How To Engage Employees In 2022
The Sticky From The Inside Podcast's final episode of 2021 sees your host, Andy Goram take a look at the foundations of employee engagement and workplace culture, as a backdrop to the challenges ahead in 2022. It also looks ahead to the guests and topics it will cover in 2022 too.
Below is a full transcript of this episode, which you can also listen to here.
Episode 31 - Andy Goram
Ok, then, welcome to the last episode of 2021. What a year it’s been. Let’s be honest, as a world, we’ve had better periods of time. As a podcast, we’ve talked to some wonderfully insightful, passionate people, across many subjects all somehow linked to people engagement and workplace culture. We’ve dropped into innovation, marketing, leadership and storytelling, to name a few, along the way.
It’s been great to see the audience grow, but to be honest, it’s been hard going. I know there’s a message at the end of each episode asking you to like and comment, and I appreciate everyone of you who has done that. If you haven’t had a chance yet, please drop a rating and a comment on your preferred podcast platform. I can’t tell you how much it helps, and if you can find just one other person to recommend the show to, that would be awesome too. The more people that listen, the more I hope we can help them start to have more fulfilling work lives.
As is tradition with this podcast, I’ve given the guests Christmas off. Which means in this shorter episode it’s just me leaving you with a few crumbs of food for thought, as we look ahead to next year. From a podcast perspective, I’m really excited as I have a great bunch of guests lined up. We’ve got business psychologists, Ted Talkers, Successful business owners, coaches, social scientists. I’ve even got a former Federal Court Trial Lawyer coming on, all ready to share their wisdom, points of view and sticky notes for success with you. So please be sure to hit subscribe so you never miss a single sticky session.
But today, I just want to talk to you about some hopes and thoughts for the future and in particular some of what I think are the keys to long-term, sustainable retention of your people and sustainable profit growth.
Right now, heavily influenced by the pandemic, but not exclusive to it, people are thinking more about the job they do. And I just want to pause here to make a point. If you’re sitting here, thinking your retention issues are all pandemic related, I think you are kidding yourself. Notwithstanding the short-term “pingdemic” issues, issues of job satisfaction, feeling valued, being paid a fair wage, being engaged in the business you work for, were always bubbling away under the surface. Engagement figures globally have been pretty stagnant for a couple of decades, it’s just that people have had more time to think about what’s important to them recently, and are making decisions now, whereas before they put up with stuff.
The Great Resignation, side hustles, job-switching and job-ditching are in my opinion, some accelerated endgames to stuff that was always there. Some businesses recognised the situation, or just thought differently, and had done something about it long ago. They turned their attention to nurturing enabling cultures and a genuine engagement of their people in what they were attempting to do. They found that purpose, that unifying rally call that linked and connected the people in the business to the ideals the business was striving for, and they worked hard at hard-wiring that belief, drive and consciousness into the way their businesses worked. Many businesses started with that at their heart from day one and have never looked back. Some tried to change and failed, and tried again and succeeded or gave up. The problem was just too big and overwhelmed them. And others, probably the vast majority of them, looking at the figures, didn’t give it anything like the attention it deserved and have, and continue to pay the price of that. The price of higher people turnover, of higher recruitment costs, of higher re-training costs, of compromise agreements, disputes, tribunals and mediations.
But I’m here to spread the word, that it is never too late to change. And to remind those who are on this stuff currently, to keep at it, to not get complacent. Remember positively, It’s a job that never ends. An enabling workplace culture is like a garden. It needs constant tending. There’s the basic weeding and watering to be done, new plants and flowers to be accommodated and planted in the right way to set them up for success. There’s the removal of older features that have done their job, but are now no longer needed or relevant, and there’s the planning for the years ahead. What will the garden look like in the future, and what does it need to achieve that? But a good gardener keeps on top of all that stuff, so no matter what the weather, or the season throws at it, it’s always at its best and all the plants, shrubs, flowers and trees in it grow and continue to thrive in the environment that’s been created.
I firmly believe the primary route to truly sustainable growth comes down to the strength of the connection, you, your brand or your product or service has with your customers. When they are shopping for the thing you offer, do they think of you first, above all others, and why is it that? And people much cleverer than me, earning much higher salaries than me, will come up with a whole bunch of different things and strategies that point to sustainable growth, but for me, especially in the service industry, which is where I spent the majority of my time, it always comes down to the people who have the direct contact with your customers every day, and how much they trust in and believe in the product or service they’re selling.
As a marketer, in my career, I spent loads of time and money on trying to differentiate my stuff from the competition and communicate that to potential customers, in the hope that they’d make a purchase. But for a long time, I never spent anything like that level of investment doing the same with the people inside the business. I guess I just assumed they just had to process the sale.
I remember many times sitting at my desk cursing the fact that certain venues had chosen not to “do the promotion” or “follow the guidance” I had set. I can still hear myself saying, “God if they’d just do their jobs, we’d be far more successful!”
I cringe when I look back at myself now. I wasn’t doing my job. As soon as I’d figured out that I needed to do a much better job of talking to, involving and engaging with my colleagues as to why we were doing what we were doing, what the principles behind it were, how we wanted to be seen and help them to see and find their place in contributing to that – the game changed. Finding the connection between what drives the business and what drives the people within the business, changes things. Fact.
Plus, there is no feeling like it when you see someone’s lights go on. When you actually see the penny drop. It’s a physical thing. It’s almost like they’ve been pumped up to their full height. There’s nearly always a smile and a nod, and an energy that accompanies this moment. But finding this connection takes more than telling them a story (although that is part of it).
As you may know, I’m a volunteer for an organisation called Engage For Success. It’s a voluntary movement who seek to help create more businesses where people are engaged and thrive. I’ve mentioned them a few times during the show, but the whole movement is focused behind the four proven enablers of engagement, that came out of the MacLeod report 10 years ago. The same enablers are as relevant today as they were 10 years ago, and these 4 things are the starting blocks for how you can establish, nuture and grow an engaging working environment where people thrive.
So for once, I’d just like to take the time to go over them one by one, because these are the absolute foundation stones for engagement and are some of the bedrock tenets behind the Sticky From The Inside podcast. These are how you begin to build that most vital of all ingredients in businesses with great cultures and high levels of engagement – trust.
The first enabler is Strategic Narrative. This is the authentic and honest story you tell of the business past, present and future. It’s strategic in nature, as it needs to give clear direction, and show where your organisation is changing or responding to changes in the external environment.
When telling this story you need to show what will be different, how it will impact your people, and how they will know that the change has been successful. You have to make sure to show your people the landscape around them, and the horizon in front of them. Help them picture themselves in the new landscape. Keep it structured and pithy so that you, and they, can remember and tell it, repeatedly, easily.
But don’t forget that it is a story, with a beginning, a middle and a future! It’s not your personal story, but that of the organisation, and the people in it. It needs to be a story with a clear message and purpose. A story that helps your people feel they belong in the organisation, and makes them want to stay. A story that involves your people in the next chapter. A story that brings meaning and purpose to people’s working lives. So that story needs to be compelling, authentic, somehow personal to them, and repeatedly told and referred to by visible empowering leaders throughout the business, so people see commitment and consistency and understand its importance, so they tell the story to others themselves.
The second, is “Engaging Managers.” This is a need to have leaders, managers, people who will and are equipped to take the time to get to know their people as individuals, and who are capable of creating a sense of team. They need to climb into that Lencioni Pyramid and foster mutual trust and respect.
In episode 9, I spoke to the brilliant Zach Mercurio, who told a story that emerged whilst researching the topics and of mattering and significance. If you remember, during his research, he came across a team who could not speak highly enough of their manager. She was always there for them, had their back, pushed them to achieve and they felt she really “knew” them. They were a very engaged and highly productive team. He felt compelled to meet this lady. When he sat down with her to find out how she’d been so successful at engaging her team and creating such a bond with them, she was almost embarrassed to reveal her secret.
She reached into her handbag and pulled out a notebook, a well-used notebook. She said, “I wanted to get to really know my team, as I know how important that is, but I have a terrible memory. So, whenever I’d had a conversation with them about home, or personal life or their family, I just made a little note in my book. Then the next time I had a conversation with them, I could check in with them to see how their wife’s operation had gone, or whether Tommy had had his exam results yet. I don’t need to use it that often now, but it just got me into the habit of talking to the team, and really getting to know them.” I love this story, and this, for me is exactly what we mean by “Engaging Managers” because it shows that the simplest things can make huge impact in this area.
I’ve worked with manufacturers, in factories before, and the difference we saw in engagement, just from encouraging the office managers to walk the floor and start to chat to and get to know the operatives, was huge. Do not underestimate the power of making someone feel like they matter. Everyone likes to feel significant and seen, yet not everyone is.
But engaging managers are not just there for the nice things. They need to be able to be able to manage the paradoxes of giving people focus and scope, to support and stretch. They don’t walk-on-bye poor practice or behaviour, they offer feedback in the moment with candour and empathy, always coming from a good place, from wanting and needing the employee to grow and develop.
Humans have an innate need to help others. But when we sense that someone doesn’t need our help, we instinctively dis-engage and move on to support someone that does. If you’re a manager that shows they don’t need help, don’t be surprised if you have low levels of engagement. Engaging managers ask for help when they need it. They involve their people. They are comfortable in saying they don’t have all the answers, and they benefit from doing so.
The third enabler is Employee Voice. This is about recognising that communication in a business is two-way.
This is about making employees feel like they have a voice, that their opinions and views matter, on how their job is done, to the way the business works, or being given the opportunity to share their ideas on how improvements can be made. Whilst an employee survey, used correctly is a good thing, this is way more than sending out an annual survey. This is about having a consistent and constant conversation.
And, if you are going to give them a voice, you have to listen. And things have to be seen to be happening, or at least help people understand why they might not be.
Encouraging and reinforcing the point that employees have a voice in the business can start from day one. Whenever I’m working with a client to build an onboarding or induction programme, I always encourage them to include a request or invitation from the CEO or MD at the top of the business, to all new employees, to feed back to them directly over the course of their first 90 days on how the promise matches up to reality. Those first 90 days for a business are a gift. That employee has no baggage and hasn’t been sucked in o any of the rituals or behaviours all businesses have. They are a fresh look at what it’s really like to be part of that company, and so can offer clean insight into what’s working and what isn’t. Allowing the business to take action to accentuate and celebrate the good, and improve the bad. This one action also sets the tone and sends the message that having a voice is encouraged and needed.
Ultimately, it shows people are part of the solution, not a problem to sort.
The fourth and final enabler is Organisational Integrity. This is all about the state of the “Say – do” gap in your business. As I always say, “How are the values on the mousemat and wall mural reflected in the mindset, attitude and behaviours of everyone in the business?”
Does the company have a set of values that adds value to employees and, helps achieve its objectives? Do they act as a guide to the way we should all behave to reach those objectives and succeed. But also, and this always sounds daft when I speak to people about it, but you have to choose values that work for your organisation. They should be your own. They sound like you, come from you and aren’t pinched or borrowed from someone else. It’s the biggest mistake I see when I help businesses pull this stuff together. That and then trying to force scripted, central behaviours on employees. I don't know too many adults who like being told how to behave, so let them use the values you create to shape their own behaviours. You’ll get more ownership that way.
Companies with high-engagement have a consistent attitude to the importance of these tenets. They don’t make allowances. Action is taken when the values are not being displayed, as well as celebrated when they are evidenced. The quickest way to undermine the benefit your values can bring, is to show that they’re not that important, by allowing anti-value behaviour to go unchecked. It sends a message to everyone that these are just words on a piece of paper, and not anything of value. It also undermines the trust employees have in the company, individuals and the messages put out.
In companies with high engagement and high levels of organisational integrity these things are measured and talked about with the same rigour as the financial and other tangible measures. It’s not a part-time, one-off message either. The job isn’t done after a rousing launch. It’s a constant, long-term commitment if you want them to live and breathe in your organisation, and for everyone to get the associated benefits.
These are the four enablers of engagement, and the funny thing is, far too often, when I speak to people or businesses about them, I will get a lot of nods, and then someone will say, “Yep. We do all that already.” But the sad reality is that the view around the board table, isn’t usually the view that’s shared on the floor. There’s a difference about ticking these four boxes, and using them to find, explore and develop the connection between the drivers of the business and the drivers of the people. And these are just the start of it.
But rather than be complacent about it, or daunted by the scale of it, start with a simple promise vs. reality conversation with your people. You may be surprised at the answers you get.
As we look ahead to next year and say goodbye to the last, my hope is that more of us in business ride this bow wave of humanity that has come in on the back of the pandemic, and combine tools like the four enablers with a focus on building and training the human skills of management and leadership, that are needed to create the kind of working environments where everyone has the chance to be their best every day and get to enjoy, and even love what they do and why they do it.
My guests and I will be back in the new year to give you more food for thought in an attempt to get more people feeling fulfilled at work and really connected to what they do. If there’s a topic you’d like discussed or someone you think I should try to get onto the show, drop me a line on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or via a comment on your podcast platform of choice, and I’ll do my best to sort it.
Until then, stay safe and happy and I’ll see you on the other side.
Andy Goram is the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, and founder of Bizjuicer. An employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy, with the aim of helping more people have more fulfilling work lives.