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Engagement strategies for the employee lifecycle

31st Jul 2017
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Every company wants their employees to be engaged, but what does “engagement” mean, and—a harder question—how do we make it happen?

For some, engagement means commitment to the organization’s mission. For others, writes Liz Ryan for Forbes, "[i]f employees are happy and busy, they're engaged." The truth is, these two go together. To be happy and busy at work, a person needs to have a sense of how and why they contribute to a company’s purpose. From a management perspective, cultivating this feeling is no short order. It requires involvement at every stage of the “employee lifecycle.” Here’s a breakdown of ways to engage employees throughout their time at the company:

Outreach: make your value known  

The first stage of the employment life cycle is outreach, when your company vies for the attention of potential employees. There are various ways to do outreach, but let’s focus on just one: your company’s website. To attract real talent, your company’s image and messaging needs to be on-point.

Think of potential employees as customers. When they visit your website, they should be able to understand almost immediately what you do and why it matters. The best websites use what’s called a “value proposition,” a clear statement of your company’s purpose. Put this up front and keep it short. Check out some great examples here.

Recruitment: know what you’re looking for

The best way to engage an employee is to have the right one in the first place. And the best way to find that person is to be crystal clear about what you’re looking for. To do this, you’ll need a job description.

As Gregory Ciotti writes for Inc., “Attracting talented people starts with communicating that there is meaningful work to be done. Extraordinary people won't take ordinary jobs.” Avoid clichés and generalizations (“a great team-player”) and cut to the chase: what are the responsibilities of this role and why is it meaningful within the organization? A serious recruit will feel motivated by the prospect of a well-defined role. 

Onboarding: know their strengths  

Every employee who begins at a company is going to adjust differently. Onboarding can be intimidating—or boring—if it’s too prefabricated; on the other hand, it can be an excellent opportunity to understand the employee as an individual. This is why it’s so important, both before and during the employee onboarding process, to identify a new employee’s strengths. How does her skillset fit with current projects? To whom should she be introduced?

As Tim Eisenhauer writes for The Balance, the standard performance review question “what are your strengths?” usually yields vapid answers. Instead, have frank, ongoing conversations to determine how an employee can contribute to your company’s goals in their own way.  

Performance Management/Recognition: give feedback

It may seem obvious that feedback is key to managing performance, yet many companies neglect to do it. Managers shy away from providing feedback to new employees because they don’t want them to feel uncomfortable. This is the wrong approach!

New employees need feedback in order to acclimatize and feel confident in their roles. As they go on in the company, they’ll also need regular feedback and clear directives to avoid stagnating performance.  Good feedback is specific, consistent, and timely. And while its necessary to be honest, studies show that focusing on strengths has better results, so try to emphasize the positive.

Development/Training: train for a purpose

Employees who feel like they’re just showing up every day are not engaged. An engaged employee is someone who feels that they are involved in something important: an industry, project, or movement that has a future. The best companies are those that support this attitude by keeping their employees abreast of new developments, and the way to do this is training.

There are a couple ways to look at training. One is as obligatory employee maintenance; the other is as an investment in employees who are at the vanguard of their industry. To this end, trainings “should always have a connection to the needs of the company.”

Besides providing trainings that are relevant and targeted, companies can engage employees by offering more flexibility in training options. Those with busy or irregular schedules (that is, pretty much everyone) will appreciate mobile and in-the-field training opportunities.

Off-Boarding: let them have the last word

It may sound surprising, but a person becomes a huge asset to your company the moment she decides to leave. That’s because her insight about the organization can catalyze real improvements—if anyone bothers to listen. We’re talking, of course, about the all-important exit interview.

An effective exit interview basically comes down to: why are you leaving? what could have made you stay? where are you off to now? and, importantly, is there anything else you’d like to say? This is your final chance to engage an employee in a way that benefits both sides.

An honest exit interview demonstrates that you value an employee’s experience. Moreover, as the Harvard Business Review observes, this final conversation “reveals problems in the organization, and sheds light on the competitive landscape.”

 

So where did we land on that question “what does engagement mean?” The point is, it means different things at different times. The needs of a new employee differ substantially from those of a company vet. It also means different things to different individuals, so any approach should be personable and flexible.

The employee life cycle provides a nice framework for thinking about engagement, but at all stages the rule is basically this: if employees know the how and care about the why, they’ll do a lot more than show up.

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