It’s not perks and policies that move the dial on employee engagement. It’s the boss’s behavior. If you’re a boss, here are five tools to up your game.
Just about everyone in the U.S. has a cell phone. No news there, right? According to the Pew Research Center, in 2018, 99% of 18- to 49-year-olds, 97% of college graduates, and 98% of people with household incomes of $75K+ owned a cell phone. And nearly just as many people had access to the internet. The upside of these stats is positive, and the pandemic proved it. During long periods of isolation, we had technology to stay connected when we couldn’t physically keep in touch with one another.
But even pre-pandemic, a downside to this connectedness was observed in workplaces across the globe. With more technology—and, as a result, more data—came less face time. Managers and supervisors became glued to their reports, their screens, and their devices. Since technology became our third arm, we’ve gone heads-down and are less physically connected at work. Our leaders at every level have become less visible and their presence less felt.
At least, that’s what our observations from some 30,000 assessments have revealed. The more advanced the company’s technology, the less prone leadership is to be out on the floor, walking and talking with their teams. Even casual connections have become less purposeful. While the boss may still be in the game, using data to report what’s going on, he or she may not be perceived to be so by employees.
It’s time to show you’re in the game
Before the pandemic, employee engagement scores were terrifyingly low. If you sat in a meeting of 10 people, potentially eight of them were not fully present. Some of them could even have already mentally quit but stayed on. They weren’t engaged in your business, or worse, they may have disengaged and been actively working against you.
Take some consolation in the fact that you aren’t alone. These stats are global and ubiquitous the world over. But clearly, this knowledge isn’t helpful if you’re struggling to make your numbers, trying to achieve that next level of performance, or looking to transform your business. You need to aim for a 10 out of 10 engagement score. You need everyone to be all in.
So, how do you move the dial?
Tip 1: Get in the game. Lift your nose out of your devices, go heads up, and get in the game. Look, listen, and learn about what’s going on around you and how your team is feeling and performing. Prioritize people connections over internet connections. Whether you get out on the floor or attend more team meetings, get visible.
Tip 2: Practice HeadsUp leadership. When you routinely raise your head from your device and connect with people, you start to practice HeadsUp leadership, one of the simplest ways to immediately create better relationships with your teams. Doing so also results in safer, more productive, and engaging workplaces. Why? Because you see and hear things you can’t when you retreat to your reporting and devices.
Tip 3: Build a rhythm into your day. To help your team perform, use what we call “1.5.30.” Every day (1), check in for a quick catch-up. Every week (5), check in for 30 minutes to talk about overall performance progress. Once a month (30) check in for 60 minutes for a deep dive into how the job is going.
When you move this routine into a rhythm, you earn the right to provide performance feedback and to coach and guide people. But you also learn what you need to do to help people be successful by finding out what’s holding them back and developing your own action plans to improve the ecosystem in which people work.
Tip 4: Finetune your management behaviors. Do your own behaviors engage your people and kick-start continuous improvement? Are there clear objectives to your conversations? Do you and your teams plan assignments and agree on how often you’ll review progress?
Executed well, these behaviors enable your team to self-manage the variances out of their day—the difference between what was planned and what was actually achieved—and decide when they need your help.
Tip 5: Adopt the right tools. Do your management tools help you not only report results but also systematically plan and manage them? Are you using your forecasts, plans, schedules, reports, and action-planning tools to know which resources you need to do what, where, when, and how? When you have the right tools, you know exactly where you are and where you need to be. Which enables you to do what’s most important: engage with your teams to close any gaps.
What should be clear from these tips is how closely related employee engagement is to performance and operational results. Employee engagement gives you a multiplier. When you manage to engage, you address the healthy side of business (what we call humanize) and the fit side of business (what we call the optimize). Bring the two together, and you balance people, productivity, and profitability. While it’s great to add perks and policies for better employee engagement, what really moves the dial is when you manage to engage.