I was in a meeting a few months ago with a large group of executives. It was one of those unique corporate gatherings that you leave after an hour and feel like it was time well spent. During that time we were casting our goals and objectives not only in terms of business outcomes but also in terms of culture change, especially related to employee engagement.
“Employee Engagement”. Those are really big words for saying: Are our people happy and does that happiness translate into them being “all in” to achieve objectives and satisfy customers?
I’m a finance guy by trade though I’ve spent the better part of the last decade in the IT shop. The goal of any businesses enterprise was drilled into me early in my career; shareholder value is the game. Full stop.
While I still believe that, my approach to achieving this end has become far more nuanced than it was in those early days. And while I don’t think employee happiness is an end, it is one of the most important means. It’s hard for your employees to be engaged constructively in the outcomes of your clients and shareholders if the organization creates disharmony and misery.
So what does it mean to have “engaged” employees? How does one get there?
Most organizations, both large and small, have the same pernicious pain points. They’re the landscape across which everyone slogs on a daily basis to make progress. Employee engagement suffers because of all the pain.
As leaders, we have to straighten the cowpaths and root out the tangles of briars that inhibit progress. None of that deep rooted stuff can be eliminated in one act of daring, so iterating will be key. But starting doesn’t require a committee or even permission, it just requires leadership. Here’s a short list of places for you to start making progress towards improved employee engagement.
- Eliminate (or ignore) processes that only serve the bureaucracy: We all know what these are, we just need the intestinal fortitude to kill or modify them so they’re less painful. Most companies say they’re interested in making things simple but have fallen painfully short on action. As a leader, your task is to make everything go faster. My favorite place to start is by ignoring bureaucracy and see who comes screaming. The immune system will catch up with you eventually, your goal is to be so far down the road by then that you’ve got momentum on your side.
- Invest where you want to grow: Your employees are expert BS detectors. They know that when you say “X is the most important strategy we have” and then keep putting money, people and management attention on Y that X really isn’t important. Eliminate that confusion and improve employee engagement. Make the tough choices about where the future is and shift your money, people and your time to that work.
- Give employees the tools they need to do their jobs: This is another one of those investment things. You can’t drive to the future in your father’s Oldsmobile.* This is another place where tough resource allocation decisions have to be made. If your team is working on ancient technology and in uninspired work locations that don’t serve them well, you need to stop spending on something and start spending here.
- Align organizations: Efficiency has driven us to compartmentalize work in ways that don’t make sense in delivering end-to-end value. It’s time to bring it back together. Put people in one physical location. Put people who work on the same project, on the same team.
- Adopt Agile practices: Not just in development, but in everything you do. Daily stand-ups anyone? This extends to the executives as well. No more quarterly or monthly status meetings. Monday mornings. Thirty minutes. What are you going to do this week to create value?
- Communicate the hell out of what we’re doing: The most important item. You need to create visibility to the end game so that everyone understands where you’re going, fear is reduced, and engagement, there’s that word again, is increased. In person, on video, blogging, tweeting, chatting are all vehicles that need to be used to get people to understand both the message and the commitment. Follow it up with the best communication of all: Recognition for those making rapid progress.
*Yes, I’m dating myself. For you kids, this is what my father’s Oldsmobile Cutlass looked like. It was brown with a white roof. And it’s mirrors were missing after my brother drove it. But that’s another story