Raise your hand if you have an “engagement problem.”
According to Gallup, 1 in 3 of us is currently suffering. Don’t worry, you’re in a safe space — beyond dealing with the impact of poor engagement, the majority of us also don’t feel like we have a good plan in place for creating positive change. As an HR professional, the responsibility of driving employee engagement often falls solely on our laps. It comes in the form of your CEO casually saying, “Looks like we have a culture problem,” or “More turnover, really?” or “Quarterly revenue is down; we need to improve our performance.” Feedback like that can be frustrating and intimidating, especially given everything else on your growing plate. When tackling employee engagement, where do you start? How do you focus your efforts? And how can you rally additional support?
Last week, while the rest of our office was observing Blueboard’s beloved Work from Home Wednesdays flexible work offering, I had the opportunity to mix and mingle with hundreds of HR practitioners at San Francisco’s HR Star conference. HR Star is a long-running conference that draws local leaders together for a day of networking and concurrent presentations on the hottest topics in HR, including employee engagement. Of all the content shared, I was most impressed with Jill Christensen, who presented on How to Crack the Code of Employee “Disengagement." Christensen shared in depth her clear and actionable framework for how you can best focus your efforts towards creating real engagement change, and steps for effectively engaging employees once your plan is in place. Sharing my notes below:
“Happy employees are not engaged employees. Engaged employees give their extra, discretionary effort.”
This was one of the first things that came out of Christensen's mouth, a really important way to set the stage. When evaluating employee engagement, we can’t rest with satisfied employees. Satisfied employees give the minimum effort required, eat your free lunch, drink your cold brew coffees, and skip out at 5:00 on the dot. To create real, meaningful impact, we need to move the needle on employee engagement.
Christensen champions a four-step approach for crafting an employee engagement plan that will drive real, positive change across the organization:
1. Get the Right Person in Every Chair
Employees can’t succeed if they’re not in the right job role. The first step towards positive employee engagement change is empowering managers to work 1:1 with every employee to ensure their role, responsibilities, assigned projects, and learning and development opportunities are aligned with the employee’s long-term career goals.
And before you get too far ahead, make sure that those long-term career goal conversations are already taking place and properly documented (get help from performance management platforms like 15Five, Impraise). These conversations might result in the manager and employee agreeing that the employee actually isn’t in their best role and initiating a job transfer, so part two is getting senior leadership on board for what could be a bit of organizational reassignment - time-consuming in the moment, but worth it in the long run. For more benefits of internal employee transfers including gaining new skills, overcoming boredom, establishing a more well-rounded view of the business, and more, check out this great read from The Balance.
2. Create a Line of Sight
Not only should employees be placed in roles where they can make the most impact, but they should also have opportunities clearly outlined for their continual advancement. This requires support from your team as well as your Learning and Development counterparts to map out how each role in the organization would ideally succeed and progress. Once that road map is set, connect each path with clearly outlined skills, experience, and projects that the employee would need to achieve before being able to advance to that next level.
Having a clear path and a list of what’s expected of the employee for succession takes bias out of the equation when evaluating employees for promotion, and helps bond the employee with their manager by directly communicating expectations and goals. Encourage managers to host open, ongoing conversations with their direct reports about their personal growth plans, and leverage the list of requirements to track their progress along the way.
3. Recognize People
And now onto our household favorite, employee recognition. According to Officevibe, 63 percent of employees don’t feel like they’re getting enough praise. That means that there’s a huge missed opportunity to motivate, inspire, and excite employees on a daily basis. Employee recognition begins in a moment with a sincere, verbal or written “thank you” — this is where your discretionary effort Jill spoke about before!), or when they champion your core company values.
When evaluating what types of employee rewards to offer company-wide, consider experiences — that’s where Blueboard comes in. We’ve curated hundreds of custom experiential rewards for employees (think becoming James Bond for the day) that your employees choose from, delivered at scale through our enterprise-level platform. And once they pick their favorite, our celebrated Concierge team handles all of their logistics and final itinerary. Blueboard is an employee recognition platform that drives real ROI; read more in our latest Employee Engagement Impact Report.
4. Build a Two-Way Communication Culture
Employee feedback and appreciation should not be traveling in a one-way alley; it should be embraced as a two-way street. This means that all employees receive access to a variety of avenues to share and absorb feedback across all levels of the company. Get support from senior leadership to open up and host employee Q&A’s at company-wide town halls (questions taken over live mics or submitted online before the meeting), or consider moderated Slack channels for ongoing conversations between employees and senior leaders (asking senior leaders to rotate duties for AMA-style sessions).
For front-line managers, ensure that all are hosting standing 1:1s and career planning huddles with their direct reports, so that real-time feedback”: the opportunity for feedback to not be locked away until that annual performance review, but instead, addressed in the moment so that the employee can begin thriving immediately.
As Christensen closed in her presentation, “Culture and employee engagement change should fall to front-line managers and leadership, not just HR.” She’s built a six-step process for getting your act together, holding teams accountable, and measuring progress, as shown in this flowchart:
Want to dig even deeper into Christensen's solution for more positive employee engagement? We’re reading her newest book, “If Not You, Who? Cracking the Code of Employee Disengagement (Second Edition).” Pick up a copy from Amazon, or get in touch with Jill online here.
How are you tackling employee engagement at your company? We’d love to hear your approach in the comments section below.