Employee engagement: using your ears and their ‘I's'

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One of the discussions most often heard when two or more managers get together is how to get their staff motivated, or how to get them to do what the managers want, faster and more efficiently.

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by Mike Martin

If you are having these discussions, then the fact is that you have probably lost the attention of your employees. The real question is: how do you get it back?

The answer lies in employee engagement, and the good news is that it is never too late to make a good impression on your employees when it comes to communications. The real secret to employee engagement is in using your ears and their I's. You need to use your ears because, except for a brief period at the beginning of their career when they need information and direction, managers and supervisors should be listening to their employees. If you listen consistently and closely you will hear not only employee complaints that need to be addressed, but also suggestions for improvements and ideas for innovation.

This listening can be done both formally and informally. Formal methods include initiatives such as suggestion boxes, regular staff meetings and an annual employee survey that lets you monitor your progress. But informal methods are equally valuable, because you want to know very quickly when something is not working or if a new product won't sell.

In addition to listening employers also need to use their "I's": information and involvement. Information is important because employees crave information about their job, their company, and their future. Involvement is also essential because they want to feel part of something bigger at work, that their contribution makes a difference to the success or failure of the enterprise.

Employees see information as power, and successful organizations and companies have learned that the more information employees have, the better they will adapt to new situations, good or bad. If people do not have information, they could just make it up, so it's better to put your information out there first before the water-cooler chatter and misinformation begins.

You also need a feedback system that allows employees to comment on the news. This is a bit of a risk because once you ask for feedback you might have to actually do something about any concerns that are raised. But that is still preferable to hearing about employee discontent weeks or months later. And the best result from sharing information is that your employees will trust that you will tell them the truth. Nothing inspires loyalty like honesty.

This leads into involvement, the second-most important "I." Information is great, but if employees are not involved in decisions that directly affect them, they will quickly tune out or change the motivation channel to ignore. This does not mean that you have to consult with employees on everyday decisions. That is and will always be a management right and responsibility. But don't you want to hear what your employees, "the experts," think about the new product line, or closing every second Saturday? It just makes sense to let them have a say. It helps them feel more comfortable and you to make better decisions. A side benefit to this approach is that involving employees in key changes or decisions shows them respect and leads to them respecting you in return.

A study a few years ago by HR giant Towers Watson involving 90,000 workers worldwide found what they called a significant "engagement gap" in the global workforce. Around the world, employees felt that many senior managers were not doing enough to keep them informed or involved and this was undermining their motivation at work. The study also found, however, that companies with the highest levels of employee engagement achieved better financial results and are more successful in retaining their most valued employees than companies with lower levels of engagement.

So the message is clear. Engage your employees by using your ears and their I's.

Mike Martin is a Ottawa-based freelance writer and workplace wellness consultant. He blogs at mike54martin.com.

Geographic location: Ottawa

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