Got a business challenge that is keeping you awake at night? Keen to exploit an opportunity before the competition does? In this blog, Axiom founder Chris Carey explores how to harness the insights and expertise of your very own staff to help you rise to the challenge
I’ve been working in the employee engagement space for 25 years now and many are the times I’ve heard a leader say ‘I know what the problem is – I just don’t know where to start in terms of trying to solve it.’ My response is clear. ‘You already have the answer – you start with the problem – and then engage with your workforce to determine the best way forward to resolve it.’
In truth, leaders aren’t the only ones who know something isn’t as good as it could be. Your people have worked that out too. They might have lost sleep about it as well and the odds are they’ve been talking to each other about how to rise to the challenge. But their passion for excellence and innovation in execution often go unheard by leaders, which actually drives disengagement.
Experience tells me that bosses and the people they lead already share a common goal, for example, to deliver an outstanding customer experience, and between them, they have the insights, experience and expertise to co-create the best possible ways forward.
And what’s more, staff invariably want to contribute; to be heard, valued and recognised, so it seems involving them is a good way forward. In fact, they want to be engaged.
Employee engagement defined and quantified
My favourite definition of employee engagement is “being positively present during the performance of work by willingly contributing intellectual effort, experiencing positive emotions and meaningful connections to others”. It’s characterised by feeling positive about a job, working hard to do the job well and feeling loyalty towards colleagues and to the organisation itself.
And so much research shows that engagement delivers better performance. As just one example, the Institute for Employment Studies reports that engaged employees deliver four times more value to an organisation than those who are disengaged. That’s incredibly significant for any organisation, right?
Engaged employees go the extra mile – even when times are tough. Indeed our own research shows the efficacy of engagement, for example in communicating business strategy.
Five steps to success
Having acknowledged that leaders are often pushing against an open door in terms of engaging with colleagues to deliver on a common goal, it’s worth exploring five steps to success that have stood the test of time in many sectors and even more organisations.
- Understand your people
The better you understand the people you are engaging with, the more likely you are to be able to shape your messages and engage those concerned in what you are all trying to achieve. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and ask: What do they want or need to know? Why do they want to know it? What do they already know? What might motivate or engage them? What won’t work? And if you don’t know – ask them.
- Identify and define your messages
Decide what you want people to think, feel and do differently. Make that the basis of your key messages. In particular, remember the importance of the ‘why’ and ‘so what?’ in engagement. Your messages must answer employees’ fundamental questions: What’s in it for me? Why is this good for my stakeholders / customers? Aim for between three and five key messages; any more, and people will struggle to see the wood for the trees.
- Enlist and upskill line managers
Time and again, employees say that their line manager is their communication channel of choice, especially in times of change. The extent of their engagement depends on line managers. You need to upskill your managers so they can communicate with verve (especially face to face) and act as positive role models who truly own the messages they are delivering.
- Develop powerful interventions
Now (and only now) it is time to start developing a clear plan for how you will make use of a range of communication activities or solutions. These can range from conferences and events to employee magazines and from apps to internal social media and podcasts. The key thing is to create solutions that seize people’s attention, get them involved and encourage them to think and act differently.
One of the best ways of doing this is by exploiting the power of images and storytelling to make a strategy or change convincing and meaningful. They act as catalysts for discussions in which senior leadership and local work teams identify and explore what they need to do to contribute and commit to action.
- Check you’re getting through
It’s all very well delivering shiny new communications solutions, but are they making a difference? Are you getting the results you’re looking for, or just moving a lot of hot air? You need to measure whether messages have been received, believed and understood and, ultimately, acted on. If not, you need to do something different.
Be positively infectious
And once you’ve got the evidence that your engagement is working, don’t keep it a secret. Share it, publicise it, promote it.
Effective employee engagement is positively infectious, disengagement is infectious too and potentially more virulent. Make sure yours is the right kind of ‘catchy’ and you can deliver better performance in your organisation – you might even get a bit more sleep.
For more useful articles and tools to help drive your employee engagement check out: