For anyone who’s in charge of managing talent, whether they’re a direct supervisor or an HR professional, there should be a constant emphasis on employee retention and productivity. Your job is to keep people employed, working hard and adding to the profitability of the business at large.
To do this, of course, you need engagement. You need people who are happy with their jobs – passionate about them, even – and willing to work to the fullest extent of their potential. In a world where many are constantly overworked and tempted by other job opportunities, building an engaged workforce is often easier said than done.
According to Forbes, the most important factor influencing an employee’s engagement is his or her direct supervisor. The news source pointed to April 2015 survey data from the Gallup Business Journal showing that 70 percent of the variance in engagement has a direct correlation with the manager. Front-line leaders, therefore, are viewed as “the regulators of engagement.”
However, Kevin Kruse, creator of the Leading for Employee Engagement program, told Forbes that he sees things a little differently. While managers do have a major impact on employee engagement, that doesn’t mean they can simply push people to become more engaged and expect it to work. On the contrary – Kruse’s theory is that real engagement comes from the bottom up, not the top down.
“Managers need to elicit ideas,” Kruse explained. “For example, ‘OK, we’re going to target communication over the next two quarters since that’s our lowest score. What can we do better to improve communication?’ Because the front-line workers are the ones who completed the survey, they are the only ones who can tell you what needs to change. The answers can’t come from above.”
What does this mean, and how can it have a positive impact on your organization? How can you improve employee engagement with a “bottom up” strategy?
Here’s a three-step process.
Gauge workforce opinions
Before you can improve anything about your employees’ engagement levels, you need to measure it first. So gather all the data you can, and be specific. Survey employees about what’s going right and what isn’t. Is it the workload? The hours? The culture around the office? Isolate the factors that matter most and really focus on them.
Communicate results to managers
Once you’ve finished polling the workforce and gathering their opinions, the managers need to get an honest, transparent look at all the results. They should have a full score report that tells them what they’re doing right and what they need to improve upon.
Have open, honest conversations
Finally, it’s time for managers and their employees to sit down and discuss the state of employee engagement openly and honestly. Kruse noted that this doesn’t need to be a formal meeting – in fact, it might be better simply to hold a casual office pizza lunch, shoot the breeze and make people comfortable with sharing their opinions. Building engagement needs to be a collaborative process, and it’s important to build an open, communicative environment.