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5 Key Ways to Get and Keep Employees Engaged… And, Encouraging Them to Speak Up Isn't Enough!

Employee engagement
One of my favorite columns comes out every Sunday in the New York Times’ Business Section entitled “Corner Office.”  Each week they interview a different (usually small) company CEO and it’s always thought-provoking.  In fact, I even wrote an entire blog post based on one of them.

It doesn't matter how much you encourage employees to speak up

Several weeks back there was an interview with Bracken Darrell, CEO of Logitech (you’re probably using a mouse from them) entitled “Be Sure to Tell the Boss What’s Wrong.” The essence of it was his feeling that it was critical to encourage employees to speak up, which I absolutely agree with. But the real crux of the issue is that no matter how much you encourage employees to speak up, if nobody is listening, soon they stop speaking up. 

But it really goes further than that.

Even listening is not enough.  Here the old saw, “actions speak louder than words,” applies. Because listening without action, be that deeper questioning or more research on what was heard, to say nothing of resolving the issue, simply makes the whole process fake.  And many companies, regardless of size, fool themselves into believing they’re tuned into employees because they encourage speaking up. And employees who think you’re “going through the motions,” will check out mentally.  Then it’s just a job!

Employee engagement is a critical component in keeping your company growing and vital.  You’re all in this together. Engaging employees is not easy, especially, if that hasn’t been part of your culture. Not everybody does it right, starting out.  But, no matter, it does start with encouraging them to speak up about what’s right or wrong with the company, their job, etc.  But it surely doesn’t end there.

So how do you go about getting employee engagement that you need?  Here are five key ways to effect it in your organization.

Walk the talk: It starts with, credibility of and trust in, management.

Most often when it comes to engaging employees, credibility and trust can be the biggest hurdles to overcome.  This is, usually, built up over time, with either empty promises or “going through the motions” of listening to employee “gripes.” Too often small business owners think the way to fix a problem is to tell folks that you will. The thought being that the promise is more important than the delivery. If this has been the case in your company, you have to re-build credibility and trust by “walking the talk.”  Do what you say, say what you mean. Start with small things.  But you need to build their confidence that “this time,” will be different.  Fix a problem that employees have complaining about for a long time – maybe something as simple as the offices getting a new paint job; or more flexible summer hours.  Whatever you do, tell them you’re going to do it, do it and then tell them you did it.

Encourage not just speaking up but speaking out.

You want your employees to adopt a theme of “if you see something, say something,” meaning if they see something that doesn’t make sense, even if it’s not in their sector of responsibility, ask why?  Whether that’s a minor thing like why are we always out of paper towels to a big thing like why department A is always waiting for parts from department B, which delays shipments. And as important, open lines of communication further by having periodic company-wide meetings, where employees hear from folks in all functions and where employees are encouraged to ask relevant questions in that forum. “Why” or “why not” should begin the most important questions employees ask.

Listen, consider, respond and act.

Having employees raise hard questions is but the beginning.  Having management listen, consider, respond and act is where the “rubber meets the road.” This is where further credibility and trust, that we touched on in the first point, is built.  How well the company not only listens and considers an employee question, but how it responds and acts is really where employee engagement is fostered. That doesn’t mean that every question raised or suggestion offered is immediately accepted, but that it’s given a thoughtful response with an action plan or a rationale for why it can’t be done.

Have a scoreboard – constantly review/re-visit/revise based on the score.

If the speak up/speak out activity become regular occurrences, then there should be regular communication about those activities and what’s happening with them, with all employees.  Nothing works on credibility and trust like a public “scoreboard” of sorts that describes key employee-initiated activities, progress, schedules, etc. Now, it becomes a company-wide initiative with high visibility.

Make the workplace a fun place.

This last one is a favorite of mine and if you’ve read much of the other stuff I’ve written, you already know this.  While it may not sound like it has much to directly do with employee engagement, it has everything to do with it.  It creates the right environment.  When it’s challenging and fun at the workplace, it becomes a place employees look forward to coming to and contributing. And that starts at the top, at the CEO, owner, whoever runs the show’s office door.  You don’t have to be Jimmy Fallon, but you also don’t have to be some stiff who rarely cracks a smile or finds anything humorous. People will react to you.  You set the tone, more than you know. Periodically, don’t be afraid to be silly.  It makes you and your company human.  Plus, it engages your employees.

Employee engagement is important in keeping your company growing and vital.  The more they are engaged the bigger their contribution, the better and more substantive the growth.

"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things.  He's been there.  May success be with you!

This article originally appeared on the Bizcatalyst 360º website.

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