3 Ways to Foster Employee Engagement

Following is a guest post from Sean Conrad. Sean is a Certified Human Capital Strategist and Senior Product Analyst at Halogen Software, one of the leading providers of Halogen Software. For more of his insights on talent management, read his posts on the Halogen blog.

iStock_000013075147SmallWhen it comes to optimizing organizational performance, employee engagement is key. Organizations that can successfully link strategic objectives to employee objectives, and that offer performance-based learning opportunities, are better able to impact employee engagement and productivity.

And yet, fostering employee engagement is a bit of an art. What it comes down to is the ability for leaders to clearly communicate expectations. This requires leaders to balance accountability with meaningful work to motivate employees into contributing to corporate success.

Looking at Susan’s February 11th post about Leadership In Action, her point is clear: leadership requires commitment. Susan’s fundamental acts of leadership are that you “speak up, step up and/or stand up for something or someone that matters to you, that you are committed to, that you want to make a difference in.”

As Susan explains, leadership is about doing. With that principle in mind, now is a good time to stop and ask yourself if your company, and even you as a leader, are doing everything you can to improve employee engagement.

Here are four tips to help you do just that.

1. Align Goals

Every employee should understand how their work contributes to the company’s performance and success. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to ensure that employee’s goals are aligned with and linked to the organization’s high level goals. I’m not talking about a model of cascading goals, where each successive layer of management is given goals that help their superiors achieve their goals. This way of handing down goals is dated and ineffective. I’m talking about a model where you create SMART goals for the organization and assign each one an executive owner, then invite every employee to collaborate with their manager and establish personal goals that help in some way to achieve one of more of the higher level organizational goals.

This is more of a hub and spoke model than a cascade. The benefit to this is every employee can clearly see the importance and value of their work, and are engaged with and committed to the achievement of both their goals and the organizations

2. Support Performance-Driven Learning

Are you making an effort to develop your employees’ knowledge and skills? Is their learning tangibly tied to their performance and to organizational goals? If not, it should be. Again, this is about giving employees context about their development as it relates to organizational strategy. If development activities are assigned either to further expand an employee’s knowledge, skills, experience or to address a performance gap, the employee gets a clear sense that the organization is committed to their success and ongoing development. If you further link learning to organizational goals demonstrates that employees have a vital role to play in the organization, both today and tomorrow. But you need to make these links explicit to your employees. With this kind of context, employees are more likely to be engaged with their learning opportunities and work to benefit from them. If you don’t make this link, they may view the learning opportunities as a necessary drudge imposed on them by “management”.

3. Foster the Manager-Employee Relationship

If you boil it right down, this point is fundamentally about good, open communication. Managers and employees need to be in an ongoing dialogue about expectations, performance, development, results, etc. You don’t manage someone by telling them what to do and what not to do. You engage them in dialogue, ask them questions, seek their input and perspective, give them feedback and direction, help them to improve their performance and develop to be their best. And you do it every day, every week, every month.

As a leader you can help foster this relationship by supporting, ingraining and modeling solid management in your organization. Don’t treat things like performance appraisals, goal setting, and competency assessments as merely HR administrative processes. Recognize them as vital tools that support management best practices to drive high employee engagement and retention.

Effective leadership can impact employee engagement and correlates to a demonstrated commitment to supporting your employees in their career progression. This involves ensuring employees contribute to corporate objectives they can identify with, and by giving meaningful employee recognition and development opportunities tailored to the individual.


Enter A Comment

Tanveer Naseer   |   13 April 2011   |   Reply

Hi Sean,

This is an excellent list of points you make; I especially agree with your first one, of making it clear for employees to see how their contributions impact the shared goal of the organization. Nothing engages people more than knowing that what they do matters beyond fulfilling the obligations/responsibilities of their job.

Sean Conrad   |   28 April 2011   |   Reply

Hi Tanveer, thanks for the comment.

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you – I am off with 5 weeks of parental leave with my 11 month old son, so needless to say I’ve been busy!

I agree that goal alignment is key to employee engagement and to ensuring the organization executes on it’s goals. Alignment is often most important in the places leadership might least expect – for example a custodian cleaning rooms in a healthcare facility – ensuring they know how their role directly drives patient satisfaction is often critical to the success of the organization.

Susan Mazza   |   18 April 2011   |   Reply

Sean, Thanks for your post here! I have a question for you…

Regarding performance-driven learning, on the one hand I get your points about linking learning to organizational goals, but isn’t there also a role for pursuing learning opportunities that may have a less clear correlation to a person’s job? It is often in broadening our context and learning and exploring new disciplines and experiences that we get our most innovative ideas.

Sean Conrad   |   28 April 2011   |   Reply

Absolutely Susan! Performance linked learning for an employee’s role is important, but it does not need to be the only learning and development an employee is working on.

One concrete example is succession based – for example I have a development plan and a couple of learning items in place to help me develop for a talent pool I am in – a role I don’t have currently. It’s important that leaders work with employees to ensure they have good rounded out development and learning plans in place, even if it’s for roles that the employee may not play in the current organization.

Tim Eyre   |   24 May 2011   |   Reply

Hi Sean,

Excellent points you have made. You used two words that I think many managers don’t place enough emphasis upon which are ‘expectations’ and ‘context’. Through my own management experience, I learned early on, that I had no place to be dissatisfied with results if I hadn’t laid out my expectations and goals clearly. I also have seen the dramatic effects of employee engagement when they are given ‘context’ and can then grasp the reason behind their job, and the ultimate goal.

However, the one thing that I do think is important to mention that facilitates every aspect of this is investing time in hiring. While every point you make leads to engagement, the truth is that if you have a bad fit, then even engagement isn’t going to improve that. Just a thought, and to add to that, I think those two words ‘expectations’ and ‘context’ need to be part of every interview as well!

Thanks again for a great article,

Sean Conrad   |   24 May 2011   |   Reply

Hi Tim,

Thanks for the thoughtful response. I agree that recruiting is a critical component – certainly a bad fit is unlikely to work out even if you do everything else very well as a manager. Recruiting and hiring someone who is a great fit is something I am working on these days at Halogen and I am learning more about it. One of the things we are focusing on is ensuring that the recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and performance management processes are all unified in order to ensure that expectations and context are consistent. It is challenging to have expectations set by people with various roles in the process stay consistent – great point.

cecilia oancea   |   21 January 2012   |   Reply

i am currently working on a change project in the work place. more precisely, employee engagement on a surgical unit. this is a required project for a leadership & management course i am currently taking.
employee engagement is a borad concept and i need to focus on one element that fosters employee engagement. can you suggest that one element and elaborate on it and/or suggest where would i find literature related to IT.
Thanks, Cecilia