Part 3: The rules of engagement

rules engagement

How often have you heard business people say ‘I just can’t find the staff’?  They bemoan the fact that many people can’t spell and aren’t numerate or perhaps that they ‘don’t want to work hard’.  For many in business, one of the key problems to be overcome is that of staffing.

In these changing times, it seems that employee engagement is the holy grail for businesses. Indeed, encouraging employees to love your business is one of the toughest challenges. 

But why is engagement so troublesome and why do we get it so wrong? Here are some of the errors and how to avoid them.

  1. Lack of subtlety. Employee engagement is a complex and subtle process – requiring everything from brand communication, carefully managed recruitment, effective performance management though to managing emerging talent.  In short: engagement cannot be bought or bargained with.

    This means that attempting to engage employees through anything other than a sustained mix of activity will get you nowhere.  ‘One trick pony’ tactics that rely on lavish company events or yearly bonuses may work in the short-term but are rarely effective in the long-term.

  2. Recruiting skills over attitude.  It can be tempting to prioritise skills over attitude. But much as you need the right knowledge in your business, recruiting the wrong attitude is often damaging to company performance.  Consider how aggression or apathy can lower team morale – giving rise to absenteeism and inefficiency.

    The most successful businesses aim for a balance, with employees recruited not only for what they know but also for characteristics like teamwork, integrity and a ‘can-do’ attitude. Importantly, they must possess the soft skills that enable them to fit with and thereby reinforce your organisation’s culture.  And remember, it’s better to have no hire rather than the wrong hire.

  3. Performance reviews.  Don’t make reviews too complex.  Many larger organisations implement overly complex Performance Management schemes to try to get some uniformity.  Keep both the process and the structure simple but conduct the reviews regularly and honestly. 

    To an individual employee the review is their opportunity to air views and to check how they’re performing.  Delaying it or even forgetting it sends a very negative message.

  4. Leadership.  The balance to strike in small business is between communicating the Plan and seeking input on how to deliver it.  Employees want to know that there is a plan and how the business is performing against it.  But they also want to feel that they can contribute to improving performance, solving problems and making the workplace better.

    The forum for listening to employees and responding need not be that formal, it can just be ad-hoc.  Even better if it’s just part of the culture of the organisation.  Leaders who are happy to be challenged in this way can be inspirational to work for.

  5. Accepting friction between departments.  Departments with different objectives can often quite naturally have opposing views on what is important and how things should be done.  But if there is friction it usually means people care and want to improve things.  It shouldn’t be allowed to fester but don’t seek to remove it – use it to drive improvement in processes and to improve performance.

    Try broaching this matter with the managers concerned, encouraging them to identify the cause of the friction together and then find appropriate solutions.

  6. Reward the right behaviour.  Employees are very aware of how they are viewed and treated as compared with their colleagues.  This doesn’t just apply to their pay but is a much more general awareness.  People will subconsciously perhaps, sense who are ‘favoured’ by managers and who are viewed as good performers.

    It’s critical to both be consistent and to ensure that you reward and support the rigt behaviours.  Moderate performers can be very valuable if they are ‘Brand Champions’.  In other words, people who are fully engaged with the businesses.  Be clear about what is expected in terms of performance but also support the more subtle contributions in attitude and supporting colleagues.  It get’s noticed.

Employees generally will feel happier and more engaged in an environment where they know what is the Business Plan, what is expected of them and that they will be listened to. Consistency is central to achieving this.