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Donna DeCarolis

Founding Dean of the Close School of Entrepreneurship of Drexel University

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Fostering Employee Engagement

June 02, 2016

Engaging employees means getting their commitment and passion, and it's critical to strong productivity and performance.

Engaging employees, which means getting their commitment and passion, is critical to strong productivity and performance. Companies are implementing employee engagement programs. The variety of these programs is impressive – such as providing mentors: allowing employees to give cash bonuses to other employees for excellent work, free food, and on-site amenities such as dry cleaning and gyms. The list goes on.

But remember that these programs are only part of the employee engagement equation. Employees are truly engaged when they are inspired and self-motivated. And as the leader of your company, unit or division, you play a significant role in their motivation through job design. While not every aspect of a job will excite employees, the majority of what they do should tap into their expertise and passion. Research shows that when employees love the nature of their work, productivity and performance increase. Think of artists who spend hours on their craft simply for the love of the work. This translates to most workplace jobs. So while free food and a workplace gym can’t hurt, capturing intrinsic motivation is the real key to employee engagement.

The Small Wins

Whether you are a manager in a small or large company or are supervising a team of workers, you might be overseeing a long-term project. Long-term projects are not only risky in terms of their outcomes, they can also take their toll on employees. The urgency loses steam, the team gets sidetracked, and excitement about the project decreases as the final outcome may be months away. Long-term projects can get derailed or slowed down simply because they are, well, long term.

The enthusiasm and determination of the team are key to the success of these projects. Keep the momentum strong by following one guideline: celebrate the small wins. Incorporate into the timeline of the project frequent milestones and celebrate them when they are achieved. Reinforce how seemingly minor advances are contributing to the long-term goal.

Research shows that when employees understand the larger context of what they are doing, their jobs become more significant to them. By showing genuine and frequent interest in the progress of a long-term project, employees appreciate that their work is meaningful – so go ahead and celebrate the small wins.

360-degree Feedback

360-degree feedback is a popular component of performance management and can be implemented even in smaller companies. Sometimes called a multi-rater feedback assessment, the 360 includes evaluation of an employee by superiors, subordinates and peers. The purpose of the review is to identify both strengths and areas of improvement for employees.

There are some downsides to the use of the 360, if not conducted properly. Keep in mind that the 360 is not the same as a performance management system; it is only part of the feedback. Also, the 360 feedback process should be congruent with the overall strategic goals of your company and the employee’s role. For example, focusing on an employee weakness that has little to do with their job responsibilities or required competencies is not productive for the employee or for your company. And while the instrument reaches out to multiple raters, you still need to look out for things such as employees banding together to inflate each other’s ratings’ or to deflate someone else’s.

The 360 can be a valuable tool in the performance management process, but it is only one tool – and watch out for the pitfalls.

Professional Development

Performance reviews include the typical goal setting, quantifiable metrics, job duties and 360s from colleagues and subordinates. Another piece of employee review and future performance involves something called “professional development.” Typically, this might involve a mix of soft and hard skills that relate to the employee’s future career. These might be talents such as communication, team building, creativity, and networking.

There are many ways that you can help your employees develop skills like these and many others. For example, encourage them to attend outside conferences and sign up for webinars. Suggest that they pursue an artistic interest or hobby or sport. The events don’t even have to be related to what your company does. The point is for your employees to cultivate a broad base of knowledge and connections. Divergent thinking is critical to innovative skills, so the more that your employees are exposed to different knowledge areas, the better.

However, you want to relate their diverse learning to how they have grown and also to your company. Their goals might include an assessment of what they learned from expanding their horizons and how it might relate to organizational dynamics, your market or industry.

Staying Connected with your Employees

We have all heard of the concept of “Management by Walking Around.” The philosophy behind this idea is that by walking around and interacting with your employees, you create a sense of trust, increased commitment and productivity – generally a stronger culture.

Of course for this approach to be successful, it takes more than just walking and talking. To generate great results, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • When you engage with employees on an informal basis, be sure you are genuinely interested in their feedback and ideas. Since you are their “boss” people may think that your ideas are right or might be afraid to express their views. Adopt an approach that invites diverse opinions.
  • Spend time with all employees, teams or units; not just a select few. Converse with different people, regardless of job title.
  • Follow up on discussions and ideas when you say you would. Commit to following up on concerns.
  • Finally, relax and enjoy the conversations. People will respond better if they sense you are both casual and interested.

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