As an HR professional, I spend a lot of time reading HR articles and blogs, attending conferences and networking with other professionals. It doesn’t matter where you go, what you read or who you talk to, you can’t get away from the discussions around employee engagement and retention. Worse yet, we are constantly reminded about the “war for talent” and how all our challenges are driven by generational diversity. Depending on what you read and who you talk to, they would have you believe that if you can simply just understand those darn “Millenials” and now “Generation Z” than you would have this whole talent acquisition and talent management thing suitcased.
Here is the thing, while there is lots to be learned from trying to understand the differences among the generations, you have to keep in mind all of these statements are very broad-based generalities. Not everyone in each of the generations fits the “profile.” Much the same, there are many HR and Management “gurus” out there that preach about all the secrets to increase engagement, including how they have the latest and greatest survey that will help provide you with “big data” or perhaps they have the most up to date recognition tools known to mankind and if you simply bought their products you would see an uptick in your employee engagement levels. There is so much rhetoric in this area it is enough to make your head explode!
Here is the thing, while I personally believe that some combination of these things does in fact help organizations improve engagement/retention, my feeling is that a lot of them should be viewed as supporting best practices. That is, while having a recognition program, company newsletters, flexible work hours, cutting edge survey tools, etc. do in fact help you become a better employer, they are by no means the ‘answer.’ Truth be told, in my experience, if you want more engaged employees, including ones that will stay with your company (engaged and retained) than there really is only one thing you need to either be doing (or start doing) if you want to improve in this area. The beauty of it all, is that the most effective engagement tool is FREE. That’s right…gratis. So what is this mystery item behind door #1? It is simple – communication. Yup, that’s right. If you want to improve engagement than talk to your people. I know it sounds and seems simple, but if it is, than how come so many companies fall short in this area?
I have led/done numerous employee surveys in my career, launched focus groups and developed programs ,all in response to survey feedback, with the ultimate goal of enhancing engagement and retention levels. The thing is, it has been my experience that the majority of the feedback you get from your employees focuses on communication anyway. News flash – they want to hear from you! They want to know (and hear) from the senior leaders in the organization about the health of the organization. They want to know about the future of ACME industries, what its plans for growth are and what big things are planned for 2015. Employees want to hear from their managers. They actually don’t mind department meetings that are focused on communicating things that are happening organization and department-wide. Staff want to be kept in the loop on things. This build trust and you guessed it, engagement!
Better yet, if you want to improve engagement, focus on having managers talk to their people one on one. Have regular coaching conversations. Better yet, as a manager, say Hi to people in the morning. Ask them how they are doing. Get to know your staff. Provide recognition when you can. Talk to them like they are people. Make an effort to know and understand your employees. At the end of the day, it is these individual touch points between employees and managers that make all the difference.
Bottom line, if you want to improve engagement, you have to talk to your employees. Remember, its free, but it has to be regular and genuine. This will all be easier to do if you focusing on making regular communication part of your managerial and organizational DNA. If you don’t want to talk to your people and/or your organization doesn’t view that as being important, than there is no survey tool or program in the world that can help you. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.