If I had to condense my employee engagement philosophy into a few simple principles, these are the ones I would highlight.
Think of them as “The Five Commandments for Achieving Employee Engagement”:
1. Treat employees as individuals. Employees are people with lives. They have kids, they have spouses, or they want them. They have needs and desires. The more you know about the person, the better you will understand the individual’s behaviors, work patterns, job preferences and learning needs. This insight is a powerful communication and motivation tool. Build relationships. Inquire about their families. Get to know their favorite activities. Discuss current events. Seek their advice on particular challenges. Ask for ideas about an upcoming event. Involve them by asking them to interview job candidates.
2. Treat employees as adults. As such, employees want control over their lives and their work. Control means making decisions. Recognize this powerful motivator and use it. When asked a question, don’t jump to answer. Don’t assume that just because an employee asks a question, it means he or she doesn’t have an answer. In many cases this is a learned behavior. Employees are conditioned to ask. Turn your answer into a question. “What’s your opinion?” “How do you think this should be done?” By turning problem-solving back to the employee, you send a message that says, “You can do this!”
3. Spur employee involvement. Encourage employees to ask, “Why?” Questioning means involvement. When employees cease to ask questions, they cease to care. Effective managers know that when their people are asking questions, they are thinking about their work and the company. Effective managers also encourage healthy criticism and disagreement. They actively listen, and then ask for recommendations or solutions. Ownership begins with inquiries.
4. Make employees partners. People won’t give their best if they don’t understand the how and the why of their efforts. Of the companies we surveyed, 86% of managers and associates did not know their companies’ general financial performance. Up to 65% of associates thought that the difference between an item’s purchase price (wholesale) and retail price was net profit for the company. Many training programs do not address the financial basics of business. Worse, many companies do not discuss profits or losses with sales and service associates, except as it relates to individual productivity. When employees are treated as partners in business, a sense of ownership, involvement and responsibility sets in. Pride in contribution fills a powerful personal need.
As in any good business relationship, the partners share and are rewarded for their contributions. When associates really come through for you, your best reward is to pay attention to them. Show concern. Discover their dreams and career goals, and ask how you can help them achieve those goals and dreams. Recognize when extra effort is put forth, and offer a small reward. An extra 15 to 30 minutes for lunch works wonders for a person who went beyond the call of duty.
By building alliances with, and paying attention to, top performers, you send a clear message that you value and reward those who do a great job. This is critical to achieving excellent leadership. Many managers spend more time with poor performers because they demand more attention. Unfortunately, the message is interpreted incorrectly; do poorly, and I’ll spend lots of time with you to improve your performance.
5. Respect employees. Uniqueness in people is celebrated. Differences are encouraged. Opinions are considered. When you give respect, you get respect. I once asked a sales associate to define respect. Her answer was simple: “I know it when I feel it, and I know it when I don’t.”
Finally, please listen to your internal customer (employee) as diligently as you listen to external customers. Listening is all-important. No great idea ever enters the brain through the mouth!