You’ve always been conscious of the term “employee engagement,” but it wasn’t until you started noticing some unsettling behaviors at work that you really started to take notice.
You hired rock stars… wonderful employees with high skill levels, positive attitudes, and excitement to excel. Unfortunately, they are no longer performing at the level you expect. Team members that used to show up bright and early for work, eager to start the day are now shuffling into the office late (without so much as a homestretch hustle). Whereas your requests used to be met with excited head nods, the response is now a low grunt followed by a cloaked eye roll. There used to be an energy of excitement in the office and laughter could be heard from the hallways. Now, any laughing that occurs is usually due to a snarky complaint. Sick days have increased, productivity is low, and apathy is at an all-time high.
Even worse, you’ve walked over to a few employees just in time to see them minimize the job search website on their computer. You’re not alone. A Gallup poll showed that 32% of US employees are disengaged at work. That means that 1/3 of your staff would rather be somewhere else. Something has to be done before your already damaged team gets fractured.
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Company Culture Drives Engagement
Wikipedia defines Company Culture (they call it Organizational Culture) as “values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of a business.” It includes the organization’s “vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, environment, location, beliefs and habits.” Ideally, your organization’s culture is something that was discussed and fleshed out when the company began and then taught to each new team member during on-boarding.
While your employees will contribute to your company culture (or possibly work to destroy it), it’s important to understand that they do not drive culture. The responsibility falls on management to properly (and thoroughly) communicate and exhibit that culture for their employees. When this is done, employees will have a positive attitude, be more capable of solving problems with creative thinking, be excited to learn and grow within your organization, exceed their performance goals, and contribute to a positive work environment.
Because they will understand the company’s mission and be excited to be a part of it. These employees will be engaged and motivated to be the best employees they can be.
How to Create a Culture of Employee Engagement
You can’t control the company as a whole, but you can make sure that your team is happy, healthy, and productive. Here are a few steps you can take to make the most out of your team.
1) Dedicate time and resources to training
Have you ever been hired for a new position and been “thrown to the wolves,” forced to perform before you knew exactly what your job entailed? This can leave any employee frustrated, frightened, and resentful. Or perhaps you’d been working a job for a while when changes were instituted… yet never fully explained.
A lack of training will not only show up in your bottom line, but it will also appear on the faces of your unsatisfied employees. When you ensure that employees are properly trained (at every stage) and motivated, they’ll be happier and so will the higher-ups.
2) Create individual and team goals
Almost as bad as not knowing how to do your job is not knowing what “success” means to management. What are the expectations that you put on your staff? If you don’t clearly outline their individual sales goals (plus any customer service goals or other KPIs), your employees will have nothing to shoot for and won’t know if they’ve hit the mark.
On the other hand, team sales goals will enable you to create a culture of teamwork, support, and personal responsibility. Each employee must know they contribute to the whole and have the ability to ask for (and receive) help when they are unable to meet those goals. Imagine your staff working together to bolster one another to ensure that team goals are met.
3) Give thanks
Your team is working hard (Even if they aren’t, they likely believe that they are).
Think about your home life. If your spouse nags about taking out the trash or having dinner ready, are you eager to help them out? Probably not. But, if they thank you for the little behaviors, are you more likely to do more of those? Absolutely!
Showing appreciation for their hard work is positive reinforcement. When you acknowledge the employees that are already working at the best of their abilities, they will feel cared for and encouraged to keep working their tails off. When you thank the “less than stellar” employees for their contributions, they’ll be inspired to contribute more.
Foster an environment of celebration rather than one of punishment. Just about everyone likes being acknowledged for their work, and EVERYONE loves to feel appreciated. You can do this through verbal praise, bonuses for a job well done (whether monetary or token gifts), and celebrations when goals are met and exceeded. You’ll be amazed how far a simple “Thank you” will go.
4) Encourage growth
The days of securing a position and working that job for the next 40 years are over. Employees today (especially the millennial set) want to increase their knowledge base, strengthen their skills, learn, grow, and move up the ladder in their company. If they don’t have the opportunity to do so, you’ll soon be reading their resignation letter.
Provide employees with the resources they need to develop themselves personally and professionally. Offer training programs, allow them to shadow other departments, give them opportunities for promotion, bring in motivational speakers to inspire them and shift their mindset, and most importantly… encourage and support them when it’s time for them to move on to something new. If employees feel trapped, their performance and attitude will suffer. If employees feel free to grow, they’ll do their absolute best for you and move on when the role has run its course (rather than sticking around to poison the work environment).
5) Avoid Helicopter-Managing
Like the overprotective mother on the playground, if you don’t allow your employees to make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes, they won’t grow, and they’ll resent you. Unlike in parenting, your employees have the option to just leave. If they choose to stay, morale will be damaged and employee engagement will plummet.
Micromanaging sends a message to your employees that you don’t trust them and deem them incapable of doing the job you hired them to do. Sure, sometimes employees need to be reigned in and retrained, but you must give them the freedom to do their work their way.
Employee Engagement Strategies
Now that you understand how to improve the company culture within your organization (or at least within your team), how does this translate into improved employee engagement? There are a number of strategies that you can use to create a more engaged team, such as:
1. Diagnose the problem
Have you ever gone to the doctor and had her prescribe something before you told her what the problem was? Probably not (and if so, find a new doctor ASAP!).
The reason this doesn’t happen is that before you can ever create an employee engagement strategy for your team, you need to find out what is and isn’t working. While you may spend most of your waking hours with these individuals, they may not be comfortable expressing their challenges to your face.
Before you park yourself in front of the whiteboard to devise a strategy or prescribe a remedy, you’ll need to figure out what’s wrong. Create an anonymous employee engagement survey that asks team members to share their feelings towards the company, score how happy they are in their jobs, explain what (in their opinion) does and doesn’t work, etc.
2. Do something about it
You probably think this goes without saying, but how many times have employees been asked to take surveys and had absolutely nothing result from them? Being asked to give your opinion and then not having it taken into account may be worse than never being asked at all.
Take a good hard look at the results (and brace yourself, for they may be a bit painful to see). Figure out the two or three biggest challenges standing between your team and maximum employee engagement and then ask them for solutions. Bring your team together and announce that you recognize the problems they’ve disclosed (and take responsibility for them if appropriate). Ask them to help you brainstorm some ideas to solve those problems and create a more positive work environment. The more employees are allowed to contribute to policy and to change, the more attached they’ll be to the outcome. Whereas you may be tempted to throw a monthly pizza party at your employees and call it a day, they may have some creative workarounds that will solve organizational problems at the team level.
3. Be creative… and reasonable
As a sales team manager, you likely don’t have control over how the company is run. You have limited power to make changes within your department. Sure, these ideas will hopefully spread if they work with your employees, but that’s not something you can guarantee.
Be creative in how you handle the challenges presented, and don’t over promise if it’s something that must be approved by upper management. For example, let’s say that the problem has been diagnosed as a parking frustration. Your company has grown so large that employees are unable to park anywhere near the building. They have a hefty walk to the doors that leaves them exhausted and frequently late for work. Even worse, they may have to park in an offsite facility and rely on a bus or shuttle to reach the building. They are tired, sweaty in the summer, and frozen in the winter, and in order to be on time, they need to pad their commute with an extra 45 minutes.
You should probably be surprised if they aren’t disengaged.
You can’t do anything about the parking situation, but what can you do? Can you offer employees the opportunity to work from home some days? Can you give them a 10-15 minute leeway to arrive at their desks? Can you provide them with a break first thing in the morning (that doesn’t affect their other breaks) so they can freshen up before starting their day?
Use your imagination and show your team that you are looking out for their best interests.
4. Follow through
You’ve diagnosed the problem, invited your team to provide input on solutions, and gotten creative. Now it’s time to do what you say you’ll do. If an initial idea doesn’t pan out, do something else. Don’t just let the issue drop, or your employee engagement will be even lower than it was before.
Measuring Culture and Engagement
You’ve followed the steps above to improve your company culture and then to diagnose and cure the problems leading to low employee engagement. Now what? How do you measure this effort and ensure that your hard work was not for nothing?
Remember those surveys you sent out to identify the problems? They also serve as your baseline. Repeat the survey quarterly or even monthly and check in with your employees to see if they see and feel the difference.
2) Look around
It may seem simple, but you knew something was wrong with the team based on their everyday behaviors. Their attitudes were poor, their faces lost their light, and their productivity was low. Do they seem happier? Has laughter returned to the office? Are their numbers better? Pay attention to what’s happening in the office, and you’ll know very quickly whether your engagement plan has been successful.
3) Remain vigilant
Employee engagement isn’t a “one and done” strategy. Keeping your employees happy must be an ongoing priority. Work closely with employees to maintain that positive environment and when something goes awry, address it quickly rather than letting it spiral out of control.
Ensuring that your company culture is at its best and that your employees are fully engaged in their roles will create a healthier, happier work environment. Your productivity will be higher, your sales will soar, and your employees will actually enjoy coming to work. They’ll become the business rock stars you know they can be. Who can ask for more?