Employee Engagement - The Journey to Mars

I was chatting with a friend the other day about our mission at Blast, where we are helping organizations measure, build and improve culture and organizational knowledge through fun interactions on a regular basis. And she asked why organizations find that to be so important these days?

I was about to answer, but then thought about it. Do organizations really believe it to be so important? Where is it on strategic priority lists? Studies from Gallup and Bersin have shown that employee engagement is near the top of strategic priorities for many CEO’s and executives, often in the top four. But how much resources are they dedicating to this problem, relative to others?

In thinking about it, it helps to frame short-term priorities against long-term priorities. For example, customer service issues need to be fixed today. Software issues need to be fixed today. Finance issues need to be fixed today. And by “today,” I mean in the weeks and months ahead. Now let’s frame long-term priorities like increasing profitability, increasing shareholder value and improving organizational culture and employee engagement. We all acknowledge that these challenges are not solved overnight, so organizations often put them off for more tangible, short-term impact items.

Employee engagement is like the journey to Mars. There are lots of challenges and unknowns for a mission to Mars, but we would never get there if we didn’t start taking steps to learn, adapt and innovate. Here are four ways to get started on this journey with a commitment to continue to push the limits.

Start Small
Turn your attention to a specific cohort in the organization that is having the most challenge, either from a turnover standpoint or a performance standpoint. Explore tactics that work with that group. For example, drastically increase communications with those teams. These groups often feel left out or disconnected. Then ask for feedback through skip-level lunches and regular touch points. Go out of your way to make them feel connected and cared for.

The goal here is to learn before committing to a larger program. More on commitment later. Focus on understanding the receptiveness of the audience and what truly motivates your team. Different industries and environments will dictate slightly different strategies, so this is your opportunity to really get to know your team.

Open Dialogues
If you haven’t already, consider adopting a pulse survey strategy, maybe in addition to an annual employee survey. To make immediate impacts, you need to be ready to respond to concerns - genuinely. Getting month-to-month feedback provides more near-real-time visibility to concerns in the organization, giving you the opportunity to show that management hears the concerns and begin to address them in some way.

Focus on the regularity of communications, in both directions. No one enjoys lectures. Create space to have open dialogues and create a way to collect the feedback. Coach managers to respond and prioritize concerns to build trust with the organization. Middle managers are key for opening a two-way communication channel.

Reward and Recognize
Think about rewarding your teams for the fun of it. Everyone loves winning, especially when there’s competition. And rewards don’t have to be expensive. Small gift cards, lunch with the CEO, company swag, paid day off, vendor swag - all of these are basic rewards that don’t break the budget, but can make a great impact for the organization, especially those on the front lines. Competing for rewards helps build bonds within the organization, and that’s always a good thing.

In today’s workplace, there’s an increase in desire for peer recognition as much as top-down recognition. Find ways to be inclusive in the recognition process, so peers continue to build relationships across as well as up and down. 

Just Get Started
There are a lot of moving pieces in preparing for a journey to Mars. Employee engagement is nothing different. The best way to start overcoming challenges is to start solving one problem, then the next, then the next. As with all big, strategic problems, everyone has grand ideas. “What if we could…and then we could…” Create discipline to identify a couple of initiatives you can get off the ground, and focus on creating success with the target audience. Once you do that, you can more easily expand and build upon the success.

But all of this hinges on priorities. Why do this NOW? Because if you don’t get started, you definitely won’t reach your goals. As a customer reminded me the other day, employee engagement takes commitment. It’s commitment of leadership, resources, time and energy to make this happen. You can’t decide to go to Mars and quit halfway through. That will literally leave you in the middle of the solar system. 

So get going. Get started now by committing some resources to exploring what works for your organization’s culture. Your culture really can’t wait.