The key to engagement

I promise you it’s not hard.

Would it be of a massive surprise if I said the key to engaging your team / audience is speaking and responding to them, being honest, and wait for it… listening. <GASP> I know…

I worked at an international company for five years within their Internal Communications team. A lot of our time was spent opening up two-way conversation between the management / employee layers and helping employees feel heard and empowered. We often fell flat with driving messages through the middle management layer, and experienced very much an ‘us and them’ culture as I’m sure is alive in many a big organisation.

So, employee engagement…

In 2009, MacLeod and Clarke carried our a huge study ‘Engaging for Success’ and identified four main enablers that should be present for true engagement to exist:

  • LEADERSHIP: Ensures a strong organisational culture that gives employees a line of sight between their job and the vision and aims of the organisation
  • ENGAGING MANAGERS: Managers who offer clarity and appreciation of employee’s efforts and contribution, treat people as individuals, and make employees feel valued
  • VOICE: Employees feeling able to voice their ideas and be listened to
  • INTEGRITY: Behaviour consistent with the organisation values.

There are of course many more explanations attempted but I always fall back to this. This drives all my employee engagement work.


Why does it matter?

It makes a difference. To your organisational culture, to your employees wellbeing and also your bottom-line. MacLeod and Clarke found that the top 25% most engaged companies (compared with the lowest 25% most engaged companies) enjoy benefits such as:

  • 200% annual net profit
  • 18% higher productivity
  • 250% revenue growth
  • 12% greater customer advocacy
  • 50% fewer sick days
  • Employees 87% less likely to leave organisation
  • Higher innovation levels.

So treat your employees well, communicate with them, listen, respect them, value them and they will pay you back with working harder, being loyal, being advocates for your business, and they will be more productive. WIN!


The role of managers

The relationship one has with their manager consistently comes up as a key influencer on employee engagement in related research.

Towers Perrin found that of the UK employees they surveyed, only 29% of employees believed senior managers were sincerely interested in their well-being, 31% thought their senior managers communicated openly and honestly; 3% thought managers treated them as key parts of the organisation and 60% felt that senior managers treated them as just another organisational asset to be managed.

MacLeod and Clarke demonstrate through their four main enablers of engagement model that, for employees to become engaged and committed to their work and their company,they “need to understand not only the purpose of the organisation they work for but also how their individual role contributes to that purpose”. Effective communication by senior managers is absolutely essential to employees understanding the role they have in the greater strategic direction of the business.

Quirke found that “when employees understand their overall role in the business, 91% will work towards that success, but the number plummets to 23% if they don’t.”

It’s not all the managers fault when it goes wrong though. Senior managers in organisations have often been promoted for their industry experience, but may not have any history of the people management, and the employee engagement side, that is crucial to the success of their new role. Communication skills are rarely prioritised as an area to be developed by managers. This is surprising given that senior managers can clearly have a huge influence on employees engagement levels and therefore the productivity and effectiveness of their team through their communication.

Senior managers hold the power to either be the greatest enabler or the biggest barrier to a company achieving high employee engagement. They should therefore be given the appropriate training, support and encouragement from their organisation to develop their communication skills and understand the impact they can have; otherwise a huge opportunity to engage employees is being lost.


Practical ways you can improve your employee engagement

Take a look at Quirke’s Communication Escalator – he illustrates how different levels of engagement can be reached through alternative communication methods. He believes that for an employee to be truly committed to a change of their behaviour and become thoroughly engaged in an activity, they need to have been involved during the development process through various two-way methods of communication. This is particularly important when a company is in a period of change, as you must have employee’s buy-in for the programme to be a success.

So facilitating for employees to have a voice is vital. But also that they are heard and their thoughts acted upon.

Back in the company I worked with, we launched a group of Communication Champions – representatives from all over the business (not managers) who we, and the SMT, met with monthly. They were consulted on any major business changes, used as a regular sounding board for groups all over the company, and supported middle managers with ensuring communication flowed both ways. The Champion scheme opened up transparency, allowed for greater circular communication, and made a huge difference to the engagement levels within the business.

Town hall briefings, and smaller, to groups of employees work well. During a period of big change we launched executive lunches where employees lunched in small groups with the Exec team and engaged in open, honest conversation.

Training for middle managers in how to engage their teams is essential. Also providing them the time and tools to do this effectively.

Ensuring all your employees understand the bigger strategic picture of your business and also their place in it. This should drive your communications.


In summary

For a truly engaged workforce you need to enable open two-way communication in the business – through briefings, champion groups, and consistent team meetings. Supported by one-way communications such as your email, intranet, newsletters, magazines, and conferencing.

Managers need sufficient communications training and the time and resources in order to prioritise communication for their team.

All backed up by a strong leadership team who live by the company’s values, and support their teams to understand their place in the strategic direction of the company.

You’ll see the results. A happy workforce is a productive one.

If you’d like advice on how to improve your employee engagement contact