Ward to the Wise

Ssshh… Just Between You And Me… The Secret To Employee Engagement


What is the most important factor in creating employee engagement?

Compensation? Recognition? Management? Communication?

Those are the typical answers workshop participants and clients give to this simple question. But, while those aspects are relevant, none hold the secret to successful employee engagement. Now, think about it. Remember when you were on a team and felt fully engaged. You were so into it, your passion and energy were flowing. You bounded out of bed ready to attack the challenge. And you have witnessed others fully engrossed. What did each of those examples have in common? One thing: they all had something at stake worth winning at – whether a moral imperative, a competition where victory was possible, the fulfillment of a dream, or pure survival. And, the closer a team is to winning at something worthwhile, the more focused and passionate they become. So, ask yourself. Is your team focused on a shared game worth winning? Are you providing the leadership needed to create clarity about the one game the team is focused on today, this month, this year? Does your team know their “score” in the game? Are they winning or losing? If they’re losing, you can communicate all you want, and they will still be demoralized, disenchanted, disappointed, and possibly done with it all. You cannot engage a team that is losing at its game. So, you must first get them in a game, and have them start winning in meaningful ways. And, communication plays the leading role in causing the behavioral changes needed to create the win.

For analogy’s sake, let’s take a youth ball team. When a team is winning, everyone is more interested and focused. Players are practicing more and harder. Coaches are thinking strategy, and honing their players’ skills and execution. They put each player in his or her own personal game to win, so collectively the team can win. Raving fans come from near and far.

But on a losing team, you see players swinging at air, outfielders distracted by bugs in the grass, coaches checking their cell phones, and parents chatting in the stands. Batters strike out, feeling humiliated and frustrated. Former-fan customers stop showing up.

Think of the issues in your organization: the chaos, the silos, the lack of clarity, the back-biting department heads that are in a game shareholders would shudder to witness, the lack of accountability that leaves employees frustrated and fed up – you can fill in the blanks for your organization. Not the behaviors of a focused, winning team? Will more of the usual communication on top of the reality of such an environment really cause engagement? It won’t, ever.

However, you can use communication to start healing the issues that undermine your team’s ability to win at its game, whether to alter quality control, safety, sales or any other aspect of your business. And, when you start effecting targeted behavioral change, voila, you will start to have small wins, followed by bigger wins to celebrate, and you guessed it, people start to get interested. They engage because there’s a game worth winning, an environment where winning is actually possible, and the satisfying experience of one win after another.

Be prepared you will have to start talking straight about what doesn’t work in the environment. You will need to use communications to teach right behaviors, communicate the rules of the game, and recognize those who are breaking down the dysfunction and showing up as a true team. Rah-rah communication that doesn’t address the elephant in the room simply doesn’t build credibility, trust or inspiration to take on the challenge.

Are you winning at your employee engagement game? Are each of your employees winning at their personal growth game? Are they making the connection between their individual efforts and the company’s success? If you’d like to create a bigger game for yourself and your company’s employee communication, talk to us. We’re Ward, and we’ll help you hit your employee communication out of the park.

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