The current jobs market is extraordinarily competitive. This won’t be news to anyone who’s had to hire in the last 12 months.
Many companies have resorted to piling on the creative company perks. Game rooms, free snacks and soda, cafeterias, on-site gyms and discounted on-site massages are becoming the new normal.
Perks are great and all but these benefits are shortsighted. They are like a sugar rush from the complementary Mountain Dew Code Red. So, how do you create genuine and long-lasting employee engagement?
Not management. Not mentorship (though that’s certainly part of it). And definitely not showmanship. But true leadership.
We know that leadership is important. So, why do so many companies (even ones that are renowned for their company culture and core values) fall short?
Because it’s the single hardest thing to get right.
Here are some ways that a manager, boss or team lead can work towards becoming a leader and pave the way to greater engagement scores (if you’re not tracking engagement, you should start immediately).
- Understand that you’re in a relationship: The key to any good relationship is trust. How do you earn it? According to organizational psychologist, Adam Grant, you begin with vulnerability. A boss who has all the answers (or worse, gets mad when you don’t) does not foster much trust with her direct reports. Be real, be vulnerable, and you will earn your people’s trust. Simply admitting you don’t know something is a great start.
- Empower: People want a purpose. If someone is working for you just for a paycheck, they have no incentive to stay if a bigger one comes along. For those that believe in what you’re trying to accomplish, give them autonomy along with support. Trust them back. But make sure they have the tools and training needed for success. It’s not failure if it doesn’t work, it’s experimentation. Let your people contribute, meaningfully.
- Ask questions: “Stay interviews” can feel awkward and forced. But they’re necessary if you want to know where your people stand. To have an effective conversation about someone’s engagement, however, your people need to feel safe.
- Create a safe feedback-rich environment: Saying your organization is safe and open to feedback does not make it so. Giving feedback that everything is great when it really isn’t can be more dangerous to engagement than not giving feedback at all. In order to create a truly safe environment with meaningful, change-worthy feedback, you need to be willing to hear tough things. Ray Dalio, and Bridgewater Associates is an extreme example, but those business results don’t lie.
- Assess your own engagement: It’s an exercise in futility trying to keep your employees engaged if you’re not engaged yourself. Do a gut check, “is this really what I want to do?” If the answer is yes, and you’re still not engaged, time for a crucial conversation with your leader. If no, start looking for a new position immediately. The best way to make a difference, is to be the best version of yourself first.
As knowledge workers become more valuable, and have more options, the companies that can crack the code on effective employee engagement are those that will win.