Chris Croft's Personal Blog

April 19, 2013

Practical actions to increase employee engagement

Filed under: Customer Care, Lists, Managing People — Tags: , , , , — chriscroft @ 12:15 pm

You can’t get great customer service, excellent quality of work, or creativity, without employee engagement. The people in the organisation have to care, otherwise you’re just going through the motions and you won’t survive.
There are lots of ways to STOP people caring – ignore them, reorganise them, freeze their pay, b*ll*ck them, etc. But a more difficult question is how to get them to engage with their work. Paying them a bonus isn’t the answer – that just makes them think about the money rather than the work, and there’s maybe also an implication that the work is so awful that you have to bribe them to do it.
So, how do we get people to care?

After 80,000 in-depth interviews with managers in over 400 companies, the Gallup Organization says that measuring the strength of a workplace can be simplified to these questions.

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
10. Do I have a best friend at work?
11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

from First, Break All the Rules, What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman, Simon & Schuster, 1999.

So we know how to measure where we’re at. I think the question then is, how do we get the scores on the 12 questions to be better? How do we improve in these areas, and if we’re already doing the right things, how do we keep them in people’s awareness day in day out, year in year out?

Here are some thoughts (it’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start and a work in progress)

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?



Clear job description, clear statement of how each person can help the organisation to achieve its strategic goals. Regular meetings where joint plans are agreed – probably weekly, so that people know what is expected of them in terms of actions and objectives.

Clear feedback on what’s good about their performance and what needs to improve, so that people know what is expected of them in terms of quality of work and level of performance. This could be done as an annual appraisal and regular reviews of progress against appraisal goals.

2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?



Apart from getting this right, it would help to ask people if they have the materials and equipment and then to listen to and act upon what they say. Also involve them in planning availability of materials and selecting which equipment to get.

3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?



Again this is part of the appraisal process – discuss with each person what they feel they do best, and compare this with what YOU their manager think they do best. They can’t do this all the time, but you might be able to plan a certain amount of it into each day, and to evolve their job towards doing more and more of their agreed area of excellence. Make sure they know you are doing this, and discuss with them the longer term plans for how you will get them to be doing more and more of it.

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?



This one is easy – thank everyone once a week! Find something they have done that’s good, and tell them. This requires knowing what they are doing, which probably involves Management By Walking About every day, but you can do that. Even plodders do good things every now and then, and need recognition for sticking at their task. Even people you don’t like need to be thanked. Even people you think are lazy need it, because that’s the way to encourage them to gradually become motivated. In fact, if they are lazy, maybe it’s your fault! Maybe you have failed to hook their enthusiasm?

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?



Management by walking about, talking to everyone ideally every day but certainly every week, and ask questions and listen, really listen to what they are saying. Take some time with them if they need it. Your time is something that you can give away, that people really do value. Maybe sit and have a cup of tea with them. And act on what they are saying. Remember (maybe even put a note in your diary) and ask later if their cat is OK again now. Send flowers to the cat’s funeral.

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?



Again a good appraisal system will help with this. How important appraisals are! Discuss the person’s future goals and plans with them, and what the organisation wants for them, how these two can overlap, and what skills and knowledge they will need, and how these will be developed. Development doesn’t have to be expensive; apart from training, face to face or on-line, they could be assigned to work alongside someone to learn from them, you or someone else could coach them in something to do with their work, and they could have a mentor (you or someone else), to help them think about their future more generally.

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?



Everyone should be involved in decisions wherever possible. Suppose you are going to repaint the office, and you don’t really care about the colour (or even if you do) then instead of just picking a colour like the decisive person you are, it would be better to ask the people in the office what they think, have a discussion as a group, or even delegate the decision to them. How often is a machine bought without the person who is going to use it even being asked? At the very least have a vote occasionally and let everyone put in their opinion.

8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?



This one overlaps a little with Question 1, and the answer is to have a clear statement of how each person can help the organisation to achieve its strategic goals. And regular meetings where joint plans are agreed – probably weekly, so that people know how they can contribute to the overall plan.

For projects a Gantt chart could show the whole project and how and when each person contributes to it.

For processes each person should have ownership of part of the process, and maybe KPIs for their part of the process. Ideally their performance would be shown in financial terms – your section has made 20 tonnes of widgets this week and that has contributed £30,000 to the profit of the company. You have booked in 400 customers this week and those customers were worth a total of £40,000.

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?



Quality should ideally be measured and publicized, with any problems examined and put right for the future by bringing in better systems and improved skills. Quality would be owned, so that each person has ownership of something, for some aspect of quality. But to get a higher score for this question it’s probably also necessary to hold regular meetings, perhaps quality circles (a team solves one big problem) or quality improvement teams (a team works on improving processes slightly, across the board).

10. Do I have a best friend at work?



How can management make this more likely to happen? Probably by encouraging team work (where teams solve problems together or deliver tasks and projects together), setting up a work environment where people meet as many others as possible (job rotation etc), where they get some time to talk with each other as they work, or during breaks, and where there is a physical environment that encourages socializing – maybe a coffee area, with free coffee. Also perhaps some social activities or even team building events outside of work. There could also be notice boards and intranet sites where spare time activities are encouraged and shared – the company chess club, the company dog training club, the company walking or foreign travel club – so that people with common interests can find each other and get together.

11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?



Clearly this is an appraisal question – what are your plans for the future, and how are you getting on at the moment in your work, etc. You can’t score on this list without a well designed and fully implemented appraisal system. So there should be both informal chats about progress and a more formal appraisal based one. And remember that appraisals aren’t a one a year shock immersion, they should be a drip feed of reviewing progress against the agreed plans.

12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?



Again a good appraisal system will help with this. How important appraisals are! Discuss the person’s future goals and plans with them, and what the organisation wants for them, how these two can overlap, and what skills and knowledge they will need, and how these will be developed. Development doesn’t have to be expensive; apart from training, face to face or on-line, they could be assigned to work alongside someone to learn from them, you or someone else could coach them in something to do with their work, and they could have a mentor (you or someone else), to help them think about their future more generally. You could even have a chart on the wall of everyone’s names, and what they are planning to learn this year, and a bar showing their progress so far.

It’s all standard good management processes, but how easy it is to forget all this stuff when you’ve got the usual every day pressures of jobs to go out, people off sick, emails coming in, and a boss wanting things done right away. But in the end the above list is vitally important – it’s the difference between the team doing everything for you, and you having to push it all along yourself.

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