Four essential employee engagement strategies for your business

You need to implement these four key employee engagement strategies if you’re serious about engaging your team.

Image of employees talking - demonstrating the importance of employee engagement strategies

There are a lot of theories and models available that demonstrate what’s needed to increase employee engagement. Many of these are high-level strategies that on the face of it seem simple to implement. But they’re often not effective. Why? Because they don’t go deep enough.

Below I’m going to go through four employee engagement strategies that will work.

They’re not quick to implement if you’re not doing them already. 

But …

They are achievable.

They are worthwhile.

If you’re serious about your employee engagement. 

And that for me is the point. If you want your employees to be more engaged so that your business and your team benefits and you’re happy to make some changes to your business for that to happen – and you’re prepared to be in it for the long-haul, then you need to start working on these. Don’t believe making small changes will have big results.

These strategies will also improve your customer experience as they’re closely linked. It is a win-win!

Why am I so confident? Because these are based on findings from the Engage for Success study. These are what the organisations with the most engaged employees all had in common.

Could your business be one of them one day?

1. Talking about the business

People like to know what’s going on in the organisation that they work for. It helps them feel secure, closer to the business, more involved and they feel trusted.

If you don’t talk about what’s going on regularly you create a vacuum of information that quickly gets filled with speculation and rumours. People begin looking for signs, things get misinterpreted and it begins to affect behaviour.

Who should be talking about the business?

All the leaders. Starting with you, if you’re the business owner or CEO or MD. The senior leadership team. And any other significant leaders you have. 

The larger your team, the more leaders you should have. Your managers should also be leaders, but we’ll cover this in a moment.

Your leaders need to be visible. Everyone should know who they are, what they look like and what they’re responsible for. 

They should also be prepared to have conversations with anyone – and that includes listening as well as talking, so that employees know they’ve been heard and that their opinion matters.

What should they be saying?

When talking about the business all your senior leadership team needs to be saying the same thing. “One story. One team. One voice.” They all need to be committed to it. If they’re not, leaving anything out because they don’t believe in it or adding in extra detail will quickly get picked up and confuse.

What’s being said needs to include:

  • the business’ purpose
  • where the business has come from – its history
  • its current situation
  • where it’s going, with clear direction
  • address your team’s concerns
  • include what’s going to change, how it will impact your team and how they’ll know that the change has been successful

It doesn’t need to lengthy – structured and pithy is easiest to remember so that it can be retold. Getting too detailed can cause issues, so keep it high level.

It should be authentic so that everyone believes it. You need to talk in your own language so that you can say it easily and pick up your team’s words so it’s relatable. 

There should be no difference in what you say in public and what you say about the business in private.

Why you need to talk about the business

Aside from keeping people informed, and going a long way to prevent damaging rumours from circulating, talking about the business is an employee engagement strategy because it …

Helps people feel they belong and makes them want to stay.

Involves them and places them at the heart of the business strategy.

Brings meaning and purpose to their work, inspiring them to give their best and feel passionate about the business’ future which they now see as linked to their future.

When should you talk about the business?

At every opportunity! Talking freely, although sticking to what’s been agreed, shows your team that there’s nothing to hide, you’re being open with them and you’re happy to listen to what they have to say.

Here’s a list of how you can increase both your visibility and the opportunities your team have to talk to you:

  • Annual results and strategy session
  • Quarterly town hall meetings
  • Local site visits
  • Weekly team meetings
  • 1-hour drop-in sessions
  • Small group for breakfast or lunch with the boss
  • Back to the floor – at least once a year
What to do if you’re not sure where to start

If you’re not sure about putting something together for you to talk about, there are strategic narrative agencies out there that can help. Alternatively, there are also several how-to guides like this one.

2. People-focused managers

All too often people reach a level of technical ability in their chosen specialism where they’re promoted to be a manager of a team, but their people skills aren’t taken into account. Some management training may be given but that doesn’t make that new manager a ‘people person’. They then experience further difficulties managing their new team as they’re juggling these new responsibilities with their day-to-day technical tasks.

Give your managers time to manage

In 2014 Leadership IQ published a report based on a study of 30,000 U.S. and Canadian employees, executives, and middle managers. Its findings answered the question of how much time a manager should spend with each team member each week for the greatest benefit.

The answer was 6 hours a week. 

The current average time is less than 3 hours a week.

The benefits include increased engagement, inspiration, innovation and motivation – bringing out the best in each team member.

But it mustn’t be more than 6 hours – otherwise, it has a detrimental effect!

Those 6 hours include phone calls, face time and emails (that’s reading the email, not the manager writing it!); it doesn’t mean 6 hours of 1-2-1 meetings! It also means working from home or at another site isn’t ruled out.

It also means you can’t successfully manage more than 7 people. There aren’t enough hours in the day if you want your managers to be doing a great job as a people manager and as a technical manager.

As the person responsible for people management becomes more senior and their responsibilities increase, there’s often less time for their direct reports. It doesn’t matter how senior the line manager is, the 6-hour rule still applies!

How engaging are your managers?

The people managers in your business are your most important engagement tool.

Their relationships with their team and their ability to do the people management part of their role are what helps everyone decide whether to show up and give their best, go through the motions or start to look for a new role elsewhere.

75% of employees who voluntarily leave jobs quit their bosses, not their jobs. Source: Roger Herman

Your managers need to know how they can do this part of their work well. Management training should be more than making sure they know the processes that are in place and what to do when.

Make sure that your managers are treating each person in their team as an individual. That everyone should feel part of that team.

They need to give praise when it’s deserved. Thank people for their work. Acknowledge time and effort given by individuals, and especially that their successes and achievements are celebrated. 

People managers need to be approachable and available when they’re needed. Each individual has a life inside and outside of work, and their manager should invest the time in getting to know them. Managers also need to look out for the welfare of each person. Even if it’s not work-related – if it’s affecting the person, it’s going to affect their work. And if they’re told something in confidence your managers need to be trusted by their team to be discreet.

It might sound like common sense but if you’re not specifically creating these standards and training your managers to live by them, you’re leaving it to chance. You need to make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them.

People managers get the work done

Ultimately you want everyone to work together to achieve the business goals you set at the beginning of the year. Unsurprisingly it’s your people managers that are going to help you do that. How? By ensuring that every member of their team knows what they’re objectives are, how they contribute to the business’ goals and making sure that everyone is going to have learnt new skills and have more experience than they did 12 months ago.

Annual reviews, performance reviews, appraisals – whatever you call them, they should be the most vital document and planning tool you have. Everyone’s work objectives should be aligned with the business’ goals. Every activity done should take the business 1 step closer to hitting those goals.

Because this is usually an annual process, objectives set at the beginning of the year often aren’t valid 12 months later. And no one notices! Why? The paperwork is completed, filed and ignored until it’s that time again! It makes the whole thing pointless. 

Change how it’s perceived – from an annual paperwork mountain to a relevant document that’s referred to frequently and kept up to date.

Rather than just discussing to-do lists and any pressing concerns, people managers should be using 1-2-1s to check on progress against objectives and keep them up to date. It’s far easier to evaluate the completion of an objective when it’s done rather than months later – and it’s more accurate.

Added to that, 1-2-1s should also allow people managers to give regular, thoughtful and honest constructive feedback, and coach team members so that they can achieve those stretch goals they were given to develop professionally. If there’s not enough time, the coaching can be booked in separately when it’s needed giving each team member plenty of opportunities to complete all their objectives.

There’s also room to add personal objectives. These should be something that matters to the team member outside of their profession. Life isn’t all about work, and this is a way of demonstrating that you recognise there’s more to the individuals in your team than their job. Support can be as simple as providing accountability, encouragement or ensuring that they can leave on time once a week to attend a class.

Upholding the culture

Good people managers are the ones that on top of everything we’ve already covered, talk the talk and walk the walk. They demonstrate the business’ values in their everyday behaviour – and they expect the same of their team.

They won’t let poor behaviour go without tackling it head-on. This isn’t done confrontationally. By giving feedback that’s in context with the team member’s overall performance, they can help them build on their strengths and understand what they’re doing that needs to change to perform better, going from good to great.

3. Giving employees a voice

If you want to engage your team, you need to listen to what they have to say and act on it. Unless you give them opportunities to speak out, you won’t be able to do that.

Giving your employees a way to voice their opinions is more than asking for feedback on how you can make working for your business better. It’s getting your employees involved in making your business better – inside and out.

Employees are fundamental to your business’ success

Not only are these the people that serve your customers, provide your customer experience and make your business function, they’re also the ones that have a bank of knowledge that you can draw on to improve.

Get your employees involved in making your business better inside and out

The most obvious use of this knowledge is if you’re looking to continuously improve your business’ work processes to cut waste and improve your customer experience. Your team are likely to have ideas and suggestions on how you can go about this, or be closer to the customers and have valuable insights about them.

They may also challenge your views.

We’re never right 100% of the time – wouldn’t you want to know if you’d got something wrong before you invested time, money and resources in it? Their feedback could save you £’000s.

When you involve someone in something, demonstrate that you value their feedback, ideas and suggestions, and keep that conversation going with updates and questions, that person will be invested in that ‘thing’s’ success. They’ll want it to succeed and will work towards that goal.

If you’re introducing or changing something that will affect your team, they’re more likely to buy into it if they’re invited to have their say and they feel that their views have been taken into account.

Your team has valuable experience, knowledge, and skills that are there for you to use. 

They’re also the ones that are most aware of what’s going on. If something is beginning to go wrong, having something in place so that you can be told quickly can help prevent a crisis.

Giving your employees a platform – or several

There are a lot of different ways that you can begin to engage with your team. Here are a few more – to add to the list in the section above on talking about your business.

  • Online employee engagement survey – this is focussed on what it’s like to work for your business, but can include an open text question asking for other ideas and suggestions for improvements to the business.
  • Face-to-face meetings – designed to encourage 2-way communication between senior management and the rest of the team; discussions, questions, concerns, share ideas and ask for project volunteers.
  • Ideation community site – a website where any staff member can propose an idea, and others can vote or feedback on it; those with enough support will go through to the next level for further consideration. 
  • Ideas wall – a section of wall with an idea or question written on it; anyone can write their views or suggestions on the wall or reply to someone else’s before a closing date when all the information is captured and the wall is refreshed.
  • Solutions workshops – groups of staff are bought together to use their experience and knowledge to find a solution for an issue; often using problem-solving techniques like 3Cs (Concern, Cause, Countermeasure) or 5 Whys (to find the root cause(s)).
  • Employee voice group – separate teams or departments from around the business nominate someone to represent them at a regular meeting with the senior leaders; this person brings the team’s feedback, questions and suggestions to the meeting and takes information, answers and updates to the team from the meeting.


4. Business with principles

This is the foundation that holds the previous 3 employee engagement strategies in place. Without this none of them will work. And for some people, it’s harder than it sounds.

Be honest. Do what you say you’re going to do.

And if that’s just not possible, explain to your team why it wasn’t possible.

Think about it. If someone keeps saying they’re going to do something and they never do, how long do you believe them for? It’s not going to be long before all trust is destroyed and their word means nothing.

I’ve written previously about the benefits of honesty in business and damage dishonesty can do. Acting with integrity builds trust. You need trust to create high performing teams and a fearless culture. This takes time, commitment and it can be hard work. All of which are far outweighed by the benefits to the business and its people.

Behaviour reflects the business’ values always

If you’ve spent time and money working out your brand values, chances are you did it to make a positive change to your business. You wanted to see those values translate into behaviour that everyone upheld. You should be doing the following to make sure this happens:

  • The values and expected behaviours are clearly described and communicated to everyone either during onboarding or additional training.
  • The values and behaviours are easily available for reference to everyone.
  • The senior leadership team and people managers act as role models – without exception.
  • Behaviour that’s not inline with expectations is quickly picked up and dealt with by people managers (as described above).
  • Desired behaviours are reinforced with recognition and rewards.
  • Unacceptable behaviour is dealt with formally.
  • The previous 3 points apply to everyone, no exceptions.
  • Every employee touchpoint – from meetings to emails, notice boards to the intranet – should reinforce the values.
  • The values are incorporated into processes such as sales and recruitment so that they’re present in everything and help you attract the right kind of person.
  • The performance review includes a section on the values and expected behaviour because they matter as much as the objectives.
Honest communication is key

Communicating honestly and with authenticity helps build trust. This is what you need to be doing when you’re talking about your business, and in all communications, whether it comes from the leadership team or any other team.

If promises are made when talking to employees or customers, they should be kept. That could be anything from when to expect the roll-out of the new CRM system to fixing or replacing the broken microwave in the kitchen to the measures you’ve put in place to make sure everyone lives the brand values. 

If it doesn’t happen, you must share the reason why and what the next step is.

Should there be an error in judgement, by anyone with influence, your progress will be at risk. You don’t want to lose the trust you’ve built. Don’t worry, you can save it by acknowledging what happened and apologising.

Don’t forget to keep everyone up to date on progress, what’s gone well and the promises you’ve been able to keep!

A lot of this communication can happen when you’re talking about your business or making the most of the opportunities to listen to what your team has to say. 

Backed by your business’ culture

Consistently demonstrating your values and maintaining open, honest communication will impact your business’ culture. In a good way!

Honesty will become the normal, expected thing, making sharing information easier alongside giving constructive feedback so that everyone is clear on how they can keep improving. 

Once trust is built, people will respond with innovative ideas and suggestions, be more open-minded, share credit with those that deserve it and not be afraid to fail.

So where do you start?

There’s a lot there and employee engagement is something that you need to work on always.  Like any big project, it needs breaking down into achievable tasks.

If you’ve not yet measured your employee engagement, that’s a great place to start. There’s a guide on how to do that here.

Next, which of the above are you doing already or are working towards? Take some time to evaluate where you are with them.

From there you can work out your next steps. 

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