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Starting Off Right
 

By Mark Lukens   4/7/2014
 

Employee engagement—the act of getting employees to feel connected to, and enthusiastic about, their jobs—is vital to productivity. Engaged employees become engaged leaders who inspire those around them. To foster engagement, you must walk the talk: How you behave shows the truth of your company culture as much as, if not more than, what you say. And if you haven’t engaged people from the outset, you may have a more difficult time down the line.

Begin at the interview. By emphasizing how the company conducts business and what to expect from the corporate culture, managers help potential employees understand what they’re getting into. This gives interviewees the chance to withdraw if, for instance, the culture doesn’t appeal to them.

When joining a company that has an established brand, employees should come in with expectations that match the company’s and engage in its culture straight away. Southwest Airlines flight attendants and pilots, for instance, are known for their casual style and in-flight humor. Naturally, the airline will want to recruit employees who embrace that culture, rather than those who may be more stiff or formal.

Show, don’t tell. No matter what a manager says during recruitment, the interviewee will notice if nonverbal cues don’t match what the manager says. If your recruitment process is formal, with multiple layers of screening, assessments and interviews, don’t say the culture is casual and flexible. If the culture is informal and collaborative, make sure the hiring process reflects that. Take a good look at your recruitment strategies. Do they reflect the kind of person the organization wants to attract?

Include an office tour as part of the process, to give recruits a chance to see if the office is quiet or bustling, whether employees tend to work solo or in teams. Give candidates a chance to talk with employees and managers so they can see for themselves what kind of place your company is.

Welcome them to the club. Think about what happens when you meet new people socially. The experience of being introduced into a tight-knit group of friends can be alienating: Their close bonds and inside jokes can make you feel excluded.

The same can happen in organizations. The more engaging your workplace, the more satisfying it will be for existing employees. But this also means new recruits may feel left out. As you induct people into the organization, make sure to help them settle in, join social outings and learn the nuances of your corporate culture. Consider hooking them up with a mentor from day one.

A company social media space, whether it’s an in-house design or a private space on an existing platform, can help to create connections within the organization. It’s a natural place to build mentor-mentee relationships, provide work incentives and let employees update others on their progress. By connecting social systems with work progress and encouraging interaction, you can help make the workplace more than just a 9-to-5 grind.

Personalize things. As much as technology and social media can help people make connections, they can also stymie relationship-building. Put down the mobile devices and engage with new employees personally. Go to lunch. Find out what matters to the employee and then use that to tailor how you manage and reward her. Treating employees as replaceable cogs in a wheel is a sure way to demoralize and disengage them. Standard operating procedures, policies and structures are important, but so is knowing when to be flexible. For example, if an employee pursuing a degree needs to take early evening classes, you can adjust her schedule to start work an hour earlier so she might leave work earlier.

Be careful to offer everyone this type of personalization, and be open about the process to avoid creating jealousy among existing employees.

Engagement can shift with workload, season and time of day. So don’t assume that the way you managed and rewarded an employee when she started will work a year or two later. Stay engaged with the process yourself, constantly looking for ways to update your approach.

Employees who are fully engaged in your business are likely to work harder and to act as ambassadors for your brand. But engagement can also ensure workforce stability, because engaged workers tend to stay. This is particularly vital as the economy picks up, when the first to leave are likely to be the most talented.

Mark Lukens is a founding partner of Method3, a management consulting firm in Camp Hill, Pa.

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