Increasing attention has been paid to the subject of employee engagement over the past decade and since the publication of David MacLeod’s 2009 report to UK government, many organisations have actively developed strategies designed to help them get the most from their employees.
1. Get to know your team
It’s vital for any manager who wishes to engage their team to start by getting to know them. Don’t shut yourself up in your office and keep aloof from your team. Instead practice management by walking about (MBWA). Take an interest in people as individuals and build relationships with them. Talk to people about their work. Ask open questions, for example:
• What issues are you dealing with currently? How do you feel about your work?
• How do you feel things are going? What is going well? What’s not going so well?
• Any links with other departments? Are they helping you or hindering you?
• What do you need most at this time?
2. Set clear expectations
Have a clear sense of direction for the team. Communicate this clearly and make sure that everyone understands it. Employees need to be clear about what they are responsible for, what deadlines or targets they need to meet and what is expected of them in terms of work performance and personal behaviour. Check for any areas of confusion or overlap between employees or departments. Review workloads and ensure that tasks are allocated fairly and redistributed when necessary.
3. Keep team members in the loop
Good communication will help to build a shared sense of purpose within the team. If employees are to be engaged with their organisation, they need to know what it is trying to accomplish and understand how their own work contributes to this. Make sure that your staff are familiar with the organisation’s mission, vision and strategy and discuss how the work of your team or department fits in with this and contributes to the achievement of strategic objectives. It is also important to keep people up to date on changes in the organisation as they occur, especially those which will affect how they work or what is expected of them. Regular progress reports will provide encouragement and motivation, but it’s important to share bad news as well.
No one likes to feel that they have been overlooked, or even worse, deliberately kept in the dark when things are not going well. Although, managers may be reluctant to be explicit about potential difficulties, employees will appreciate open and honest communication and you may find that bad news will act as a positive stimulus, prompting employees to seek improvements, make cost savings, or increase sales for example.
4. Build relationships of trust
Open and honest communication will also help to develop employees’ trust in their managers and their organisation, but recognise that it takes time and effort to build trust in relationships. Managers must lead by example and set standards of ethical and professional behaviour. Don’t ever make promises which you may be unable to keep and don’t betray confidences. Treat all colleagues with respect, even when you disagree with them or find them irritating or annoying. Always act with fairness and don’t allow yourself to show favouritism towards employees you find sympathetic or see eye to eye with. Learn to exercise patience and self-control and be prepared to admit it when you make mistakes – apologise and do what you can to make amends when necessary. Our checklist on developing trust gives more information on this topic.
5. Encourage open discussion and debate
Recognise that one-way communication, however transparent, is insufficient to engage people – you must listen to your employees as well. Regular team meetings are a way to keep people informed but should also be times for interactive two way communication. Encourage all team members to participate actively. Promote debate and discussion on work issues and matters affecting the team and work with them to find positive solutions. Demonstrate that you are open to suggestions for improvements and ideas for fresh initiatives. Take all suggestions seriously and if it is not feasible to take them up, remember to explain the reasons to the team. Employees need to understand that they can speak openly and honestly to their manager without fearing recrimination or criticism.
Make it clear you would prefer employees to express their frustrations and problems, rather than allow resentment and disillusionment to build up. As trust develops they will do start to do so. Make yourself available to them and give them your undivided attention. Practice active listening and look for the issues underlying any complaints. This will give you insights into barriers to engagement and give you the opportunity to find ways to address them in the future. While allowing the open expression of views and opinions, don’t allow these to dominate and encourage employees to take a positive approach to resolving issues.
6. Empower your team
Engaging managers empower employees rather than trying to control or micro-manage them. Providing opportunities for employees to be involved in decision making can help employees feel that they and their contribution are valued and appreciated and can be a powerful way to increase engagement. Autonomy, within set boundaries, gives employees the opportunity to develop their capabilities and show what they can do. Successfully carrying out new responsibilities or completing challenging projects will give team members a sense of achievement and increase their job satisfaction. Set realistic but stretching objectives, but make it clear that employees can seek advice and support if necessary, without fear of criticism or blame. Provide coaching and mentoring support as needed.
7. Give feedback
Make a habit of expressing thanks and appreciation, on an on-going basis, even for small achievements. Don’t delay this until the annual performance appraisal or the end of a project – understanding recognition for their efforts will help employees to maintain motivation and spur then on to further success. Many managers tend to shy away from giving feedback that may be perceived as critical or provoke defensive reactions, but this is a key part of the manager’s role and is vital if you are to develop the skills and abilities of team members and help them to improve their performance. Always view feedback of this kind as developmental – about finding ways to improve rather than looking for someone to blame when things go wrong.
Handle it, of course, with sensitivity – don’t publicly criticise individuals in front of the whole team, for example. Take a problem-solving approach to any difficulties and don’t allow a blame culture to develop.
8. Take the aspirations of team members seriously
Many employees come into an organisation with aspirations for their job role and future career and expectations of how the organisation will support them in achieving their development goals. Increased engagement happens when employees feel that managers recognise these aspirations and are responsive towards them. Consider the potential of those who report to you and think about what you can do to meet their aspirations. You could do this in a variety of ways: by allocating new tasks and responsibilities, assigning them to project teams, asking them to train or support others, offering mentoring or coaching, providing more formal learning and development opportunities or by recommending them for promotion, either within your department or elsewhere in the organisation.
9. Deal promptly with performance issues
Managers and team leaders often find it difficult to address poor performance. They have a responsibility to do so, for the sake of the individual, the team and the organisation. Think carefully about how to raise issues with employees. Give them the chance to give their view of the situation or explain the reasons behind it. Then they can work with you in identifying potential solutions.
10. Tackle conflicts at an early stage
As the manager or team leader, it’s vital that you keep an eye on how working relationships are developing within your team. An expectation of a certain degree of conflict and debate is often seen as a normal stage in team development. In such circumstances, the manager’s role is to support the team through coaching. As soon as there is evidence of more serious conflicts or personality clashes, take prompt action to resolve the matter. Otherwise the situation is likely to deteriorate with damaging effects on morale, job satisfaction and ultimately, performance. Our checklist on dealing with conflict situations provides further guidance.