According to the Gallup Daily U.S. Employee Engagement tracker (Gallup), U.S. employees engaged in their work stood at about 28% in January 2014 and 32% in August 2017. The inverse, employees less engaged, stood at 72% and 68%, respectively. There are dozens of studies and surveys that demonstrate the challenges companies face in this area.
Companies spend countless resources on improving employee satisfaction and engagement, often with little to show for the effort. The list below, with the possible exception of item 6, requires your time and attention, but a minimal capital investment.
Actions to improve employee engagement and retention
1. Define and create a magnetic vision. Engagement suggests an emotional connection to something. Openly and frequently repeating your view of the city on the hill helps people connect. We strive for a purpose bigger than us, and thoughtful leaders create workplaces where people want to show up. Designing and executing a compelling vision is a magnet that generates possibilities and draws people toward it. It may change the world, but it doesn’t have to for it to be worthwhile. You get to decide.
2. Establish values that make YOU want to work here. Creating a culture that challenges, respects, strives, collaborates, plays, or whatever values you can demonstrate consistently, helps define a place where people want to join and stay. Are you proud of what you helped create? Is there room to build a better way to engage and lead your team? Do you want to show up at work tomorrow? Do you feel compelled to bring your best self? What would have to change for you to be proud, engaged, and excited?
3. Stop the triangulation. Some leaders struggle to disagree with their direct reports. They are asked to mediate a difference of opinion between two people, meet separately with each, and agree with both points of view. Then they send each off to speak with the other and work it out. This approach, apart from being frustrating as hell, is manipulative and undermines effectiveness and respect. When differing opinions arise, get the people in the room and have an adult conversation about outcomes, points of view, options, and consequences.
4. Abandon indecisiveness. Leaders who consistently struggle to make decisions and then to support those decisions once made exhaust people. We expect customers to be a constant source of variety and opportunity. They are the reason firms, and leaders exist. But leaders who manufacture variation by not making rapid, fact-based decisions leave their people feeling like they are running in quicksand. It’s tiring, frustrating, and ineffective. People don’t know what’s next. Some level of certainty is helpful for our teams to stay focused and engaged. There is a cost—often hidden—of indecision, so do whatever is required to improve capabilities and action in this area.
5. Speak plainly. The people have guessed the truth long before we tell them. Don’t gloss over or hide the facts about current reality. Get it out while it’s a dot on the page, and before it becomes too big to handle. It’s okay not to have all of the answers, but your team can help figure it out. Most of all, that can only happen if they know the problem they are battling. Plain talk removes obstacles to performance.
6. Set high expectations and provide the tools. Setting high standards is admirable, but employees must have the tools and processes required to repeatedly deliver outstanding work and results. I know a five-star hotel that provides the best of everything to its guests. Its well-trained guest-facing employees have great attitudes and exceptional customer focus. They are also required to use an antiquated, multi-screen, multi-step reservation system that creates a 3-star experience for the guest and a 1-star experience for the employees. As a result, great people working with inadequate tools and processes become disillusioned rather than engaged. It’s a leader’s job to identify, acknowledge, and close those gaps.
Takeaway: Embracing any one of these areas will increase leadership effectiveness. Conduct a quick self-assessment of where your strengths lie and any opportunities for improvement. Small shifts in these areas will deliver impressive returns, and you may find that more people are staying around to help you. In my experience, the juice of leadership is sweetest when surrounded by people engaged with us in a worthwhile purpose.