4 Common Sense Ways to turn BAD Engagement into GOOD Engagement…

Kris Dunn Culture, Engagement and Satisfaction, Kris Dunn

Fay Hansen’s article in Workforce Recruiting is worth your time to read.  Who can argue with the value of engagement?  The primary issue, as Fay undoubtedly experienced in her research, is that while lots of people talk about engagement, they have a hard time defining what they do to improve engagement in their organizations.

Which begs the question – Can your front line managers really drive employee engagement in your organization?

The easy answer is yes, but as with many obvious easy answers…. the question is how? or what next?

The dilemma is especially true if you have a wide range of talents and capabilities among your most entry-level supervisors,Asleep which most of us do.  Some managers naturally have the gift that comes with instincts and experience, while others struggle.  In other words, they might be in over their heads a little bit initially, which means you get that cute "deer in the headlights" look when you try and talk about "employee engagement."

That’s OK – check yourself and understand that every time you say "employee engagement" to an entry level manager, you sound like a consultant who’s never managed people….

So, how do you help maximize employee engagement (and the resulting productivity and retention) with your group of front-line supervisors? 

Try these four simple concepts your managers can get their heads around:

  1. Don’t hire clock watchers. As simple as it sounds, if having employees who are truly engaged is important to you (and it should be), you need to start with your hiring process. If you simply look for skills and experience, you’ll often miss the behavioral cues that identify a candidate with a high probability of being fully engaged (or fully disengaged). To beef up your selection process to screen for engagement probability, include behavioral interview questions ("Tell me about a time …") that ask for clear examples of when the candidate has displayed the behaviors and traits listed in the Gallup research (the standard of engagement measurement, listing 12 traits of engaged employees).

If a candidate struggles to give you relevant examples related to those traits, there’s no reason to think they’ll be fully engaged as a part of your company. You’re not Houdini. Move on and find someone who has displayed engagement traits in other workplaces.

  1. Start with the chiefs, not the Indians. You won’t be able to hire a team totally made up of engaged employees, and you can’t just throw a banner up that says "Employee Engagement Month" and think that can be your engagement strategy. Employee engagement starts at the top. You need managers and supervisors who understand the keys to engagement and who can help you create a work environment that fosters the engagement traits listed above. In short, your managers have to be coaches. Invest your first engagement dollars in training for your leadership team.
  2. Offer involvement and choice to draw out the fence-sitters. Read the reams of data on engagement, and you’ll find that common ways to engage employees include offering involvement in decision-making and providing autonomy and choice when possible. Not rocket science, but most organizations aren’t set up to offer a lot of that. You’ll have to be OK with change and also OK with losing some control. That’s the cost of engagement.
  3. Coffee’s for closers. Last, but not least, if you want to create an environment that fosters employee engagement, reward the engaged with all the premium projects and cool work your shop has to offer. Don’t send mixed messages and give grumpy loners the sweet gigs because they have the skills and it’s the easy thing for you to do. Take the time, be patient with the results, and reward the engaged with the available project perks. Over time, you’ll be glad you did.

Remember!! Be gentle when talking to managers about engagement – they’ve got a lot on their plates, and you sound like Tony Robbins when you talk about engagement without giving them ideas of what they can do to maximize the concept. 

Kris Dunn
Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He's also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.