The Only Thing You Need to Do to Engage Your People

on August 2, 2018

Employee engagement is a perennial challenge facing leaders in all industries and organizations of all sizes. In fact, a recent report by AON Hewitt notes that just 24% of global employees are highly engaged. There’s been a boatload written on this topic, and everyone has a different view on what drives employee engagement. What doesn’t differ is that everyone knows engagement is critical to an organization’s ability to execute on its strategic change initiatives and achieve its goals. Engagement contributes to overall business performance.

Gallup has a survey assessment that many organizations use to determine the level of engagement in their businesses, and they’ve been listing engagement levels for 25+ years. They measure things like:

  • Do people have the right tools to do their jobs?
  • Do they have a best friend at work?
  • Are there opportunities to grow?

No doubt, all these important things contribute to an employee’s satisfaction at work. But are those really the things that engage people in their work? The fact is, there’s only one thing that leaders need to do to engage people at work: Give them the why, what, and how of the new strategy or change initiative.

Seems simple, right? Well, yes and no. It boils down to the way you provide that information and how you sustain it over time.

The Big No-Nos

There are a handful of things leaders need to avoid to foster engagement among their people.

1. Ban the PowerPoint.

Leaders must get rid of that boring-ass PowerPoint and that one-way Town Hall. No one is going to remember those charts and bullets. They’re not. You and I both know it. Oh, and email, that doesn’t work either. The average person receives 120 to 150 emails every day. The ability to process, absorb, and do something meaningful with that type of content is limited. Most importantly – when was the last time a PowerPoint made you want to leap out of your chair with excitement or inspired you to want to change?

2. Don’t overwhelm your people with a deluge of information.

Why would you expect your people to remember something you showed them over the course of an hour, when the leaders themselves have probably had an all-consuming focus on that strategy for six months to a year? Leaders have seen the data over and over. They’ve had numerous discussions about whether it’s the right strategy. They’ve written emails debating the pros and cons. They’ve had conversations with boards and vetted it with strategy consultants. They’ve spent hours and hours and hours analyzing every possible angle of it and thinking through what it means for the business and/or their function.

But leaders expect their people to be able to consume the information in the course of a lecture-type presentation, and maybe through a couple follow-up emails. Dream on! Leaders need to share information with their people in digestible, bite-sized bits while explaining both the reasoning behind the decisions and changes and the insight as to what results to expect. And then share it again in a different way later. And then share it again. Dumping tons of intel on employees and expecting everyone to jump up and cheer and execute flawlessly just won’t work.

3. Never assume people already know the whys and hows of the change.

Change initiatives are supposed to be meaningful, and that meaning comes from how people see themselves in the organizational change. “Why is this important to me?” “How does this impact me directly?” “What will change for me?” “Why should I want to support this?”

In many cases, either the communications from leaders miss all the above or leaders believe people should arrive at these connections on their own. Or leaders maybe get them halfway there, but not all the way. Not in a way that is inspiring, motivating, and exciting.

The Better Way

Only 40% of internal communications professionals believe employees understand “well” or “very well” the contribution they’re making to their organization’s strategy. That’s a significant gap. And according to Gallup, only 13% of employees strongly agree that their leaders effectively communicate with the organization. WHOA!

So how can you turn those statistics around? It’s not as difficult or daunting as it may seem. But it does require a very different approach. It’s all about shifting mindsets and behaviors – starting at the top. Yes, I’m talking to you, leaders. In fact, a recent Harvard Business Review article discussed how leaders focus too much on changing policies and not enough on changing minds. And shifting mindsets is definitely about giving people information in a different way and helping them arrive at their own conclusions.

Tips to Make Your Change Initiative Stick

Here’s why the “give them the why, what, and how of the strategy or change” is the best way and how it helps every single person make the connections to their contributions:

Tip 1: Make people an integral part of the change journey, from start to finish.

You need to bring people into the conversation. And this requires dialogue with a diverse group to provide lots of different perspectives. Team huddles are great, but they usually only offer a similar point of view. When you gather people from different functions, or even different levels across the business, the perspectives can be quite diverse. And there are oodles of data that talk about how people are more inclined to trust the information shared by peers than by leaders.

Tip 2: Capture people’s interest by using visuals and imagery.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, there’s a distinct lack of value when sharing data via PowerPoint. I’ll say it again: sharing chart after chart after chart just won’t work. It’s hard to consume to begin with, and when it’s layered in a tell, it’s even more difficult. It’s well known that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. Packing complex data into easy infographic-style visuals can make absorbing, processing, and remembering that information considerably easier. Visuals help capture the intellectual elements of why the company needs to change and what the outcomes will be if the employees support the change.

Tip 3: Don’t just talk – tell a compelling story.

There’s been a lot discussion about the value of storytelling. And there’s a reason – it works. People remember stories because they’re relatable. When people see themselves or someone they know in a story, that message becomes much more powerful and creates tremendous emotional connections. By telling a compelling story, leaders can make their messages more meaningful and bridge the gaps that exist in dry, data-driven tells.

Always Talk with Your People, Not to Them

To that end, let me tell you a little story. It’s not my story – I heard it from someone else. But it really struck me and has stuck with me for years.

A woman at a large financial institution had just been introduced to the company’s new plan to change. After the news was shared, employees were encouraged to discuss the change together. So this woman then spent time discussing the change with her peers. Soon after her discussions, senior leaders asked her what she thought about the conversations and the experience as a whole.

Feeling emotional and with tears in her eyes, she responded, “In all the years I’ve worked for this company, it was the first time the organization had actually asked for my thoughts about what was happening and how it would impact me. It was the first time they shared the exact same information with me that the leadership team had available to them. It has been an astounding experience. I see why they have been saying that we need to change. I finally fully understand why and how I need to change.”

Discussions. Storytelling. Information. Pictures. Inspiring, Motivating, and Engaging. Capturing Hearts and Minds. It can’t be any clearer.

We all know business moves very quickly and that changes need to happen fast. In an effort to move at the speed of light, we’ve lost sight of the fact that we’re leaving critical people out of the conversation. We’re not giving people the information they need to really make the shifts in their attitudes, behaviors, and mindsets. Once leaders realize this reality, they can put an end to the cycle and begin engaging their people in change – starting with the three tips above.

Yes, it really can be this simple.

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