The New Rules of Employee Engagement, From Captain Obvious
[Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a three-part series about employee engagement.]
When I walk into a client’s office to help with employee engagement project, I introduce myself as Captain Obvious. I say it, because so much about employee engagement is just plain common sense.
But when you’re knee-deep in your day job — being pressured by senior management to make numbers and goals; and, on top of that, have to keep your teams motivated and operating at full capacity — you don’t have the mental distance and space to see clear answers to straightforward problems. Welcome to being human and doing more with less.
What’s clear — at least, to me — is this: Employee engagement is all about the kinds of things that would make you perk up and pay attention and/or follow in your own life. Use a consumer-focused mindset and approach your teams with the same marketing savvy that consumer marketers use.
That may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many companies treat their employees like robots, instead of people. That’s why I’m doing a three-part series for Target Marketing on the “New Rules of Employee Engagement,” where we break down the major buckets of what’s needed for successful employee engagement efforts. Unsurprisingly, the right plan starts with the right roadmap.
If You Want Employees to Follow, Define the Destination and Give Them a Roadmap
You can’t expect employees to go on any kind of journey with you, unless they get to know where they’re going. If you have a roadmap, employees will follow — but only if they understand why.
Let teams know what the big goal is; because otherwise, they won’t be motivated to work for it. Remember, while they want the company to succeed, employees are tuned to a frequency I call “WIFM Radio”: What’s In It For Me.
The “what” should apply for all. A shared sense of purpose permeates the most highly engaged teams, but keeping employees connected to a core mission with clear goals and milestones is the bare minimum for maintaining attention and interest. Short-term engagement tactics (like perks and incentives) don’t drive long-term retention — unless they help move employees closer to goals that help their teams, and the company, reach a meaningful destination.
Connect Employees to the Strategy — Help Them Understand Their Role
The mission may create a shared, purposeful reason to collaborate, but your strategy makes the mission come to life. Knowing where the company’s going and why isn’t enough; You have to give employees ways to learn what’s important about your mission, and know why they should care, in their own unique roles and tasks.
It’s really easy for employees to forget how what they do serves what the company is in business to do. Engagement campaigns can remind them of their contribution to the bigger WHY.
Novartis’ Long Live Life project is a perfect example, because it engaged employees in the “why” of helping patients get back to normal — which, when you’re sick, is all you really want. The initiative was designed to help every employee, from accounts payable to R&D, see how their work supports the bigger picture. And because patients’ experiences were the focus of the project, it created an emotional connection to how that “bigger picture” improves real people’s lives.
Lead by Example, Show Them the Behaviors You Want Them to Exhibit
Still, even with an emotional connection to the bigger picture, employees learn how to engage with the company by observing those around them.
Engagement is all about behavior. And people have to show (not just tell) employees what a good steward of the company looks like. Across the organization, they should see both leaders and peers exhibiting behaviors that support positive, motivating work environments. Collaboration among teams, peer-to-peer mentorship, and management support have to be active and visible.
And to stay engaged, employees also need learnable models for growing in their roles. They should see paths for delivering more and better value to the organization over time, and those paths should be shown to them by leaders who work with them directly, and want them to succeed.
But Wait, There’s More
Team members should also be able to see leaders embodying company values in their engagement with other employees. Yet culture and values are an area when outdated engagement tactics can work against employees’ potential to stay motivated (and succeed in the company ranks).
That may sound obvious, but that’s kind of the point.
Rum Ekhtiar, founder of Rum and Co, is focused on brand strategies that work, ideas that are creative, new businesses pitches that win, and teams who work toward a common goal. With over 20 years of experience, he's worked with companies like Novartis, Citi, MetLife, and others, helping them transform their business, their story, and their engagement model. Reach him at email@example.com and connect with him on LinkedIn.