together they will yield huge pay-offs. Team-building events, profit sharing, and individual recognition efforts help sustain employees with energy, enthusiasm, and effectiveness. Reward yourself and others with small tokens for work well done. Use humor and surprises to keep things fresh. Smile more. Give people time off when deserved. Keep up the “praise ratio”: praise people seven to 10 times for every one challenge, correction, or critique. Celebration feeds on itself; the enthusiasm that springs from it can be contagious, ultimately fueling positive business outcomes.
If you make a concerted effort to engage your employees you’ll become not just a good leader, but a great one.