“In life change is inevitable. In business change is vital.” says Warren Bennis. Competition is growing, markets are shrinking, and rates are dropping. What are you going to do? Polish your doors? Increase your marketing dollars? Are you going to sit back and let life happen to you? If you are not willing to work and get out of your comfort zone, please stop reading this article. However, if you want to start thinking about playing offense and growing your business. Please read on. No system, lock, or golf cart can grow your business more than an engaged employee. The single best investment you will ever make is to invest time and effort into your employees. When an employee is engaged, they will always strive to become better and better. As they do that, everything around them will improve. The irony comes when employers dress up engagement as a stocked break room or a yearly Christmas party. This is a pacifier that will lull the C players, bore the B players, and anger the A players. Among the current employee base, 44% feel that they are stuck in their role, 50% feel that their employer takes them for granted, 35% feel that work directly affects their ability to be happy, 40% believe it has a negative impact on their lives, and 70% are not engaged in what they are doing. While those numbers might seem shocking, take a moment and think of your own work history. Has your work always been unicorns and rainbows? What jobs have you had that were engaging, made you happy to come to work, or made you better? Once you start to think about it, those statistics make perfect sense. As a young boy, I often went camping in the mountains of Yellowstone National Park. Whenever we went camping there, I always lived by one motto, “leave it better than you found it”. That creed has followed me throughout the years and into my business life. As a business owner or even a leader in an organization, I believe you have a responsibility to better the lives of the people you lead, or to leave them better than when you found them. Engaged workers believe in the work they are doing. They have “bought” into your vision and are emotionally attached to what they are doing. They work with drive, passion, and are willing to go the extra mile. They are pulling on their oars and are doing everything they can to move your business forward. Directly contrasting that are the employees who are not engaged. They can range from individuals who are actively working against your business to “seat warmers.” They bring others down, they monopolize a manager’s time, they drive away customers, and do things that are not productive to the workplace. They are work Zombies. How do you create a more engaged employee? You can start by answering these questions:
What am I doing to be a better boss (leader)?
How am I improving the work environment?
Am I giving every person an opportunity to grow?
What am I doing to recognize people?
What am I doing to be a better leader? You can bet your sweet patootie that any change you want to see needs to come from the top. Employers have to know the personality of their employees. The same strengths and issues the employee struggles with outside work and the same inside work. By knowing your employees’ beliefs, values, goals and challenges you will be able to interact with them in the best possible way. How am I improving the work environment? Your employees spend more waking moments at work than they do at home, with their loved ones, and in areas they are most comfortable in. The workplace they come into everyday needs to be an area they like. Look around the office, when was the last time you changed things around at all? Does the area ever change? Is there something you can do to make it different periodically? Change things up once in a while. Not only does this help prevent burn out but it will increase creativity. I would go crazy if I had to sit in an eight by eight windowless office every day. Am I giving every person an opportunity to grow? There has been a change in what an employee wants out of work. To some various degree it has changed from my paycheck to my purpose. My satisfaction to my development, my boss, to my coach, my weaknesses to my strengths, and finally my job to my life. If you are not spending equal time developing your people as you are driving your new Ducati motorcycle, then they won’t be your employees much longer. If they stay, they will only remain at the C or B level and you will never reap the rewards of having a truly engaged team. Much of this growth comes from continual conversations and coaching opportunities. These conversations need to be focused on the employee’s strengths versus their weaknesses. By no means am I discounting the fact that employees are not responsible for them. They are to manage their weaknesses and play to their strengths. Almost every employee feedback session I have been in has focused on what I am doing wrong. While there is a place for that, the majority should be what I am doing right. If you are to raise a B employee to an A employee it is not by correcting their weaknesses. It will only come by helping them become more effective through their strengths. We are all trained to give feedback in a negative way. Think of the last time someone asked for your feedback. Did you make a list of the things they did right? No. You made a list of the bad. While there is some merit to part of that, we are weird to receive positive feedback. So why aren’t we giving it? I don’t know about you, but whenever I received a review that had things I needed to work on, I looked at it, got defensive, and never looked at it again. It was worth the paper it was written on and no more. What am I doing to recognize people? When asked what was the most important tool to encourage employees, overwhelmingly it was recognition. Think of a time you worked hard on a project and finished it. It was your baby and your blood sweat and tears went into it. After it was finished the person above you didn’t recognize your effort, or put in a half hearted thank you that was more crushing than helpful. Has that ever happened? It has to me, more times that I can count, and it changed the way I worked. Have you been guilty of doing it yourself? It doesn’t cost anything to recognize someone. However, when it is done right it will have a greater impact than any financial bonus. Send people a hand written thank you note instead of an email. Since you should know your employees, send them a personal gift related to their favorite hobby or sports team. These four steps have one thing in common. They all require “doing.” This will not happen unless you take the time to make it happen. Rain happens, employee engagement and success does not “just happen.” Your role is critical to the success and confidence of your employees. Make sure that all your employees know that and actively working toward a common purpose, belief, and outcome. By so doing, your business will grow and you will be able to harvest the rewards of engaged employees.