So, you want to engage your employees?
Welcome to the quandary that has 70% of America’s business leadership in crisis mode. Why 70%? That’s Gallup’s estimation of the national employee disengagement level. The ball-park fiscal consequence: $500 billion per annum, wasted.
Most stops on the engagement journey are familiar. They mirror the employee lifecycle: onboarding, work, performance analysis. The crucial final phase, however, is the response to performance analysis — and it’s one that business leaders constantly bungle.
In order to understand why, let’s examine each phase in detail.
The onboarding process includes recruiting, training, shadowing — everything involved in choosing a candidate and preparing them to excel as an employee.
Engagement efforts throughout onboarding lean heavily on learning management systems (LMSs) that make onboarding materials more interesting, typically by leveraging game mechanics. When employees fully absorb content, they perform better at work.
Engagement efforts during the “work” phase tend to focus on making employees’ lives easier. Scheduling software that streamlines PTO, automated tools that perform monotonous tasks, communication systems that allow for constant team access — these take work off of employee’s shoulders and allow them to hone more crucial, skill-based aspects of their duties.
Performance analysis is used to assess those skills. Data — whether it’s sales figures, customer satisfaction rates, or ROI — is a powerful motivator. Everyone, be they a CEO or a cashier, wants to know how they’re doing, measure themselves against benchmarks, and take pride in their work. This is a very human impulse with very tangible business results.
But here’s the kicker.
In many business environments, that human impulse is denied, because performance analysis is the end of the line. Managers collect data, review it, either nod to themselves or shrug, and that’s it. The data — for whatever reason — doesn’t make it back to the employees.
The key word here is ownership. If employees don’t feel connected to their performance data, it does absolutely nothing to motivate, and nothing to answer that fundamental human question: how am I doing?
I talk to companies with in-depth recruiting tools, top-notch LMSs, shiny communication systems, an array of great perks — and engagement still stagnates, because that crucial element of performance ownership is lacking.
The result: Underrecognized employees begin to feel like their contributions are not appreciated, and become disenchanted. Freeloaders skate by with mediocre work, continue to sag into laziness, and represent the brand poorly.
The business implications are grave: sales drop; customer satisfaction plummets; attrition skyrockets; onboarding costs boil over projections. This is where that $500 billion is lost.
The good news: building data ownership is easy. Ridiculously easy. If managers leverage certain key principles — transparency, competition, recognition — the seeds of ownership can be planted overnight.
The first of building data ownership is transparency. That means every employee has instant access to their performance data at all times. No excuses; no denial; no uncertainty. Workers know when they’re doing well and when they’re not — always.
Competition is transparency taken to the next level: people don’t just see their data, they see everyone’. Their peers’, their bosses’, the company’s as a whole — everything, displayed on a leaderboard that makes it simple to see who is doing excellent work and who is lagging.
Recognition is the icing on the cake. It doesn’t mean a sporadic, “hey, great job!” Or “struggling this week, but you can do it!” For recognition to work, it must be codified in a system, preferably a gamified system wherein employees can earn “awards” or “achievements,” send each other kudos in a public forum, and be prominently acknowledged by leadership.
Importantly, data should never be wielded as a stick. When employees are struggling, encouragement, not scolding, is key. Recognizing effort and marginal improvement is as important as recognizing the top results.
These are dead simple principles. They require some bandwidth, yes — which is why broad engagement platforms are emerging as the créme de la créme of the engagement cycle — but the results are undeniable.
What’s your excuse?