Engagement happens when…

You know what’s always good to share? Stories of actual success. Both are mine.

The first is a success story of engagement. The second is also a success story of engagement.

You see, engagement is a range of things. Engagement happens when you do the right things with your people. And it’s those right things that make the difference.

So let’s get the first thing out of the way. I was happy with my role – the basics were all in play. My salary was a fair one for my role. I was clear about the work I was responsible for. I had autonomy to do the actions I thought necessary. I had clear expectations of what I needed to do. I understood the consequences of not acting in a way which was beneficial to the organisation, the team, and to me.

This has been true of my last two jobs. I was respected by my manager from the off for having the knowledge, skills, and attitude to do the job well. From there it was a matter of letting me get on with it. A series of things helped keep me on track. Regular conversations with my manager about things happening in my workflow. The freedom to try new, creative, innovative ways of delivering learning. I was coached where my performance was going awry of expectations. My ideas and opinions were sought on things that were important. There was the flexibility to work the hours needed for the organisation, and to work from home or adjust working hours where appropriate. I was given regular feedback about my performance. I was allowed to explore how I worked best, and talk with my manager about making this happen.

I handed in my notice in my most recent role, and worked my notice period. All along that time my manager kept the same approach – and I appreciated that greatly. My team were highly supportive of my time left in the role, and helped me to figure out what I needed to do to leave the role and workload in a state which was meaningful and useful for the future person. There was no animosity, or maliciousness, just genuine support and empathy. Right up until the last day I was working on things which I was not going to see put into action, but will help the team achieve things later.

These were things which may have been backed up by some policy somewhere, but I was never told about it. My manager understood these were ways to engage me because we talked about them.

I’m about to start a new role with a new employer. I am seriously excited by this. All because the recruitment, and candidate experience has been excellent.

My interest was piqued about a role I saw advertised. From the moment I applied, within a period of ten days I had been through the recruitment process and been offered the role. To say I was impressed by this is an understatement. It was seriously impressive. They understood I needed to work my notice period and we agreed to stay in touch.

In the two months leading up to my first day I’ve had regular conversations with my new manager. This has been awesome. I have a sense of the organisation I’m about to join from these conversations. I have an idea about the culture of the place and how receptive they are to the role I’m going to do. Some of the ideas they have in place to engage staff have been shared with me, and I’ve been allowed to offer my tuppence about what I can do to support them. I’ve connected with some of the new team members ahead of joining which gives me a sense of the attitude they have to social media. Information about upcoming work has been shared with me and helps me to get a sense of what the expectations are of me.

I feel welcomed and motivated to do well in the role, before I’ve even stepped in the front door, or met the team.

So there you have it. Two success stories about how to put engagement into practice. Both offer a different sense of how to make it happen. Both offer some insight into what worked to engage me. Because at the end of the day, I’m just like you. Someone who wants to work, do it well, and feel positive about the contribution I can make.

What have you ‘signed off’ lately?

Son: Dad, I’d like to re-decorate my room. I don’t need your help to do it, but I might need to ask your advice about what I need to do.

Dad: Ok, son. How are you going to go about re-decorating?

Son: Well, I’m going to make a plan, give myself a budget of how much to spend, and that should work.

Dad: Sounds good to me. Don’t forget we are going on a family holiday in 4 weeks, and it doesn’t sound like you’ve factored in your commitments at the karate club. I know you said you don’t need my help, but I’m here to support you when you’re ready.

Something of an idyllic conversation, and not one I’m likely to have with any of my children for at least the next 15 years. In his manifesto, Henry Stewart talks about trusting your people. One of the key things in that is ‘pre-approving’ work. One of the other things he talks about is ‘give freedom with clear guidelines’.

When I think about that, I think about moving out of people’s way. I trust people inherently. It’s probably my biggest flaw – it’s also probably my proudest flaw. I let people know what I’m asking of them, set out some expectations and then move out of the way. I don’t interfere, I don’t meddle, and I don’t criticise. I will check in, I will ask for updates and I will be mindful about the persons ability to do the job. I will coach, guide, advise and mentor as appropriate.

But there are a lot of people in the work place who doggedly believe this is a fools errand way to operate. If you don’t control what your team are doing, then how can you expect them to achieve? A belief exists that without asserting your authority, the level of control you have over your team will be diminished. When work is complete, and passed to them for approval, it cannot pass on to the next phase of the project until it is signed off.

I’m not talking about business critical work, that stuff has to follow some element of checking and formal review, else you’re putting the business at risk. I’m talking about things like the following:
– coming into work 15 mins late because you worked an hour later the day before
– sending an email to someone outside of your team/department
– not following a process/protocol because you’ve found a more efficient way to get it done
– changing the design/format of a piece of work to better reflect the content
– having an informal chat with an external supplier about potential work

These things are things which people are very capable of making decisions about on their own. When leaders/managers delude themselves into thinking they are enacting control to have a better team, is when they also don’t realise that the team are not working at their best, and not willing to increase their discretionary effort at work.

Signing off has its place, just don’t wield it like it’s a God-given right.

>Getting the basics right

>I was able today to help a colleague with an area of work he was struggling with – time management. It’s an oft quoted area of difficulty that junior staff just don’t know how to handle. I was also able to help a colleague think about how to set realistic objectives for team members. What came out from both of these conversations is the importance of getting the basics right. And when I say the basics I really do mean the basics.

In the probation period of any new joiner the onboarding process should ensure a range of things are happening so that person is able to be effective in their job. A lot of that though has to do with the essentials of the job role. We can expect someone to hit the ground running when joining, but if we’re not giving them the right start, how can we expect them to succeed? A person can only be pro-active so much before they’re just facing obstinance and challenges.
So what is this onboarding process all about? Research has shown that an effective onboarding process increases the amount of discretionary effort an employee chooses to exercise. Discretionary effort is defined as the amount of effort an employee chooses to exercise over and above the bare minimum. So, the better the onboarding, the more engaged and productive the employee. Therefore the onboarding process has to be robust, inclusive and wide ranging.
What you’ll find is these suggestions seem to cover trivial things but you’ll be surprised how much of a difference they truly make.
Here are my suggestions for an effective onbaording programme:
Week 1
– orientation of the building including things like facilities department, toilets, canteen, vending machines, exits and entrances to the building.
– meeting everyone in your department and going for a department/team lunch
– meeting people from other departments who are key to their role
– all the technical stuff (PC, phone) set up and ready before they arrive
– showing them things like file structures, networks, intranets, extranets, wikis, etc
– give them an overview of the organisation structure
– meaningful tasks to start getting on with
– arrange a buddy
Week 2
– setting objectives for the probation period
– introducing them to other departments and getting them to arrange their own meetings
– assigned work relevant to their role
– explain company history and values
– talk them through HR processes and L&D plans
Week 3
– weekly meeting to discuss progress and review their learnings to date
– buddy lunch
– arrange possible shadowing of other team members
Week 4
– weekly meeting
– explanation of competency frameworks
– explanation of different business units, how they contribute to the company and how you work with them all
– evaluation of how they are adapting to the work environment and coaching to improve their effectiveness
This is what should happen in the first month. There should be a lot more that happens which you will need to identify. But if you can get these basics right then things such as performance reviews, giving feedback, coaching, all become easier because you’ve already covered these aspects. Conversations can then centre on actual job role, tasks, development, etc.

>’Tis the season to do your appraisals

>Oh it’s that time of year. Collate feedback. Backtrack over the past year’s performance. Have meeting. Set objectives. Give rating. Salary review. Carry on and keep calm.

Appraisals are oft quoted as being the hardest task for managers. Why? Because managers are responsible for all those things above. And it’s hard work. Sure it comes with the responsibility, but it doesn’t make it easy. Especially if you have a big team to deal with. It’s no less a challenge for managers with small teams though. Either way it’s a burden. A necessary burden. A necessary evil. Actually, no. Check that. An essential necessity.

Carrying out appraisals are the most effective way of ensuring your team members are on track to help them achieve their personal goals, objectives, business goals and success. Even if you see your team member once a year, that will be the single most important meeting between a manager and your direct report.

Tom Peters talks about making arduous tasks into ‘WOW! Projects’. The essence of which says make an appraisal a meeting about excellence, creating a wider team of experts, setting amazing objectives and giving inspirational feedback. Yes, very American. But an interesting premise from which to work. My take on this? An appraisal should be a meaningful experience for all involved.

How can you make it meaningful? Well simple things like preparing in advance. Letting the team know meetings are upcoming. Ensure everyone is aware of what’s expected in the meeting. Have all paperwork completed before the meeting. Set uninterruptable time aside. Spend time listening to your direct reports thoughts about their performance. There’s more, much more, but it’s about committing to the process. Not because it’s a call from HR or the Exec team. But because it means so much to the success of a business.

Research (Corporate Leadership Council, Gallup) has shown that the discretionary effort from employees increases dependent on how well they are engaged by the organisation and their line managers. What is discretionary effort? The amount of effort an employee chooses to exercise based on how well they perceive they are being treated.

Employee engagement is a whole topic unto itself. But if a manager doesn’t commit to the appraisal process then you can wave goodbye to your staff. I will guarantee that with regards to appraisals, the following contribute to making it a poor process:
– last minute notification of meeting (i.e. tomorrow or even worse, this afternoon)
– poor solicited feedback
– poorly set and worded objectives
– badly delivered feedback
– lack of consideration of coaching opportunity
– judgements based on impressions rather than evidence based

Yet I’m amazed how many managers will use the excuse “but those things will happen because I have no time”. Nonsence. That’s a poor excuse to say “I’m not committed to the process and care little for the development of my staff”.

I’ve seen some great managers who don’t dismiss the importance of a good appraisal. Unfortunately they’re few and far between. Also they’re not shouted about enough to show what a great example looks like. Particulary though, it also falls on either HR or the Exec team to raise the profile of appraisals in a meaningful way.

‘Tis definitely the season to wind down and recharge those batteries. ‘Tis also the season to show your staff that you’re serious about their development.