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Five Simple Ways to Build Pride and Employee Engagement

I recently participated in a panel discussion for business owners and entrepreneurs hosted by the University of Georgia’s Entrepreneurship Program.  Our businesses varied, from retail and professional services to banking and healthcare.  No two businesses were alike.

Here’s the part that interested me the most:  When asked to share their most challenging business issue, it wasn’t business growth, technology costs or the pace of change that drove the conversation.  It was people.  Nearly every business owner identified people issues as their number one challenge.

They talked about the lack of buy-in for programs and systems.  They talked about hiring the right people for the job, and then losing them once they were fully trained.  They talked about how difficult it is to motivate front line employees.

Employee engagement is vital whether you run billion dollar business or a mom and pop shop.  Your employees are the face of your business to customers.  To win their hearts and minds is no small achievement, but it can be done without throwing money at the problem.

A recent Gallup Survey, The State of the American Workplace 2013, states that 70% of American workers are “actively disengaged” and not working to their full potential. Those with the lowest engagement in any occupation are service employees who are on the front line serving customers.

What can we all do to build engagement?  Few of us can offer the rich perks offered by Google (like free food, haircuts and fitness training), but there are lots of ways to build pride and engagement.  Here are just a few low cost, but effective opportunities:

  1. Hire the right managers.  You can talk about how much you love your employees and what a great culture you’re building but your managers must deliver that every day. If they don’t walk the talk, credibility is lost.  My favorite former boss used to say great leaders have a balance of skills and style and both are equally important.  Don’t hire an individual who is technically superior but can’t motivate and connect with their team.  That type of person will drive off your best people.
  2. Say thank you.  It doesn’t cost anything to say thank you.  Why don’t business leaders say it more often?  Recently a business owner told me he often sent thank you notes to clients, but it hadn’t occurred to him to send them to his team.  Try it.  It works.
  3. Tap into the power of philanthropy. People feel good about helping others. Find a charity that is a good fit with your business and your people will take it from there.  Their creativity will amaze you. There are 1.3 million charities in America, and every community has a public school that needs volunteers.  Better yet, ask your people what they would like to support. Set up a volunteer work day or fundraiser and see what a meaningful impact it has on your people.
  4. Ask for feedback.  Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York, built his brand on four little words, “How am I doing?”  Be sure you have a feedback channel for bottom-to-top, instead of top-to-bottom communication.  Whether it’s as simple as regularly scheduled staff meetings or a direct email box for ideas and questions, set up a way for employees to interact with management. Then take action. There’s nothing more discouraging than to share your ideas and issues and nothing changes.
  5. Promote healthy lifestyles.  Rising healthcare costs are a critical issue for all of us. You can show employees you care by supporting wellness activities. Start with healthier snacks in the break rooms and vending machines. Form an employee Wellness Committee. Celebrate with those who meet their wellness goals and encourage everyone to get healthier. 

What do you think? Share your insights and ideas with Maureen:  mclayton@insight-communication.com