How Companies Can Effectively Build Their Leadership Pipelines

The business world is headed for a leadership crisis. More and more baby boomers retire every day, and many companies lack future leaders who are ready, willing, and able to take their place.

In their 2014 Global Human Capital Trends report, Deloitte found that 86 percent of businesses believe they do not have an adequate leadership pipeline, and 79 percent believe they have a significant retention and engagement problem. Obviously, these problems are closely related. How can you hope to sustain an effective leadership pipeline if your employees are disengaged and your turnover rate is high? Today’s mid-level director could be tomorrow’s CEO – if she stays on board.

For many HR professionals, the problem begins with the word “retention” itself. The idea of “retaining” top talent suggests locking the front door so your best employees can’t leave. Instead, we should think in terms of continually attracting talent.

The ways in which we convince employees to remain at a company shouldn’t be all that different from the ways in which we convince them to join in the first place. Many marriage experts suggest that to ensure a healthy relationship, you should never stop “dating” your partner. By extension, HR professionals should never stop “recruiting” their current employees.

According to the 2017 edition of Deloitte’s report, 48 percent of employees at American companies consider employee experience “very important.” What this tells us is that compensation and benefits aren’t the only answer to the leadership pipeline problem. Attracting talent begins at a cultural level. Businesses must create an environment where employees actually want to work – an environment where they feel supported professionally and can derive meaning from their job.

Increasingly, employees are demanding coaching and professional development from their employers. When companies provide these support services for their teams, it represents a win-win for everyone involved. Employees gain confidence and increase their efficiency, improving overall performance, decreasing stress, and boosting morale. Employers get an office full of happy workers – who may one day turn into happy leaders.

Providing coaching and professional development helps remedy a significant source of diminished employee engagement: the expectation gap. Employers expect a certain level of productivity and achievement from their workers, and workers in turn expect that they will be given the tools (both literal and figurative) to meet those goals.

If management finds that employees are failing to meet expectations, it may be a sign that the company is also failing to fulfill its obligation to provide appropriate support. This results in disengaged employees who may already have one foot out the door, causing a negative ripple effect on retention, growth, and – of course – your leadership pipeline.

Coaching – particularly from an external service – closes this expectation gap, helping to ensure that employees are well positioned to succeed. External coaching has been shown to increase companies’ retention by more than 50 percent, proving that the more supported employees feel, the more likely they are to stay and grow into future leaders.

More and more companies are beginning to recognize the need to drive employee engagement and create a solid leadership pipeline. An external coaching service is more than just a perk management can offer to employees – it is a long-term investment in the future of the company. The employees you train and develop today may one day step up to the plate and assume greater responsibilities that will shape and mold the growth of your business. That is an investment worth making, and one that no business owner can afford to put off.

Photo Credit: Vidal Enrique Cadena Flickr via Compfight cc

#WorkTrends Recap: Employee Engagement

Employee Engagement. This is a workplace topic that is steady and strong, but why do so many brands fail at this all important relationship?

Research has shown time and time again, the myriad benefits of employee engagement to both employers and employees. According to the Wharton School of Business, they found that brands are three and a half times more profitable when employees are engaged versus brands with average engagement levels.

This week on #WorkTrends host Meghan M. Biro and her special guest Kevin Sheridan discussed the topic of employee engagement and the pros of having better engagement and cons of neglecting it.

Here are a few key points Kevin shared:

  • The three keys to employee engagement are: Outline expectations, be authentic, get to know the people you work with
  • Managers need to make people feel valued at work
  • It’s essential to be clear on the team culture and values with candidates or misalignment will surface later
  • Simple way to create employee engagement in the workplace, start asking people: “What’s your passion outside of work?”

Did you miss the show? You can listen to the #WorkTrends podcast on our BlogTalk Radio channel here:

You can also check out the highlights of the conversation from our Storify here:

Didn’t make it to this week’s #WorkTrends show? Don’t worry, you can tune in and participate in the podcast and chat with us every Wednesday from 1-2pm ET (10-11am PT). On May 17, Meghan will be joined by Shane Green to discuss how to reprogram the employee experience.

Remember, the TalentCulture #WorkTrends conversation continues every day across several social media channels. Stay up-to-date by following our #WorkTrends Twitter stream; pop into our LinkedIn group to interact with other members; or check out our Google+ community. Engage with us any time on our social networks, or stay current with trending World of Work topics on our website or through our weekly email newsletter.

Photo Credit: Designer Joel de Oliveira Flickr via Compfight cc

#WorkTrends Preview: Employee Engagement

Employee Engagement. This is a workplace topic that is steady and strong, but why do so many brands fail at this all important relationship?

Research has shown time and time again, the myriad benefits of employee engagement to both employers and employees. According to the Wharton School of Business, they found that brands are three and a half times more profitable when employees are engaged versus brands with average engagement levels.

On May 10, 2017 from 1pm – 2pm ET, TalentCulture #WorkTrends host Meghan M. Biro and her special guest Kevin Sheridan will be discussing the topic of employee engagement and bringing to light the pros of having better engagement and cons of neglecting it.

Employee Engagement

Join Kevin and Meghan on our LIVE online podcast Wednesday, May 10 — 1 pm ET / 10 am PT.

Immediately following the podcast, the team invites the TalentCulture community over to the #WorkTrends Twitter stream to continue the discussion. We encourage everyone with a Twitter account to participate as we gather for a live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1: What is the meaning of employee engagement? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Q2: How can brands help employees become engaged and productive? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question) 

Q3: What can employees do to increase their level of engagement? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Don’t want to wait until next Wednesday to join the conversation? You don’t have to. I invite you to check out the #WorkTrends Twitter feed, our TalentCulture World of Work Community LinkedIn group, and our TalentCulture G+ community. Share your questions, ideas and opinions with our awesome community.

Photo Credit: mehridoyle Flickr via Compfight cc

Tai Lopez on Social Media’s Role in Talent Recruitment

In a recent article published on the Entrepreneur website, Tai Lopez, who is himself an entrepreneur extraordinaire, spoke of his love affair with social media. His history with this platform goes back to the very early days when social media wasn’t even a recognized term and Facebook was still in its humble beginnings. The year was 2001 and from that moment on, Tai became involved in a love affair that would still be very much alive almost two decades later. As an entrepreneur with a huge staff working with him at his 67 Steps program, Tai Lopez understands just how easy it is to pick the right talent on social sites because of the potential for engagement. And, to Tai, engagement is key.

A New Way of Branding

Just as businesses use social media to brand themselves, so too can professionals make use of sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to highlight their skills and strengths. Tai feels that through the major engagement possible with an audience, it is possible to grow your own brand exponentially almost overnight. That’s what going viral is all about, and a professional with the right approach can grab the attention of top corporations. If an entrepreneur can climb literally to the top of his industry by engaging an audience with social media, there is no reason to think that talented professionals can’t woo CEOs of corporations they would like to interest.

Social Media Is a Two Way Street

When you are having a conversation with someone, neither person does all the talking. That is what dialogue is all about. Social media is the same. While professionals seeking a position with a large corporation might be actively using social media to pursue corporate followers, corporations are doing the very same thing from their end. It is amazing just how many job applicants got their foot in the door through social sites. It’s a place where both sides get to learn a little about the other and once a ‘connection’ is made, the next logical step is to submit a resume and from there an interview is almost a non-issue. After all, you’ve already become ‘friends’ on your social site, following each other and so the interview becomes a mere formality. A face to face conversation after hours of digital dialogue.

When YouTube Is Your Preferred Media

Then there’s YouTube. As the social media site where your audience actually gets to see you in motion, what is left to discuss? Imagine going on an interview where you’ve followed a company’s videos and have seen their HR team in video presentation after video presentation? In reverse, that HR team has seen you talk about your trade, has a preconceived idea of just how personable you are based on your presentation and by the time you do meet face to face, it’s like you’ve known each other for years. More and more company recruiters are scoping out social sites of professionals they would like to talk to about a position with their corporation.

Video Remarketing Takes the Lead

Since Tai loves social media, and above all YouTube, he has found a way to make it work well with his promotional style – that would be remarketing. As an entrepreneur, and a very successful one at that, Tai knows just how important it is to connect with your audience and he lives by the old proverb, ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Since it is imperative to keep your connection with your audience, you can’t just let them bounce away from your site. There is no guarantee that they will click on your Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn page but you can still reconnect with remarketing! To do a little test, visit a few of Tai’s pages. Then, go to YouTube and watch a video or two.

Increase Your Odds the Lopez Way!

Chances are you will find Tai’s ad linked to the video you are about to watch. That is remarketing and it keep’s Tai’s face up-front and personal with his audience! They may not click on your pages but they will, almost certainly, view a YouTube video in the coming days, and this is your best way to use social media to your advantage. It’s much more effective than those click-ads on other social sites because – another cliché here – seeing is believing. With a YouTube ad, your audience sees you and you become more real. That’s the benefit and one that Tai has perfected. And, by the way, it can work both ways! A recruiter remembers an applicant better and an applicant remembers to follow up on applications they’ve submitted. This is remarketing in recruitment and it is ultra-effective!

SEO works the same in job searches as it does in marketing any other type of business, so all that recruiter needs to do is type in occupational terms and will soon be led to your social site. Tai Lopez advises anyone seeking a professional position to make use of social media because they will be light years ahead of other applicants. If the company has already seen and heard you, they must have a great enough interest to go to the next level, the interview. Having built a successful business or two (or 20) using social media, Tai Lopez knows just how effective it can be. You, too, can use it to your advantage now that you know just how effective social media can be in the recruitment process.

Photo Credit: Shahid Abdullah Flickr via Compfight cc

Why You Can’t Afford to Skimp on Employee Engagement

We’ve all heard the case for employee engagement—higher engagement levels lead to greater employee output, increased productivity and favorable business outcomes. So why do so many leaders treat engagement like just another task on their to-do list?

The short answer: historically it’s been difficult to measure and improve engagement real-time. When confronted with understanding engagement and what drives it, organizations seldom know where to start. And the traditional methods for understanding how engagement data translates into employee loyalty and performance have generally provided outdated information leading to non-impactful action and, ultimately, missed business outcomes.

Employee engagement is the cognitive, behavioral, and emotional commitment of an employee to an organization and its goals. An engaged employee possesses a deep understanding of what it takes for the organization to succeed and is willing to go the extra mile to help the business get there. She is not working for the paycheck, rather the success of the organization, and will go “all in” as a result.

Engagement Positively Affects Your Bottom Line

Why does this matter? The value of engagement is often considered a soft strategy (a ‘nice to have’ versus a ‘need to have’) and has long been understated due to a lack of knowledge around its fiscal benefits. However, it’s not only an advantage to have loyal employees that are willing to go above and beyond, but organizations can also harness this enthusiasm to promote strong business outcomes. In fact, those businesses with engaged employees outperform those with low employee engagement by 202 percent. Additionally, organizations with a highly engaged workforce experience a 19.2 percent growth in operating income over a 12-month period.

Engagement Directly Reflects Your Brand and Impacts Customer Loyalty

Employee engagement benefits the external face of a business. While a paycheck is sometimes enough of an incentive to get an employee to show up on time, promoting an engaging culture and  empowering employees to make independent decisions that will positively impact the customer experience will drive increased business outcomes. Many studies have shown a direct and positive relationship between employee engagement and customer loyalty; companies that deliver a better customer experience enjoy stronger business results. And they gain a competitive advantage when they promote a seamless brand experience through “all-in”  employees.

“All-in” is a term that can be explained through the displayed excitement, enthusiasm and happiness of an employee or group of employees, and it shouldn’t be underestimated. These positive feelings are palpable to customers and convey a sense of energy and optimism. Emotion makes people act. We all understand this. If a customer is greeted by a disgruntled employee, that customer is likely to take their business elsewhere. Conversely, if a business’s first touchpoint with a customer is an engaged employee willing to go the extra mile, that goes a long way to build a customer’s satisfaction and loyalty. Take In-N-Out Burger for example, which has an average of more than 4.3 stars on Glassdoor. Yes, In-N-Out Burger has a popular product, but its core focus is on empowering its people to provide world-class customer service. By fostering internal empowerment and engagement, In-N-Out then reaps the benefits of exceptional employee engagement with a high degree of loyalty to the organization from its customers.

How to Measure Employee Engagement

While the benefits of employee engagement are clear, measuring these efforts might seem more ambiguous. The common practice of annual engagement surveys typically represent a “box-checking” exercise, and have run their course as a means of engaging people . They have done little to actually empower employees to do better in their roles. It’s true traditional surveys may offer visibility into engagement across the organization, but they provide outdated information and offer little guidance in terms of what the data has to say. To take action from survey data that will have real and positive impact, the right people – managers and leaders – need real-time insights into the health of the organization, including indications of where the biggest obstacles to success lie at any given time. Beyond that, leaders and managers need the guidance and a framework to take specific action to improve focus areas. Traditional survey methods simply don’t provide these insights in a timely and relevant manner.

The field of people analytics is opening the door to better data, as well as the guidance to improve. With emerging technology and artificial intelligence, we have the ability to end the “one-size-fits-all” approach to talent management and instead promote individual success. Glint for example, uses real-time insights to give organizations access to the most current data while highlighting strengths, weaknesses and trends. The insights provided help uncover critical challenges and promote continuous improvement, leading to better business outcomes like increased customer satisfaction.

Employee engagement is essential to every business. With $11 billion dollars lost annually due to employee turnover, it costs businesses not to invest in their workforce. Additionally, the direct correlation between individual employee success and customer satisfaction make it impossible to treat employee engagement as a “check-the-box” exercise, but rather should be viewed as a key strategic component to any thriving organization.

Photo Credit: thereseeirene Flickr via Compfight cc

#WorkTrends Recap: Employee Engagement and Customer Satisfaction

It’s not a well-kept secret. There is a lot of information showing how customer satisfaction and employee engagement are closely tied together. Given your employees are the first line of contact for customers, how they interact with the buying public can have either a positive or negative impact your customers’ perceptions and ultimately your bottom line.

This week, guest host Cyndy Trivella welcomed Mary Poppen and Sara Weiner of Glint to discuss how employee engagement really impacts customer satisfaction.

Mary and Sara shared how technology helps managers and leaders improve employee engagement across the organization. They also touched on how a culture of engagement can be felt by customers as well as employees.

Here are a few key points that Mary and Sara shared:

  • When the culture is customer focused, brands can really be successful
  • Employees who love what they do pass on this contagious enthusiasm to their customers
  • It’s not that people don’t want to improve engagement, it’s that they haven’t had tools to get insights right away

Did you miss the show? You can listen to the #WorkTrends podcast on our BlogTalk Radio channel here:

You can also check out the highlights of the conversation from our Storify here:

Didn’t make it to this week’s #WorkTrends show? Don’t worry, you can tune in and participate in the podcast and chat with us every Wednesday from 1-2pm ET (10-11am PT). Next Wednesday, Feb 22, Meghan will be joined by Larry Oakner and Rebecca Longman of Tenet Partners to discuss branding and HR.

Remember, the TalentCulture #WorkTrends conversation continues every day across several social media channels. Stay up-to-date by following our #WorkTrends Twitter stream; pop into our LinkedIn group to interact with other members; or check out our Google+ community. Engage with us any time on our social networks, or stay current with trending World of Work topics on our website or through our weekly email newsletter.

Photo Credit: RESULTS Technology Flickr via Compfight cc

Managing Your Talent and Business Alignment

Good business leaders recognize the value in a good hire, but often times don’t appreciate that one key individual can add to or deter from a company’s overall business plan. Consider a new Chief Technology Officer versus a sales executive within the same company. Most people would immediately acknowledge the CTO’s position as being the most pivotal and in large respect, it is a critical position and one that should be occupied by someone who can elevate the company’s technical advancements. So let’s consider the sales executive’s role.

The sales executive’s role is probably one of many like it within the organization, but sales executives often times serve as the face of the company and represent the organization externally in different capacities, not all of which are sales. These individuals may be members of a local organization where they provide volunteer time and may even sit on the board of another organization. This is a very visible representation and one where the sales executive is speaking on behalf of the organization in a business capacity. Given this, would you consider this role less important than the CTO’s? Maybe or maybe not, but each position yields a different ROI, so there needs to be a different approach in regards to specific talent management practices and how they impact the company’s overall business.

Everyone is a Contributor

One thing is for certain, hiring new employees and training existing ones should be aligned closely to the business imperatives of the organization. As businesses grow, expand their services, establish a footprint in other areas around the Globe, or simply tweak their existing products and offerings because of upgrades or enhancements, due consideration of the employee population should be included in the mix of your business strategy. A hard look at your current business and what your projections for company growth and expansion of products and services will look like in five years and beyond will impact the people you hire and train today.

Understanding the impact of each division, department, team and individual should not be a siloed evaluation. All parts and pieces are links in a chain that make up your company’s foundation. When one is weak, the strength of the other links becomes compromised. It may not be apparent immediately, but over time you may experience problems in customer service, low production numbers, disconnects with prospects, high employee turnover, all of which can lead to downturns in revenue or profits. When this occurs, a prompt investigation into all aspects of your business, including who and how talent is sourced and brought into your company should be considered, as this may be where the root of the problems are based.

Being on the Same Page

There are times when leadership can be so focused on particular outcomes of their business that they fail to acknowledge other important factors, such as what recruiting tactics are used to source and qualify people to advance and align with the organization.

One overlooked item is assuming that the recruiting team is informed and up-to-date on company goals and any subsequent changes to the short-term and long-term business imperatives. Are the job descriptions indicative of what skills and experiences are needed to build the foundation for the future? Do the hiring managers understand what they need to evaluate when considering people to fit the current role and how the candidates’ skills will impact the future of the role? Is everyone aware of the company’s direction and where the company needs to be in five years? Ten years? Do they know what the success profiles are for each position? These are all questions that must be answered before they can fully execute in accordance with the company’s plans.

Employee training is another area that can be out of sync with a company’s business imperatives. Even talented contributors need training, if for no other reason, than to be kept up-to-speed with the implementation of new technologies, policies, products and services. By offering training, employers stand a much better chance to retain desirable employees, as well as determining who is open to learning and embracing the company’s evolution. Keep in mind, training is an investment into your most precious asset… your employees.

Ultimately, communication is going to drive much of what your employees know or don’t know about the company’s short- and long-term business objectives. Leadership needs to decide what kind of info will be shared, with whom and why, as well as present that info so it’s understood by all people receiving the message and resonates with each person’s level of understanding. The obvious conclusion is to assume the mission, vision and company’s values are well understood by all and are unwavering, so when making adjustments to the business plan, this understanding helps drive the point home and makes adoption of the plan easier.

Reducing Risks and Other Factors

Talent management is more than having a succession plan. It’s understanding the value each position offers and capitalizing on that value in the present with eyes towards the future. Also, external factors such as demand, the market cost to fill certain positions, the economy, geography, Visas, etc. will also impact the alignment of your talent and company-wide business strategy. Items to consider include, but are not limited to:

  • Your current employee pool… what new skills do they need and how can you get them to the skills level your business needs with a shorter time-to-productivity
  • Bringing new talent into your company… do the job descriptions fit the current need with skills to build towards the future
  • Anticipating issues with hiring the right people for the jobs your organization will need to sustain your future business
  • Ensuring everyone on the leadership team is onboard with understanding how the present and future of the business hinges on the alignment of talent to the business plan

There are many answers you need to uncover to truly understand the importance of how talent acquisition and your business strategy should be closely aligned; the list above is only a starting point. Keep in mind, the goal should always be to reduce risks and manage the factors within your control and it begins with a shared vision.

Photo Credit: Web_Service Flickr via Compfight cc

#WorkTrends Preview: Employee Engagement and Customer Satisfaction

It’s not a well-kept secret. There is a lot of information showing how customer satisfaction and employee engagement are closely tied together. Given your employees are the first line of contact for customers, how they interact with the buying public can have either a positive or negative impact your customers’ perceptions and ultimately your bottom line.

Join #WorkTrends host Meghan M. Biro and her guests Mary Poppen and Sara Weiner, from Glint, as they discuss the ever-important topic on Wednesday, February 15, 2017 at 1pm EST.

Employee Engagement and Customer Satisfaction

#WorkTrends Logo Design

Join Mary, Sara, and me on our LIVE online podcast Wednesday, Feb 15 — 1 pm ET / 10 am PT.

Immediately following the podcast, the team invites the TalentCulture community over to the #WorkTrends Twitter stream to continue the discussion. We encourage everyone with a Twitter account to participate as we gather for a live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1: Why are leadership’s cultural views so closely tied to customer service? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Q2: How can the problem of employee dissatisfaction be uncovered? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Q3: Why does employee engagement and customer happiness need to be aligned?#WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Don’t want to wait until next Wednesday to join the conversation? You don’t have to. I invite you to check out the #WorkTrends Twitter feed, our TalentCulture World of Work Community LinkedIn group, and our TalentCulture G+ community. Share your questions, ideas and opinions with our awesome community any time. See you there!

Join Our Social Community & Stay Up-to-Date!


Photo Credit: mclk_travel Flickr via Compfight cc

How to Successfully Engage Employees in 2017

As more and more millennials come of working age, it’s becoming increasingly important for companies to prominently exhibit their corporate social responsibility policies on either their website or their employee handbooks—in part because CSR is proving to be increasingly vital to attracting and retaining quality employees.  In order for employees to feel engaged, it helps for them to feel as if the company they work for is working to benefit society in some way.  According to a study conducted in May of 2016 by Ante Glavas, a model building on engagement theory was tested in which “CSR enables employees to bring more of their whole selves to work, which results in employees being more engaged.”

Interestingly, there is also a correlation between employees’ connection to the world around them through community interaction and their connection to each other, in the workplace.  Both types of connections increase employee engagement by helping them feel as if they belong, rather than merely fulfilling their job-related duties, throughout the week.  For example, Four Winds Interactive was losing over $4M a year due to high employee turnover.  Because of this, they decided to invest in peer recognition programs, community engagement opportunities, wellness programs, and employee benefits.  In addition, they invested in an internal visual communication network that visually reinforced employees who participated in wellness or extracurricular activities.  As a result, their turnover rate decreased by half, after a year—which also saved them more than $2M.

In order to save the $2K a year it costs to deal with low employee productivity, increasing an organization’s culture and level of employee collaboration will help minimize disengagement and boredom.  One crucial component to keep an eye on is the level of peer camaraderie, since it is the number one motivator that inspires employees to work especially hard.  Other engaging factors, according to Villanova University, include employee and supervisor familiarity, basic training, employee development, employee recognition, teamwork, employee coaching, and customer-focused teams.  Encouragement and inspiration are key to maximizing engagement.

How can managers encourage the retention and development of an engaged workforce?  One way is to monitor compensation levels, making sure that employees are fairly compensated for their hard work.  If there are very large gaps in pay between executives and average employees, these gaps “Create destructive competition among management and cynicism among employees.”  Therefore, in general, large pay gaps don’t make for strong employee morale.  Moreover, differing opinions should be encouraged, career roles should be considered flexible, all employees should be recognized and acknowledged, and there should be ample opportunity for growth and development.

That last point is key: your employees may be engaged and motivated, but are they enabled? In other words, do they have the tools and training they need to do their jobs?  Are they regularly updated about their performance, as well as corporate policies and how to go about adhering to those policies?  Are they given a reasonable amount of work, and do they have ample time to balance that work with their own life, including activities such as community service?  Only when they have the tools they need will they be able to perform their job duties to the best of their abilities, while still feeling motivated and engaged.

Along with engagement, however, let’s not forget about CSR!  How are the two connected, again?  Well, for one, Employee Benefits found that employees involved in CSR initiatives are generally more engaged with an organization’s culture and values.  Perhaps the more in alignment with an organization’s ethics and CSR policies, the more motivated employees become to stick around.  They probably feel inspired by the company’s dedication and gain more of an interest in committing to the same amount of community engagement, themselves, outside of work-related initiatives.

Similarly, The CRO found that “When employees feel that the company they work for is not only socially responsible by investing resources to improve communities around the globe, but is also equally invested in their professional growth, it results in greater employee loyalty and inevitably translates into contributing to the company’s bottom line.”  In other words, the more stable a company, in terms of lack of attrition, the better—financially-speaking.  Of course, the financial benefits also extend to benefits for employee morale.

Moreover, according to research conducted by Philip H. Mirvis, there are several main methods of engaging employees: via a transactional approach, where “programs are undertaken to meet the needs of employees who want to take part in the CSR efforts of a company”; a relational approach, “based on a psychological contract that emphasizes social responsibility”; and “a developmental approach, which aims to activate social responsibility in a company and to develop its employees to be responsible corporate citizens.”  Liz Bardetti advocates for taking a relational route, due to its ability to create what she calls “a deeper level of engagement” that “acknowledges employees as citizens of the company and community.”

The most prominent point that came up over and over again in my research on what makes for good employee engagement was the importance of a feeling of belonging and relationships to motivating employees to remain engaged, in the workplace.  Interestingly, this need—though unsurprising—is totally within the realm of emotion and not at all rational or workplace-duty-related.  It speaks primarily to a very human, primal need—bypassing professional concerns, entirely.

This brings us back to a question of priorities—not just as business people, but as human beings who must coexist with others within a common community, neighborhood, or city.  In the end, what differentiates us is not as important as the characteristics we hold in common.  We should look to these commonalities while looking into sustainable ways to increase our organization’s level of community involvement.  May we all find ways of being that allow us a greater sense of belonging in our everyday lives—in both our workplaces and our homes.

Image source: Daniel Thornton

Who Let the Dogs In? The Benefits of Allowing Pets in the Workplace

[et_pb_section admin_label=”section”][et_pb_row admin_label=”row”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text”]

HR directors at many companies today won’t put you in the doghouse for bringing your pet to work—in fact, it’s encouraged. As far as nonfinancial employee perks go, you might even call it the cat’s meow.

Why? When employees bring their pets to work, it enables a better work-life balance—something that’s a key selling point to attract top talent in today’s market. It’s also been shown that this low-cost benefit can improve work performance, boost employee happiness, and aid in the long-term retention of star employees.

Let’s explore some of the benefits businesses have experienced when they made room for their employees’ four-footed BFFs.

1. Increased employee happiness. Pet owners know how it feels to return home from work to find their dog greeting them with a wagging tail. What if you could capture those feelings of love and acceptance when you arrived at the office? A pet-friendly workplace does just that.

Studies show gazing into your pet’s eyes releases oxytocin—the same feel-good hormone that helps new mothers bond with their babies. So, employees who want to boost their mood can spend a few minutes with their pet and return to their tasks relaxed, refreshed, and feeling better.

2. A better work culture. Oxytocin also increases trust and altruism—two highly desirable traits in a successful workplace—so having pets around can positively impact your work culture.

Additionally, in a survey of 200 human resource professionals and 1,000 employees, 70 percent said they believe pets improve working conditions. Specifically, allowing pets in the office can foster communication, openness, and teamwork.

3. A low-cost (or even zero cost) solution to increase employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention. Some HR directors will invest thousands of dollars a year in training, corporate retreats, or free snacks in the break room to keep employees engaged and onboard. But allowing employees to bring their dogs and cats to work could have the same positive effect as these other pricey perks, but with little to no cost. In fact, 53 percent of employees who worked in pet-free environments said they’d be more likely to stay if they could bring their pets to work.

4. A better work-life balance. From flex time to telecommuting, HR directors today look for ways to help employees achieve a better work-life balance. Dog owners especially may feel guilty about leaving their pet home alone for eight or more hours each day, and they often struggle to fit in walks or playtime with their pets when they do return home.

5. An effective recruiting tactic. HR directors reported that 65 percent of job candidates ask about pet policies during their interview, which implies that a pet-friendly workplace can be a potent recruiting tool.

Showcase your pet-friendly policy by posting pics or videos of your employees and their pets on your social media channels. You can even organize a lunchtime outing to the dog park with your staff and capture the antics on video to help spread the word. After all, if there’s one form of social media content that’s proven to go viral often, it’s funny pet videos.

6. A positive environment. With all these benefits, it’s no surprise that people view pet-friendly offices in a positive light. In fact, 70 percent of HR managers and employees polled say pets have an overall positive effect on a workplace.

Why Don’t More People Bring Their Dogs to Work?

Surprisingly, though, less than half of employees take advantage of their company’s pet-friendly policies. That number is slightly higher for the HR directors who make the policies; 75 percent of HR directors reported bringing their own pets to work on a weekly basis.

HR directors should make sure employees understand the policy for pets in the office and its advantages to encourage a higher adoption rate and reap even greater rewards from this popular perk.

Photo Credit: ASHLANDJET Flickr via Compfight cc


Corporate Perks: A Thinly Veiled Disguise

It’s no secret that there is a war going on… a tug of war to be exact. Companies are scrambling to find the best and brightest talent and many are failing miserably. One of the tactics used by many companies is to seduce candidates with profound and presumably attractive perks as a lure for employment. Further, these same tactics can be used as a retention tool with existing employees. In the short-term, perks are novel and with that may be considered interesting, but in the long-run, they are not the enduring enticement employers believe them to be.

Perks come in many shapes and forms and offer varying benefits. Some companies believe that free food, paid travel, and other offerings of the like are exactly what it takes to attract new talent and to keep the talent they have. Simply, this is not a solid long-term solution. What’s worse is when one company attempts to mimic a competitor’s perks in the hopes that they, too, can enjoy the same presumed successes and much to their chagrin it goes sideways and for good reason.

Company perks should be a reflection of the company’s culture and match the values of that specific organization. Since no two companies are alike, it’s an erroneous assumption to believe that what works for one company should work for another.

Give the people what they want

According to a survey conducted by Gallup, a sample population of job seekers were asked what matters most to them about a potential employer. The results of the survey revealed that the respondents were interested in a company’s mission, culture, growth, advancement opportunities, compensation and compelling statements as to why they should consider employment with one organization over another. Not a mention of free food, ping-pong tables or free haircuts was cited by anyone in this survey.

An article on Careertopia, supports the findings revealed by the Gallup survey. The articles goes on to state that the five things job seekers want from an employer are: career growth; work-life balance; fair compensation; great leadership; and alignment with a company’s mission, vision and values. Once again, perks were not mentioned as being an attraction factor.

The Millennials speak

In a different survey conducted by Gallup, they queried 1,700 U.S. workers to determine the attraction factors that appeal to the three employed generations. What the results of this survey revealed is that Millennials, who are presumed to be job hopping know-it-alls, are in actuality seeking out employers that cater to a generation thirsty for opportunities to learn and grow, to be managed by great leadership, to be engrossed in work that is interesting and which offers challenges, along with opportunities to advance their careers. Additionally, the survey results disclosed that a workplace with an informal and “fun” environment was not a high-attraction factor highly coveted by this generation.

Independent of the Gallup survey, Deloitte conducted a Millennial survey which revealed that compensation along with interesting work and work-life balance rose to the top of the results and what is most in demand by Millennials.

The Sandwich generation

For people born between 1965 and 1978, also known as Generation X, they too have stated what is important for them in the workplace. For this group, work-life balance rises to the top of the results. For this generation, the realities of managing parenthood along with taking care of a parent is becoming more commonplace with each passing year. To that end, having a flexible schedule that allows for care-giving is a big attraction factor. Further, Gen X has developed a reputation for being results oriented, problem solvers who seek out work opportunities where their feedback and opinions are welcomed. Free food, indoor putting greens and other perks of this nature were not mentioned.

The thing that really matters

As leadership scrambles around seeking out the next best shiny object to use in their recruitment and retention arsenal, they need to stop and revisit that which is already in front of them: their company culture. This one item is the biggest and best perk any organization can offer to potential and existing employees. This is what attracts and keeps needed talent. People seek out a culture that aligns with their personal beliefs. Servant leadership, 360 feedback, companies that take an interest in their employees’ well-being, opportunities to learn, good communication, respectful interactions, work-life balance, fair pay, and for job seekers, a shortened hiring processes and timely follow-through with communications all matter. All of these are indicative of an organization’s culture and what is being researched by job seekers and responded to by employees.

The irony is that the bells and whistles that many companies buy into are actually not what they need. People place more value on a relationship and a good work opportunity than they do a ping-pong table or free haircut. I guess the old expression is correct… sometimes people can’t see the forest through the trees.

Photo Credit: ExpressTaylorsville Flickr via Compfight cc

Give Employees The Gift Of Well-being

Undoubtedly, a sense of well-being is one of the precious joys of living. It’s foundational to who we are and what we do. This important underpinning sets us up for success… or failure.

As a business owner, I appreciate the well-being of my employees and understand the value of helping them stay mentally focused, for many reasons, including how well-being affects attitude which in turn affects productivity. There are a variety of ways which companies can contribute to employee well-being.

Pet-friendly Environment

I am a proponent of animal rights so with that, acknowledge the value of my pets and having them with me at work. The benefit of a pet-friendly workplace is becoming recognized by many companies, because the advantages outweigh the cons. According to researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business, it was discovered that pets in the workplace actually create a buffer between stressful situations, boost employee morale and increase productivity. Further, in a separate study conducted by Central Michigan University, researchers found that when dogs were present at team meetings, people expressed a greater desire to collaborate and were motivated to find reasons to trust in their fellow collaborators. These are just two studies, there are many more that corroborate these findings.

Note, it’s also important to be sensitive to employees who have health issues or sensitivities to animals, so be cognizant of their needs before implementing a program of this nature.

Flex Hours and Remote Work

Acknowledging that your employees have a full life that includes activities outside of work is a reality smart companies recognize. For example, many people have personal obligations that may conflict with a work schedule of 8am to 5pm, but with some adjustments can still work a full day with different start and stop times.

Flex hours also accommodate individuals who may have special needs. It opens the door to people who may not otherwise have opportunity to be productive, contributing employees. As stated by Denise Tsukayama, Equal Opportunity Officer/ADA Coordinator for the City and County of Honolulu, “While flexwork / telework may be an effective reasonable accommodation for some employees with disabilities, more importantly these accommodations can broaden our efforts in fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce.”

Additionally, not everyone is a “morning person” and with that may have different high productivity times of day. Undoubtedly, all companies want maximum output from their employees, so understanding that all people have a different productivity cadence can save companies millions of dollars a year by simply adjusting employee work hours to coordinate with their high-producing hours.

Some jobs and projects are very focus intensive and with that may be more costly or timely for an organization. Having your employees full attention and focus riveted at these times, can be critical to the success and ultimately to the bottom line of the company.

Work-day Breaks

Workday breaks can offer your employees a short respite to regroup and refocus their energy. Workplace specialists (i.e., ergonomic specialists and organizational psychologists) believe there is a benefit to taking a short break prior to starting a long and complex project. The break gives people a chance to mentally close the work just finished and begin a new project with a clean slate. In terms of productivity, this is a way to jump start a new effort without having a prior work project still looming in the back of the employee’s mind.

Going out to lunch is an extended work-day break with its own set of benefits. In addition to offering a change of venue, this is a great time for a vigorous workout, a leisurely walk, or even a chance to run personal errands. Lunch breaks outside of work, allow people to decompress, listen to music, chat with a fellow walker, or interact with people outside of their place of employment. Companies can help make lunch breaks extra fun by incentivising employees with rewards for their dedication to maintaining a religious schedule of exercise and other activities.

Volunteer Days 

Allowing employees the opportunity to be contributors outside their organization is a wonderful way to encourage charitable service and giving back to a community that supports their employment. Volunteering empowers people to refocus on those less fortunate than themselves, perhaps, and allows them to take great pride in their efforts. It’s immensely gratifying to give back and knowing one’s company supports this outreach speaks fathoms about the organization. It can, also, help people to forge stronger bonds with their employer by representing their organization within the community and to work alongside leadership that may not have happened within the confines of the business walls.

These are a few examples; there are many ways companies can show their human side and understanding. It’s just a matter of making the commitment to support your employees and recognize they are your greatest asset and biggest business relationship. And as with any relationship that is for the long-haul, you will reap what you sow.

Photo Credit: anniejoubran1 Flickr via Compfight cc

5 Steps To Take Employee Engagement To Another Level

Why is employee engagement critical to an organization?

Many think “getting more employees involved” is the end game. That’s true, but for what purpose? To make every person feel like they are making a contribution? To make them happier? To make them more supportive of leadership?

If the purpose of employee engagement isn’t clearly defined, and a disciplined process to achieve that purpose isn’t established, the best that can happen is busyness and dysfunction. Employees are busy as hell but they are not acting in unison towards a shared outcome.

Employee engagement must be strategically driven. It must be THE vehicle to mobilize the employee body to execute the strategy of the organization together; consistently.

The employee group is the orchestra; the song sheet is the strategic game plan and values  of the organization.

And the desired behavior is EXECUTE AS ONE.

This 5-step process will increase engagement towards the achievement of shared strategic goals.

  1. Make engagement one-on-one. Effective engagement is leadership driven, not program driven by a centralized group like HR. Individual leaders must be held accountable for getting their teams more engaged around strategy and values. Unfortunately a tops down program is less effective than encouraging daily hands on involvement by leadership.
  1. Connect each function in the organization with the strategic game plan. This involves “drawing a straight line” between strategy and the deliverables every department is expected to produce. In practical terms, this means translating the relevant key result areas (KRA) of the strategy in terms of what they mean for every team. If “delivering dazzling service” is a strategic KRA, for example, it must be designated as a critical performance area for all functions in the organization and their roles must be explained in granular terms to ensure they are clearly understood.
  1. Define the role each person is expected to play in each performance area. In sales, for example, it could relate to focusing on building deep relationships with high value clients as opposed to flogging products at them to satisfy short term sales targets.
  1. For each employee, set 3 objectives which are “tight” with the specific roles defined and establish the mechanism to track results achieved. For sales, measuring client perception is necessary to evaluate whether the salesperson is actually building a deep and intimate relationship with them. Set an objective for each sales person – 75% of Roy’s named clients will agree that their relationship with him is “excellent” – and measure the result monthly. This is where strategy hits the ground and real engagement occurs.
  1. Review performance regularly. Leaders must sit down “eye to eye” with each of their team members; review the results of each objective set for them, and define an action plan to close any performance gaps.

Engaging employees effectively to help the organization achieve its goals requires the consistency and discipline of individual leaders working with each one of their team members day in and day out.

It’s brutal but required work if you want to take employee engagement to another level and standout from the crowd who rely on programs “handed down from above”.

Photo Credit: thedivahound Flickr via Compfight cc

Purpose or Engagement? Is One Better Than the Other?

When you ask HR executives what it takes to succeed, many will stress the importance of employee engagement. They refer to a company’s need for employees who are excited about their work, who are motivated to do well, and whose goals are in sync with the objectives of the organization. Employee engagement relates to employee happiness, job satisfaction, and much more.

But even if employees enjoy their work and find it compelling, is that going to be enough to keep them working at your company for the long haul? Your team may share common goals, but that doesn’t necessarily speak to your staff’s need to connect to their work and identify it as something worth doing. Your employee’s experience might be missing a key component that would solidify their commitment to your company. That component is a sense of purpose.

How Purpose Differs from Engagement

While purpose and engagement share some attributes—namely, an employee’s commitment to the company—they are not the same thing. Both are important, but when they exist together within the employee’s psyche, they can really be a powerful combination.

CustomInsight, a leading provider of online HR assessment and development tools, defines employee engagement as “the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organization, and put discretionary effort into their work.” Thus, employee engagement is tied closely to employee productivity and effectiveness, making it a critical component to success for your business.

Dale Carnegie Training reports that companies with engaged employees outperform those without by as much as 202 percent. A study of more than 1,500 employees, conducted by Dale Carnegie and MSW Research, also revealed that engaged employees exhibit enthusiasm and confidence while feeling empowered and inspired.

While employee engagement is a positive for companies, it gets even better when companies define and communicate their purpose. Purpose delves deeper than engagement—it’s the reason the company exists. It has to be more than simply making a profit; it should also encompass what the company does to fill a need and to make a difference. Purpose means having an impact on people—in most cases, the company’s clients and customers—and bringing a sense of satisfaction or fulfillment to those customers that reflects well on the company and its employees.

Employees who understand this purpose are more likely to contribute to the company’s success. They see themselves being part of a worthwhile goal and are thus more likely to work harder and with more enthusiasm to achieve that goal. In other words, employees are more likely to be engaged once they understand and buy into their company’s purpose.

Benefitting Through Purpose

Inc. magazine cites a survey from Deloitte, which found that 73 percent of employees who say they work for a “purpose-driven” company are engaged. In contrast, only 23 percent of employees identify themselves as engaged when they don’t characterize their company as “purpose-driven.” Additionally, more than 90 percent of leaders at purpose-driven companies expect to maintain or strengthen their brand in the next decade, whereas only about half of companies without that strong purpose expect to do the same.

The Inc. article stresses the need for companies to make their purpose clear to employees by establishing systems that are compatible with that purpose. As an example, let’s say your company provides financial services. You define your purpose as helping people improve their lives with financial security. To help achieve this purpose, you might set up free financial seminars or reach out to communities that are underserved. You set systems in place to support your purpose, and in so doing, you engage employees with a sense that they are helping people and doing meaningful work.

Purpose Drives Engagement

It’s clear, then, that purpose is essential to driving employee engagement. The terms “purpose” and “engagement” are not interchangeable, but they do go hand in hand. Purpose is the foundation upon which engagement is built. However, one is not better than the other. Without a sense of purpose, employee engagement may be short-lived, and without engagement, a company’s purpose will not be fully realized.

If you want to improve your employee engagement, start by defining your company’s purpose—better engagement will likely follow.

Photo Credit: ardentgo Flickr via Compfight cc

The 4 Rules Of Employee Engagement According To My Dad

Sometimes life throws a curveball into the game, and it’s no more business as usual. My dad died seven months ago with the love of his life, my mom, at his side. He had a very long battle with Alzheimer’s, which had already changed him profoundly — and us, too. Now he’s at peace. In the fast few weeks, as my family faced the inevitable, we were constantly reminded of what kind of man he was: a true leader, fair and decent and genuine. Anyone who had the good fortune to work with him responded to that.

As I was developing my own knowledge base on what galvanizes talent into something called employee engagement, I was constantly struck by my dad’s example. Inspired by his example, his colleagues and teams worked harder, stayed later, treated each other better. They were never under any pressure to do so: My dad’s culture was not “my mission must be your mission.” His people did it because they wanted to. What motivated them: feeling valued.

Of course there was no way to measure this, but he had radar, forged from his own intelligence and experience. No surprise that it correlates with some of the best ideas on engagement out there now.

So here are four meaningful ways to measure employee engagement:

1) Stop pretending it’s about satisfaction. Ask what your people need and want from their employer. You are not selling something to them, you are collaborating with them — and you depend on their interest in collaborating back. So ask what your employee needs to stay. Don’t use a multiple choice, closed survey question to find out; allow them the room to articulate what they’re after. Again, this may be a disconnect related to our lack of imagination about the essence of an employer brand.

2) Ask appropriate and targeted questions. Here’s an obvious irony: Surveys take time out — from projects and tasks and the usual requirements of an employee’s day. Which means you’d best make it worth your employee’s while. Make sure you’re asking questions that are relevant to your employees and their work. There are an infinite number of possible questions to ask about engagement, but research is showing that perhaps a dozen are truly useful.

Consider the nature of each department’s work and the kind of performance it requires. If you are wasting their time on irrelevant questions, they might just decide to embark on a job search instead. And time isn’t what it used to be. A DICE survey found that in high tech, two-thirds of all workers believe they could land a better job in less than 60 days.

3) Don’t take your talent for granted. High performance comes from those who feel highly respected. Gallup found that as of January of this year, some 32.5% of workers are engaged in their jobs, but 51.9% are not. Worse, 15.7% are actively disengaged. So if your workplace is already struggling and it’s clear there are problems with performance, check your survey at the door. First, do some initial repair work to even get the car on the road. If you are already dealing with a disengaged workforce, throwing a survey at them that asks for tangible data on engagement will seem even more inauthentic – even tone-deaf — and only serve to send them on a search for greener grass.

4) Frame it in the positive. Two possibly undesired byproducts of an engagement survey: 1) that you reveal to the employee just how disgruntled he or she really is in the process of answering those questions, and 2) that the survey feels so non-transparent that it further disengages. But the goal of the survey should be clear to all — aka, transparent — that the employer’s intention is to improve the workplace, and support the workforce, in order to make them feel better about working as hard as they do. Present the process in the spirit of collaborative purpose and a generous workplace culture, not a standardized test, and you may just wind up with a great win-win.

Here’s to Dad, a sage judge of character, who would doubtlessly approve.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

Six Tips for Getting Real Answers From Your Employees

Ever since companies began to realize the link between employee engagement and productivity, customer relations and overall success, HR leaders have sought ways to measure and keep track of it. Employee engagement surveys seemed like an obvious solution: if you want to know if your employees are engaged, why not ask them? However, sending out a survey is not as simple as it sounds.

How do you know that your employees are answering honestly and not just saying what they think their managers want to hear? Do their answers reflect reality or merely perception? How do you get your employees to actually fill out surveys in the first place?

Design your survey process to get maximum participation and real answers with these six tips:

  1. Allow for anonymity

A key argument against engagement surveys is that employees won’t give honest answers anyways. If employees feel their job security could be on the line they’ll be more apt to answer positively, creating a situation in which at the surface everything seems fine. Making your surveys completely anonymous will give your employees the security they need to answer freely.

  1. Provide a reason

Instead of simply sending your survey out, to get high participation rates, you have to explain why taking time to fill it out will be worthwhile. How will it benefit/impact the way they work? For example, if you want to know what people think about your performance review process, explain that HR is considering new ways to make the process more effective and the results will impact the way their performance is reviewed in the future.

  1. Ask the right questions

Taking time to devise the right type and amount of questions is key. If you ask too many questions you’ll see a significant drop in participation and/or authenticity of your answers. Too biased and you may sway the respondents to answer in a certain way. To keep your questions as neutral as possible be conscious of your word choice. Leading questions can sway the reader towards a particular answer. For example, “Why are annual performance reviews burdensome for you?” The word burdensome already denotes a negative connotation for the reader, influencing their response.

Putting too many thoughts into one, or a double barreled question, can confuse them. For example, “Are the stretch assignments and leadership opportunities you’ve been given helpful for your professional development?” When in doubt it’s best to split them in two. At the same time remember that too many questions will make participants weary of filling out the survey and lead to less and incomplete responses.

  1. Include factors that can be validated

The perception and reality of workplace engagement can sometimes be very different. To ensure the validity of your survey results, research psychologist Palmer Morrel-Samuels suggests adding some elements which can be independently verified. When surveying a group of employees on their skill level, his team found that 76% believed their skills to be above average. As only 50% can be above average, the survey revealed a clear gap in actual and perceived skill level. When assessing managers’ ability to establish strong relationships, his team compared the responses they received with factors such as turnover rate to ensure validity.

Using the example of a survey about the performance review process, you may want to ask, “Do you feel the review process is easy and efficient?” However, the terms “easy” and “efficient” are subjective. You should also include data on how many hours and resources are spent on performance reviews each year. If your results indicated that most people believe your current process is difficult and inefficient and then you compare their answers with factors that can be validated: time and money spent you’ll have objective reasons why and a starting point for how to fix it. 

  1. Come up with an action plan

Employees will not see any need to respond honestly if they don’t see their responses make a real change in the way the workplace is run. To prove that participating in workplace surveys is worthwhile, you have to commit to making some sort of change, whether big or small, based on the results. After the survey is completed analyze the results and come up with a strategy.

For example, if you find that many people aren’t happy with the way performance reviews are conducted in your company, think about solutions that could improve the process. If people said it takes to long, try looking into HR tech that can limit the time it takes. If employees feel there isn’t enough follow-up, have your managers set-up post-review one-on-ones with each of their team members and provide training on how they can provide better feedback and coaching.

  1. Market your changes internally

However, simply coming up with a solution isn’t enough. You also have to market the changes you’re making internally and get the message across that their answers will make a difference. After your team has come up with a plan, share the results of the survey with the rest of the company. Make sure everyone is aware of the changes that will be made and how they’re expected to improve the work environment by announcing them at a company-wide all hands, within individual teams and by e-mail.

A version of this post was first published on

Photo Credit: Phenom Apps images Flickr via Compfight cc

6 Ways Leaders Can Excel at Engaging Employees

Much has been written on how organizations can engage their employees more successfully and create a competitive advantage. The advice offered tends to be of a program nature: company-wide initiatives promulgated from above that all functions “down below” are expected to participate in.

My thirty-three plus years of leadership experience suggests a different way of looking at how to “hook” every employee in the goals and strategy of the organization. People relate more to other people, not “corporate programs” offered by human resources or business planning.

This requires that every team leader take personal responsibility to see that the employees who report to them are pumped up and engaged. I didn’t wait for an “employee engagement program” to help. I chose to lead in a very specific way that led to turned-on employees and constantly improving performance.

Here are the simple things that worked and still work for me.

  1. Ensure every employee clearly understands the strategic game plan of the organization. They can’t contribute if they are hazy about what results are expected.
  1. Define the specific role of every person in delivering the strategy. This is where detail matters. Everyone needs to know EXACTLY what to do day-in and day-out to execute on the chosen company direction.
  1. Equip them with the tools to perform their responsibilities: training, systems and processes. A mundane point, perhaps (“Everyone knows this is important!”) but one that is often forgotten. It’s a basic hygiene factor for engagement. They won’t engage if they don’t have the fundamentals to do their job.
  1. Constantly – WEEKLY – let them know how they’re doing. Real honest feedback (and help to allow them to improve) is essential.
  1. Be in their workplace WITH them. If they know you are there to help them succeed they will engage with you on an emotional level which is what you need to move the yardsticks forward. People who intellectually understand and agree with what is required are motivated to DO something only if the are “all in” emotionally.
  1. Fight for them internally. Protect them from the internal politics and b.s. that gets in the way of them doing their job. If they know you have their back they will go the extra distance to perform.

Enhancing employee engagement requires individuals to emotionally connect with the goals of the organization and execute accordingly to achieve them. Look to leaders, not corporate programs to create the energy necessary to make it happen.


Photo Credit: rkeithcooke3428 Flickr via Compfight cc

How High Employee Turnover Hurts Your Company

High employee turnover hurts the business bottom line. It’s estimated that the average cost of a lost employee is 38 percent of the employee’s annual salary. Considering the average income in the U.S. is $50,000 a year, that’s a $19,000 per person. When employees leave, the ripple effect can be felt throughout the company. Lost knowledge, training costs, interviewing costs, and recruitment costs all add up, and companies cannot afford to ignore the long term implications high employee turnover has on the success of the business. As soon as an organization takes the time to consider high churn rates, it starts to focus its narrative on compensation, benefits, training, development, engagement, and morale boosting activities. This leads to a highly motivated and engaged workforce.

Today, it’s uncommon for an employee to remain at a company for more than 5 years. In a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics it found that the average time an employee spent at a company in 2014 was three times higher (10 years versus 3 years) amongst employees between the ages of 55 and 64, than those between the ages of 25 to 34. Companies cannot prevent their employees leaving for the ubiquitous greener pastures; however, there are means and ways of preventing the inevitable. Factors such as lack of training, ineffective leadership, and employee communication can all pave the way to the exit door. Companies need to shift their focus to their employees in order to be successful in the long run.

1. Lack of training

Employee retention strategies begin right from when the new employee steps through the door. On boarding is an important process as it ensures employees have the necessary knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to become successful in the long term. By introducing them to the mission and the values of the company, new arrivals can adopt company wide practices quicker. When a company implements a successful on boarding program, they experience 54 percent greater productivity and 50 percent greater retention.

But on boarding is only one part of the employee training cake. Once employees have been through the on boarding, and familiarize themselves with the company, and their role, they may become disengaged due to lack of training opportunities. Employees today want to develop themselves into the best that they can be. They want to expand and polish their skills, abilities, and experiences. In a recent survey, it indicated that 40 percent of employees who receive poor job training left their position within the first year. Employees who feel restrained or get bored will eventually start looking elsewhere to fulfill their advancement needs. Well trained employees help increase productivity and profitability because training helps solve the potential performance problems of the job. Employees who are trained, develop more rounded skills to help them contribute more to the company.

2. Ineffective leadership

There is a long standing belief that employees don’t leave their jobs, but rather their managers. Leaders who do not create the right opportunities for their employees, don’t communicate with them, and don’t appreciate them often leads to a high turnover rate. Bad leadership can also be felt throughout the entire organization – only not in a good way. Corporate culture becomes a meaningless term where leaders claim it exists while employees shake their heads in frustration. There is a lack of clear, consistent communication from leadership to the employees. As a result, the office is run by rumour mill, politics and gamesmanship. Employees are uncertain of the company’s goals and objectives for success and they have no idea how they fit into that picture, or what their level of importance is toward making it happen. Employees who feel comfortable with their leaders, often feel more engaged and inspired. The right leader is someone who is able to inspire, motivate and coach their workforce. They often seek opportunities for their delegates and support them in their ongoing development in the workplace. When a company has good leaders, communication is daily and open. Every employee clearly understand the vision and the goals of the organization, and everyone has input into how they can be improved. Employees also feel that they are important and that their job matters within the company.

3. Lack of communication

Communicating with employees, empowering them and creating a culture for them to thrive are all fundamental parts to retention. When important decisions are made by the C-suite, employees and management are generally left in the dark. Lacking of answers deter top management from providing the information that employees need. Creating a structured communication process that informs, emphasizes and affirms the employee’s actions in the workplace all contribute to keeping churn rates low. Communicating is a skill that should come naturally, however it can be the hardest skill to learn. When managing employees, it’s important to keep all communication channels open). Being aware of the questions, concerns and fears that employees might have, and, pro-actively communicating answers will build transparency and trust, and lead to a keeping retention low.

As seen from the above, a certain responsibilities are on business leaders to solve. Once a business is able to overcome these challenges, it becomes difficult for employees to leave the organization. But without understanding there whether or not there is a issue to solve, its a good idea to determine how high your turnover is in the first place.

Turnover is calculated by dividing the amount of people who left the organization by the number of employees currently at the organization over a given period (usually a year).

(number of people who left ÷ people currently employed) x 100

For example: 7 people leave in 2015, and there is currently 100 people the organization.

(7÷100) x 100= 7%

7% turnover rate per year.

Here were the averages per industry (U.S) in 2015:

All Industries: 15.6%

Banking & Finance: 17.2%

Healthcare: 16.8%

Hospitality: 29.3%

Insurance: 10.4%

Manufacturing & Distribution: 13.3%

Not-for-Profit: 15.3%

Services: 15.2%

Utilities: 7.2%

According to a Gallup report, a good number a company should aim to achieve is 10 percent. However, this is based on Jack Welch’s performance management system of stack ranking, which today is seen as old and outdated (even GE is throwing it out). In reality, if 10 percent of the high performers are leaving, the business ends up having a serious problem. One of the first things a company can do to understand their turnover rates in more detail is to track it by a performance quartile. To do this, clearly track turnover by each quarter. Set clear and objective measures of productivity. And determine which employees are performing the best in each department.

Regularly check people’s engagement to understand how each individual is feeling towards their goals. Do this by implementing a bi weekly check in, where managers schedule a time for each one of their delegates to simply open up a continuous dialogue (1:1). By doing this, employees will feel more comfortable about expressing the way they feel in the workplace. When managers do this, they are able to understand the flaws in the team and act on them in a timely manner. This allows a company to become more agile and quicker to respond to business threats. What’s more, from the bi-weekly check in, business leaders can understand their weaknesses, and determine what drives disengagement.

When a company implements a tool, such as Impraise, it allows them to start an engagement survey quickly, which then can draw immediate insights into the current health of the organization. This allows them to understand where their employees may feel they need more clarification or better business practices.

This post was first published on Impraise blog.

Sustaining Us: How Organizations Are Evolving to Meet the Future Of Work

Recently, GE explained how it will deeply revise performance reviews — an often untenable practice which has plagued organizations, both large and small for decades.  Heavy with the burden of process and time, yearly reviews have long been the bane of organizations and managers. When the facts were thoughtfully considered, the value of these reviews simply wasn’t justifying the invested resources.

Most importantly, performance appraisals weren’t offering employees what they needed to guide behavior and develop — as the process siphoned time from their managers. Yearly performance reviews were no longer sustaining us, or the organizations in which we work.

The average life span of a company has decreased dramatically over course of the last century. (Nearly 50% of the Fortune 500 pre-2000 have disappeared or have been the subject of a merger/acquisition.) Many become other companies, which only serves to add to the challenges that employees must face. Organizations that endure, face the dangers of aging — which can include complacency and looming obsolescence. Sustaining an organization is no small feat. Leaders must balance a variety of priorities including a strategic vision and meeting the tide of change.

While contemplating this, I’ve realized that we’ve short-changed one critical part of that discussion — sustaining “us”. Contributors. People. Human beings. Here in the US for example, we work longer, but likely not smarter. We haven’t fully mastered the feedback employees require to be successful. We struggle to provide meaningful career paths to amplify contributor strengths. We sometimes miss the mark concerning that managers require training and support to help team their members thrive. We ignore the importance of re-charging as human beings — leaving countless vacation days on the table.

Things just don’t add up. Something had to give.

And it’s been us.

However of late, there is positive movement. There are organizations getting it right, who hold a strong belief that people are their organization. They intend to evolve in a manner so structure and processes can work with people — not against them. Once petrified, I see a glimmer in leaders who see the value of addressing the organization’s core people practices. Many are making the connection (see this from Google) and rolling up their sleeves to make changes. We are now actively discussing what comprises a healthy, supportive environment. I’m hearing increased chatter about psychological safety and the employer-employee exchange agreement.

With thoughtful decisions and a concerted investment in people — the relationship between employers and employees can shift in a way that will not only affect satisfaction and engagement — but creativity, innovation and success.

I’m watching with great anticipation to see what unfolds.

What is happening in your organization? Share your perspective.

This post was first published on LinkedIn.

4 Ways To Make Workplace Wellness A Culture Win

Here’s an idea for cutting edge talent management: workplace wellness programs. Implemented well, they’re mutual ROI meets wearable tech meets a deep level of employee engagement that reflects beautifully on employer brand. Not only can they enhance performance, but they show a genuine concern for employees’ well-being. And they’re part of one of my most basic adages: a happy employee is good for profits.

The American Heart Association found that for every $1 invested in workplace wellness, companies can receive up to $3 in return. But, like everything, there are right ways and wrong ways to implement workplace wellness programs. It depends on the company’s goal in adoption: how involved do you want to be? What’s the budget? What are the incentives and rewards?

Short-term benefits aim for mental clarity, higher productivity, morale and loyalty boosts, and all that. The larger goal of reducing healthcare costs and preventing injuries requires you build a wellness program that’s good for the long term.

But think about the culture of the workplace: if your employees are scattered all over the globe in different time zones, you’re either going to have to satellite physical fitness spaces in, create digital ones, or both. If you’re centralized, have some fun and create an amazing wellness and fitness center that gives employees bragging rights. And depending on the scope of the program, it can seem benevolent or big brother— is it opt-in or mandatory? Do employees get rewarded for participating?

Also essential: bring it up to date and make it tech-friendly. Here are 4 ways:

1) Provide wearable tech: It’s inexpensive, it’s personal. Wearables are booming. Some 13 million wearable devices will be integrated into corporate wellness plans over the next five years, according to ABI Research. The tech offers encouragement without seeming required, and apparently, 44 percent of US workers are already wearing it at work. Activity trackers can be linked to social wellness apps; customizable versions can create company-wide programs with events, competitions and rewards. Employees can monitor their own personal progress and make it social. Chances are, they will. There are versions with elaborate data tracking, from blood pressure to heart rate and beyond. Others include eating habits as well — offering recognition for making healthy choices. When it’s small and personal it doesn’t seem invasive. And face it: we all love gear.

2) Create occasions: If routine is the enemy of innovation, break it up by observing the myriad healthy holidays: get your employees on their feet on National Walking Day (the first Wednesday in April, when employees can participate by walking for at least half an hour). Create a “Fitness Friday” with allowable hours for gym, yoga, walking or running during the workday. Because we’re way past casual Fridays now, it’s much more fun to make them actually mean something. Also, adding a fitness component to an already busy workweek without allotting for allowable time will make it feel like an extracurricular drag. You may see a whole lot more participation outside work anyway, but don’t expect it.

3) Offer tangible incentives: Did I mention rewards? Incentivizing participation is key to driving and sustaining employee engagement. There are countless ways to do it, but ones that hit the wallet are certainly the sweetest, including discounts on health premiums, flextime or home days, gift cards (but watch that gold watch syndrome), healthy retreats — a great way to build in creative collaboration and team brainstorming between massages and yoga. Leaderboards, team goals, coaching consults —  you can build deeper engagement by polling employees on what they want in terms of recognition, and make it adaptable as opposed to one size fits all.

4) Measure its effectiveness: After a mid-sized bank in Illinois instituted a wellness program as part of its benefits package, it achieved 95% participation. There’s a point system, a whole range of activities and programs to choose from, and a close tie-in to healthcare and lifestyle changes. It’s expecting an ROI at the end of three years that will show measurable reductions in healthcare costs, lower absenteeism, and higher morale / productivity — saving between $1.50 and $3.50 for every dollar spent. It’s measuring the results annually in quantifiable terms, starting with baseline screenings for each participant, and measuring everything from health to productivity to insurance usage.

There are countless fitness apps that can be brought into a workplace wellness program; and it’s a great way to measure performance as well. The point is to make it part of your intentional employee brand. Also nice: having people that are shiny, happy, healthy representatives of your company. They tend to smile more. No matter how much we work on improving recruitment and engagement, there’s something about a company that lets you walk outside and kick a ball around during a meeting that just can’t be beat.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

Photo Credit: urban.shake Flickr via Compfight cc

Culture, Brand, Engagement: How Benefits Support HR’s Three-Legged Stool

You know the old three-legged stool metaphor: you can’t sit down if one of those legs is off. In HR, that means culture, brand and engagement. All three are closely, intrinsically related; even more so given the new world of work. In the Deloitte University Press’ Global Human Capital Trends 2015 report, the news shows palpable gaps between perceived weaknesses in all, and the capability to solve them.

Among the findings, gleaned from more than 3,300 business and HR leaders:

  • 87% of organizations cite workforce culture and engagement as a top challenges.
  • 38% of respondents felt like they were “weak” when it came to helping employees balance personal and professional life/work demands.
  • 71% of those who responded stressed the importance of reinventing their HR, but only 42% said they felt actually prepared and ready to do it.

That last stat in particular is compelling, reflecting a hefty gap (30%) between perception and action. Not surprising: the radically changing world of work knows it needs to undergo an equally radical readjustment in HR. In terms of positive realignments, here’s one arena to consider: Benefits. Rather than a part of the basic HR operations, benefits are a deeply entrenched facet of company culture and brand, and a critical driver of employee engagement.

Brand Awesome

Successful organizations like Netflix make the connection between employer brand and HR — including benefits. Logically, a new breed of workplace needs a new approach to talent, so it created one. In terms of recruitment, it made sure to include its approach to benefits as part of the brand. In terms of firing, it turns a loss into a mutual gain: if someone is let go, a generous severance may help her regroup, retrain and further their career — which possibly means she circles back to the company with more training and experience (on someone else’s dime).

A Culture Of Benefits

Other Netflix innovations include flexible vacation time, an honor system policy on expenses, and an interesting take on perks: this is an organization that figured out that having grade-A colleagues (a.k.a. fully formed adults) is a better employee perk than foosball. Other realistic components include health care programs (such as those created by Jiff) that incentivize employees to use services that promote their actual health. Firms may also offer realistic avenues for improving financial wellness — such as reducing crippling student loan debt and investing with a conscience via a firm like SoFi. Offering these kinds of benefits isn’t the norm yet, but it’s helping to set a new standard, delineating a forward thinking, authentic culture that is clearly aligned to the new world of work.

Transparency Drives Engagement

The Deloitte study found that 78% of respondents believed culture and engagement are critical, but only 47% felt ready to put that into action. For that 31% gap, consider the Netflix severance concept, which uses HR strategy to replace taboo with transparency — and that, my friends, is a radical cultural shift. It scales the traditional, monolithic fear of losing ones job down to a normal hiccup (or not) in a modern career trajectory.

The change aligns with how millennial (and other) employees perceive working — as constant disruptions, possible even in employment itself. In Netflix’s case, it also means an authentic and open conversation in which both parties play grown-up. Virgin made a similar splash with its greatly expanded parental leave policy. Such instances foster engagement by allowing for the fact that yes, we are all human here. Things happen. Families happen. We will adjust — with you.

Lack of employee engagement has some heavy hidden costs, but they’re completely logical: engagement is part emotion, part function. If an employee feels as if they’re not being supported or acknowledged for their own emotional and functional expenditure on behalf of your company, then they’re going to spend less of that energy. But create a benefits program that recognizes that exchange, and is the figurehead of an authentic culture, and you drive and deepen engagement. Now, have a seat.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

Photo Credit: huwbassett Flickr via Compfight cc

Five Tips for Building a Winning Employee Engagement Strategy

Employee engagement is central to any organization’s success. Engaged employees work to build the bottom line, come up with solutions to work-related problems and often act as evangelists for their companies. So developing a winning employee engagement strategy is beneficial across the entire organization. Most companies want to engage their workers – and have happy employees who are more productive and invested in their job. But few companies succeed.

Have you noticed that when you Google “employee engagement suggestions” you find an enormous amount of information? Sifting through the dozens of simple and generalized tips— starting health and wellness programs, offering snacks, and promoting a work/life balance—can be a challenge. So, I’ll make it easy for you. Here are five powerful tactics you can use to build that winning strategy. Ready?

  1. Establish Concrete Objectives at the Employee Level You’re already familiar with the importance of setting goals—all successful companies set goals—increasing the base profit margin by X percent, lowering the enterprise’s carbon footprint by such an amount by a particular year, etc. These big goals are essential for success, but they don’t necessarily motivate your employees. Engaging employees means breaking down company goals into smaller pieces and then creating targets they can see, strive for, and achieve. These objectives might be things like replacing disposable cups with reusable ones or increasing enthusiasm for a faltering project. The point is that giving workers purpose (which is a philosophy Southwest Airlines embraces) fuels their commitment to the enterprise.
  2. Ensure Your Strategy Is Easy for Employees to Begin  You’ve heard it said, even thousand-mile journeys begin with one step. Getting employees to perform the first action towards engagement is the most difficult part. Once they’ve started to engage, it’s easier for them to engage more and more fully. So any successful employee engagement strategy starts with a low entry barrier. Don’t expect anything large from your staff in the beginning. Let them begin with something small. They’ll work themselves up to larger, more challenging engagement tasks with time.
  3. Create Personalized Choices People won’t all be passionate about the same things. If your plan offers choices across different topics, your employees are more likely to try it once—and if they try once, it’s easier for them to engage more. Allow them to choose topics they value. It will make them feel more in control of their work environment and create a greater feeling of investment in your business.
  4. Produce a Bottom-Up Approach for Good Employee Engagement Typically, most of the problems companies face are solved from the top down. People higher up the chain of command analyze the problem, decide on a solution, and pass it down the ladder for those under them to implement. An employee engagement strategy must work opposite to this typical problem-solving method, which can be difficult for some companies. get used to. Workers must be the ones to develop a successful employee engagement strategy. They know their own minds— as management, you can only guess. A good employee engagement strategy starts with talking to the people who work for you, distributing survey results among not just upper management but middle and lower management. In turn, team managers can directly involve their employees in the strategy creation process.
  5. Communicate Frequently with Your Employees Your employees want to know that their voices are being heard. Any good employee engagement strategy incorporates this fact. Annual or semi-annual reports on employee engagement are simply not enough. Employee morale—and hence engagement—increases when people feel comfortable communicating with their managers on a frequent basis. And, when managers ask their employees about their feelings and opinions on engagement strategies, those workers are more likely to participate. Transparency is another important factor to consider. Google, for example, encourages its employees to spend time being creative outside of their regular workday cycles. This promotes imagination and inspiration, but it’s also a fantastic way to let workers incorporate their own interests in their daily work and drive engagement.

Create a Tailored Strategy to Realize the Results You Need

However, just knowing what has worked for other companies won’t necessarily help yours. The trick to creating a truly successful employee engagement strategy is to tailor it to your workers’ unique needs and issues. Start by surveying your staff and asking for their opinions, which can lead to an engagement strategy perfectly tailored to your company’s unique employee pool. 

Pull an Employee Engagement Strategy Together

Understanding the mindset that goes into creating a working employee engagement strategy, a bottom-up mindset, and knowing a few solid pieces of advice on what has worked for other companies, can help any business create a successful strategy. But don’t think that simply adopting all the elements that worked for other companies will work for everyone else— get your employees to pinpoint their desires for an engagement strategy, and create a tailored plan that meets those expectations. If you do? You will begin to see powerful results that extend across your entire organization.

A version of this was first posted on

photo credit: Maxime Dinaux : Speech balloon via photopin (license)

The Onboarding Experience Matters To Your Future Employees

We talked last week about the need for HR and leaders to be on the look-out for employee potential – a real-time alignment between the business’s needs, new employees in the onboarding and hiring process, and existing employees who may have unrecognized potential.

So it’s natural to go back and look at the first piece of the puzzle – onboarding – to see where companies can improve an employee’s first days and weeks on the job with the goal of creating long-term employee engagement and growth.

As with so much else in the world of work, long-term employee engagement tracks back to the right cultural fit. The 2013 CandE survey, which assesses candidate experience in at leading companies, found that nearly 50 percent of prospective employees looked to company materials to get a feeling for the company’s values, a good indicator of cultural fit.

So it makes sense to ensure the story you tell in your marketing materials, on your career website, and through the recruiting and hiring process should be consistent, values-based, and accurately reflect your company’s unique workplace culture.

Where this can break down, of course, is during the onboarding and hiring process, where employees are too often emailed a packet of intimidating forms to fill out and told to come back when it’s done.  Some companies take the additional step of providing videos describing how to fill out the forms, and still others gather new employees in a room for a day to fill out forms, ask questions, and get to know one another – creating a little ‘team’ which will then spread its enthusiasm into the company as people move to their departments to begin work.

I’d argue for thinking of the onboarding process as a team-building exercise rather than simply a time to get all the necessary forms filled out properly. For example, tech giant Red Hat brings new employees to its Raleigh headquarters for an intensive multiple-day program in which new employees are taken through the company’s brand book – its cultural ‘Bible’; introduced to a range of employee ambassadors, and given an iconic team-building tchotchke – a red Fedora. The company shows it cares from the get-go, not only explaining its brand and culture in between form-filling-out-sessions, but also branding the new employees as its own by providing with them with the beginnings of a Red Hat uniform.  In tech, you can go a long way towards making someone happy by giving them a good t-shirt, so the Fedora is clearly going the extra mile.  But it doesn’t end there: the company does challenging work, is very engaged with its community of users, and is growing rapidly, providing employees with opportunities not only for personal growth but also job satisfaction. The story plays out on, where Red Hat gets four out of five stars from current and past employees, and where one employee posted ‘Choose your own adventure’. Not bad.

But does all this front-work pay off in long-term employee engagement? It appears it does. The company has won Computerworld’s coveted ‘Top 100 Places to Work’ award and been recognized by Forbes as one of ‘America’s 200 Best Small Companies’.  The company is lauded for its workplace flexibility, its culture, the caliber of its employees, and its challenging, interesting work.

Maybe the most telling aspect of the story related above is how personal it is. The onboarding experience is a personal one, from the act of bringing people together, to the team building, to introductions to brand advocates.  New employees are treated as people from the outset, increasing the probability that they’ll be engaged immediately, and remain engaged, as they disperse throughout the company to their respective offices.

So the lessons of successful onboarding might include:

Focus on team-building: Group new hires in teams to begin to build teamwork, but bring the teams together frequently to reaffirm the company’s focus and purpose.

Make it as personal as possible: This is a great opportunity to learn more about the employee than was possible during the interview process. Assign each new hire a mentor to help the new employee make the transition into the company smoothly. The mentor can not only provide guidance on simple things – who’s the best person to go to find out about x – but can also suggest training that may help the newcomer fill in skills that will make his or her life easier.

Reinforce employer brand: Chances are the new hire was drawn to your firm by its reputation, including its brand. If you position your company as a cool place to work on the web and in marketing material, ensure that feeling is built into your on-boarding process.

Invite your employee to use their personal brand: This is also a good time to tell your newly hired employee where he or she can help reinforce the employer brand, and where opportunities exist to amplify employer brand with their personal brand. Note this isn’t appropriate for all companies or all employees; be thoughtful about this. I know many companies are still hesitant or do not encourage employees to engage in social media or branding. It’s still largely case by case.

Audit your onboarding process with check-ins: Don’t’ assume onboarding is a one-and-done thing. To make sure you live up to the promises you made to your new employee, check in regularly to ensure the onboarding experience is consistent with the employee experience. Use surveys, informal one-on-ones between HR and the employee, team building exercises and follow-on conversations with assigned mentors to ensure your new hire is still on a good path.

You get one chance to do onboarding right, so pull out all the stops to make it a transformative experience for the employee – then go back and do periodic checks to ensure everything stays on track. You’re building a company, yes, but you’re also building a team of employer advocates. My mom used to say anything worth doing was worth doing well. Do this well, and talent retention may just be less of a challenge.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

photo credit: Time Management via photopin (license)

Create A Vocabulary That Inspires Employee Engagement

It’s official. Employee engagement is the new black. I’ve been writing and thinking a lot about it lately, as have others. The very notion of how leaders and employees engage has slowly morphed away from ‘companies have to do this because employees want it’ to ‘companies have to do this even though employees don’t trust it 100 percent’. I’m not saying employees don’t seek engagement; I’m simply saying many have reasons to doubt corporate engagement programs as they stand today. We are still in a process of finding what really works.

This revelation came after I’d read a series of interesting articles and spoken with a few clients of mine who’ve been working on employee recruiting, retention, engagement programs. The clients are genuinely trying to connect with employees, for a number of reasons. But not all are finding it easy going.

Carina Wytiaz, writing in TLNT, The Business of HR, suggested a number of employee appreciation resolutions employers could adopt for 2014. Her suggestions speak to the human-ness of the relationship between employers and employees.  What stuck with me most was her recommendation that employers find a way to say ‘thank you’ for performance. It’s such a powerful thing, to thank someone from the bottom of your heart, to make it genuine. Unfortunately it’s not part of most big-company HR programs.

Then I came across a Fortune interview with the CEO of PepsiCo PEP -0.27%Indra Nooyi, who has adopted an extraordinary engagement strategy: she writes letters to the parents of her direct reports and thanks the parents  – the direct quote from the article is “therefore I’m writing to thank you for the gift of your son, who is doing this at PepsiCo, and what a wonderful job this person is doing.” There’s that phrase again – ‘thank you’ – uttered with power, wisdom and grace. Imagine being the parent and getting that letter, then calling your son or daughter, tears in your eyes. Nooyi’s empathy and ability to engage is definitely not taught in most management classes.

The article that really got me thinking was one was shared by a friend of mine on Twitter Judy Gombita in PRConversations. Judy’s interesting post deals with the nature of social engagement programs – asking employees to use their social channels for a company’s benefit as brand ambassadors. My sense is she’s concerned companies treat the process as a form of employee engagement. It’s a very in depth look at engagement, with quotes from leaders of top companies; it’s worth reading for its clarity and deep questions.

These three very different views of employee engagement led me to think we need a lexicon of engagement if we are to actually do engagement right. We need to use words that are simple, direct and unambiguous. And we have to really mean it when we say the words.

My vocabulary for employee engagement would start with these words and phrases:

Please.  This is one of the most powerful words in any language. It tells the listener you need them, you need their help, and it means something to you. Too few people use the word. If you want to engage with someone at a meaningful level, if you need help, you have to ask nicely, and you have to say please.  It’s not simply polite – it’s a social cue that tells the listener you are asking for their time, attention, and assistance.

Thank you. This was the #1 phrase in Carina Wytiaz’s column, cited above, and it is number two here only because in my mind it bookends the word ‘please’. It’s essential to thank employees for their efforts. Salary, perks, all those things are part of the employment contract; ‘thank you’ is a person-to-person recognition of effort. It’s an essential phrase.

Do you have a moment? This (or ‘Is this a good time?’) may not seem like an essential set of words, but asking people if it’s a good time to engage with them is more than good manners: it tells them you value their time and effort, and it lets them know you expect the same respect in return. There are times when command-and-control is necessary, but most of the time employers should think about meeting the employee in his or her context before pushing for employee engagement.

I understand. Make sure you really do before you say this phrase, because it’s fraught with meaning. But understanding where an employee is in his or her life, day, or job is critical for any employee engagement program to work.

Well done. It’s not every day an employer gets to say those words, but to my mind it is a more powerful statement than the ubiquitous ‘good job’.  People say that to their kids when they pick up the toys without being nagged five times; it’s not enough when you’re trying to communicate the truth of a job well done. I remember hearing that phrase from a former manager and feeling the glow of approval; it was a big deal.

Say things clearly, say what you mean, and be careful with language if you want to really engage with your employees. Get the words and sentiment right, and engagement will follow.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

Photo Credit: Fire*Sprite*75 via Compfight cc