One of the best parts of my job is working with leaders to engage their employees. While the engagement buzzword has launched thousands of books, conferences and employee surveys, there are simple techniques you can do today to engage yourself and your employees.
You already know what engagement looks like. It’s the extra effort your employees invest to make their team and company a success. It’s the individuals who go out of their way to help their teammates in a jam or fix a nagging problem; it’s a smile at the end of a long day. Simply, it’s what employees or teams do to make everything go a little better for each other, their customers and their communities.
As a leader, your behaviors are hugely influential on how your teams view their work, the impact they make as individuals and as a team. How you lead and interact can build or break down engagement.
- Give your time. The greatest gift leaders can give their employees is their undivided attention. Take time to listen. Ask questions. Pay attention to their answers. Find out what they love to do. Uncover their pain points. Follow up to show that you support their success. And don’t forget to laugh and joke with them. Ask about their families, hobbies or friends. Yes, business is serious, especially these days, but nothing builds rapport faster than being human with each other. And with rapport, relationships and success can flourish.
- Look for their strengths. See each team member as an individual. What unique skills and abilities do they offer? Are they great coaches to less-experienced teammates? Can they make a spreadsheet sing with insight? Do they have a knack for acting on their feet? Figure out those natural skill-sets and help them develop those skills so they can really shine. Put them in a place where others see these strengths. Stretch them with assignments that draw these skills to new levels. Help them feel great about the progress they are making.
- Involve them in the process. Ask team members for their ideas. Engage small working groups to come up with recommendations for ongoing challenges or needs. Select people to set agendas and lead meetings. Doing this develops your team members for bigger responsibilities and gives them a say in how the team works.
- Pick a cause. Get involved. Even if the idea of taking time from work to volunteer seems odd, time and again, I’ve seen teams really get engaged when they work together to help others. Doing this under the flag of your company makes them feel good about themselves and the company they work for. Acting in service to others is a great reminder of all that we have to grateful for.
- Be honest. Tell your team members when they are doing great. Tell them how they can improve. Through this you demonstrate respect and you engage in helping them reach their full potential.
- Actions speak louder than words. We have all heard this. So recognize as a leader others are watching you. The good thing is you don’t need to be perfect — just authentic. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge when you or the organization makes a mistake. By the way, your words have an impact as well. So choose carefully how you speak to your team and others. Create private time for criticism and when you can public time for praise.
- Ask for help. Some of my best relationships at work have grown from asking others for help, when I don’t know the answer. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance or input from your team or others. Most of the time they are going to surprise you.
- Customize your interactions. What might work with one employee might frustrate another. Some employees like structured meetings scheduled a week in advance in Outlook. Others are more comfortable with a “drive-by.” The key here is to ask your team member how she prefers to interact. Set aside your own biases about formality or informality and work with your team to create agreements on how to ensure great connections.
In today’s cookie-cutter corporate world, people long for connection. Use your leadership to help create that with your team and watch them achieve more than you thought possible.
Gretchen Rosswurm is the director of global corporate communications and corporate social responsibility at Celanese, a global chemical company in Dallas. Throughout her career, she has advised leaders on communication strategies to enhance employee engagement and improve business results. In her spare time, she enjoys watching her son play baseball and writing short fiction. Follow her on Twitter @GRosswurm.