I spotted this little sign at a museum recently and it really struck a chord with me, because it’s a warning many businesses need to heed.
I’m not talking about actual floggings obviously, but the regular beatings we give to employees, whether that’s repeatedly changing their roles, not giving them clarity of purpose or not engaging them properly on issues that affect them. It might not seem like much in the moment, but over time, these repeated batterings to their professional and personal pride can have an impact on employee engagement that’s so much greater than the sum of its parts. And if you don’t address it quick, the bad feeling that took weeks or months to build could take years to break down.
So, whether you’re just starting out or need to address some existing issues with morale, here’s where we’d start:
Let them moan, but set a deadline
Let’s face it, most of us love a bit of a moan now and then, but continuous complaining about the same old issues can have a lasting impact on engagement. It may be that the things they’re complaining about genuinely need attention and if they’re something you can resolve quickly (like setting a home-working policy or increasing the weekly office milk order), then do it. But if the moans continue, despite the issue being resolved, you might need to dig deeper to understand what’s really fueling it. However, if it’s the same people making the same complaints about something that happened five years ago despite things having changed, acknowledge their hurt but politely move on.
Show them the future and their role in it
Having a clear strategy is vital, but it’s important to translate those high level goals into something everyone understands. That might be linking their annual performance review to strategic objectives, giving clear examples of how what they do day in, day out, helps move the business forward, or incentivising certain activities and behaviours to give them something tangible to aim for. Make sure the language and information you use in your communications are relevant to the audience and if things change, tell them. It’s all well and good setting your strategic stall out at the start of the year, but if you don’t regularly engage people, they’ll soon lose focus and momentum and wonder what they’re doing it all for.
Share news regularly - the good and the bad
I’ve worked with so many organisations that find it hard to be honest with their employees and only want to communicate when the news is good. People aren’t stupid - they know there will be setbacks and that things don’t always go to plan, and they generally know when that’s happened even if you don’t officially tell them. So a leadership team keeping schtum when things go awry can have a much greater impact than being honest ever would. You don’t have to share every detail but be open, honest and pragmatic and, if things have strayed off course, tell them how you’re going to get back on track together.
Listen as much as you talk - more if you can
I was in a meeting of internal comms professionals recently where they were asked to sum up what their job was. Most said something like ‘I find news and send it out to colleagues’ or ‘I tell people what’s going on in the business’. This isn’t unusual but it isn’t helpful - internal comms should be about conversations, not broadcast, and you’ll never be able to communicate well if you don’t know what your audience actually wants. Take their views and suggestions on board, try different channels and mediums, ask for their stories and examples and make your people the star. You never know what you might hear that makes all the difference to what you do and how.
Don’t be afraid to do things differently
Ever heard that old chestnut ‘if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got’. That’s never more true than when it comes to improving employee engagement. If you want things to be different you have to do things differently and that can be hard, but it’s worth persevering to see a change in what your people think, feel and do.
I’ve recently been working with an organisation that’s outwardly a leader in its field, but inside, things are different. Historical hierarchies and blame culture plus an old-fashioned view of employee engagement, adds up to a workforce who are either coasting or actively disengaged, and at a time of major change, this was a precarious position to be in.
It was down to me to set the direction for communication and engagement and I won’t lie, it was a bit like pushing custard uphill. The most common phrase I heard was ‘that’s all great, but we’ve heard it all before’. And they had. Heard it, but not felt it, and that was what needed to change.
So, I set up a number of new comms channels that encouraged conversation, not broadcast, set up a ‘change network’ to involve key people (and not just the most senior stakeholders) in workshops, surveys and discussions, and made sure we shared every piece of news - good and bad - as soon as we could. Of course, there are still naysayers, but engagement and, more importantly, people’s understanding of the role they play in delivering the strategy, jumped 23 per cent in just 18 months.
Of course, there were things that didn’t go to plan, but instead of pushing on, we learnt from it and moved on. You won’t get it right every time, but you have to be brave enough to give it a go.
Want to improve employee engagement or need some strategic communications advice? Give us a call on (0113) 2160884 or email email@example.com