All managers want their staff to be fully committed to the aims of the organisation, happy in their work and totally engaged in what they are doing.
So how to achieve engagement? Indeed, is it even possible to engage people doing unskilled, dreary, repetitive work? And is engagement an end in itself, or does it lead to other desirable outcomes such as productivity, profitability, staff retention and customer satisfaction?
The research in this area shows pretty consistent findings. The results are neither surprising nor counterintuitive. And they have been known for ages. So why is it that supervisors and managers do not perform their duties so as to maximize the commitment and engagement of their staff?
There are some fairly basic but important things a manager needs to do to maximise engagement.
- Let every person know what is expected of them in terms of their processes and products. Be clear. Check understandings. And revisit expectations as they change. All people have hopes and expectations about promotion, about change, about what their organisation should be doing for them (and they for the organisation). These expectations need to be managed.
- Give people the tools for the job. Keep them up to date. Train them how to use these tools. Make sure that processes are well thought through so that the technology people use is appropriate for what they are required to do. In short, give technical and informational support.
- Give reports and opportunities to learn and shine at what they are good at. People like to celebrate their skills, abilities and unique gifts. Help them find and explore them. Let them do their best all the time. And encourage development of strengths.
- Be generous but targeted in praise. Recognise effort and success. Recognise individuals and how they strive to achieve. Celebrate success. Notice and praise individuals when they have put in extra effort. And do it openly, naturally and regularly.
- Listen to your employees. They often have very good innovative ideas. Yes, they can and do complain but listen to that too. They need to believe their ideas count, their voice is heard, they can contribute to how the work is arranged.
- Help them believe in the purpose or product of the organisation. People need to feel their job is important; that they really are making a contribution to society. This involves more than writing fancy mission statements. It’s about giving the job a sense of meaning and purpose.
- Encourage friendship formation at work. This is more than insisting on teamwork. It is giving people space and time to build up a friendship network. Friends are a major source of social support. They make all the difference to the working day. And committed people commit their friends.
- Talk to people about their progress. Give them a chance to let off steam; to dream about what might be; to have quality time with you. This is more than those detailed, often rather forced appraisals. It is about opportunity for the boss to focus on the hopes, aspirations and plans of the individual.
Look for ambitious, achievement-oriented, energetic individuals. But steer their striving: manage their route-map. And look for, listen to and reward evidence of independent ideas and thinking. Never assume management has a monopoly on the truth. Also encourage camaraderie: help people who are social animals relate to each other and pull together.
Do all of the above and you have an engaged workforce. And we do know that happy, healthy, staff treat customers better. It’s a relatively simply causal link. It pays to focus on staff engagement. But it’s also the fundamental task of all management.