Three ways to boost employee engagement


By Richard Axelrod, Guest columnist

Richard Axelrod is a Chicago consultant specializing in employee engagement

When it comes to engaging the workforce, small businesses have an advantage over large corporations. Engaging dozens is easier and faster than engaging thousands.

Studies show that engaged employees produce more, create higher-quality products and services, and create more customer loyalty than their disengaged counterparts. But just what is engagement? Engaged employees put their wholehearted selves into their work. They are inspired workers who do more than is  required.

Here are three strategies for increasing engagement in your organization:

1. Take time for conversation

In as little as 10 minutes, you can have an engaging conversation by asking employees what they care about at work and why. When you ask someone what is important to them, two things happen. You gain valuable information, and you make a connection. If you take time to really listen to the other person, you’ll learn what motivates them and they will see you as someone who understands what is important to them. When people practice these conversations in our workshops for 10 minutes, they don t want to stop.

Next is the bonus conversation. Once you learn what is important to the other person at work, discuss how to make it happen. If you are concerned that people will want to talk about money and promotions, don t worry. Most people want opportunities to learn and develop new skills, such as learning how to run a new machine or use a new software program.

2. Unleash talent by going beyond suggestion boxes

Suggestion boxes provide a place for employees to put their ideas, but too often the ideas remain in the box. What if you borrowed a strategy from a company like West Monroe Partners in Chicago? When employees at West Monroe Partners have ideas for improving the organization, they are given time to pursue them.   If an idea requires funds, the employees can put together a proposal for the investment. If the new concept requires changing a procedure or policy, the workers can present it to leadership for approval.

When you encourage people to develop and implement their ideas, they learn important things about the organization as well as themselves. People learn what it like to take an idea, develop it, and try to make it happen. This developmental process produces better employees.

3. Teach your people about the business

Hold formal and informal sessions to discuss how the business works. Teach people about markets, competitors, how money flows through the organization, the costs of poor quality and poor service, and so on. When employees understand the organization finances, they will see places to reduce costs and improve productivity that you didn t even know existed. Agilent Technologies,   based in Santa Clara, Calif., regularly shares financial information with its employees. When it needed to cut costs, its leaders didn t say, We need to reduce costs by 10 percent. Instead, they said, Here are the numbers, and here is why we need to reduce costs. Employees responded with cost reductions far in excess of 10 percent.

By trying new strategies for engaging your employees,  you’ll reap the benefits of an inspired and motivated workforce.

 About the columnist

Chicago-based consultant Richard Axelrod has championed the use of employee engagement to effect organizational change for 35 years. He is the author of Terms of Engagement: New Ways of Leading and Changing Organizations (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.).