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Ten Ways to Engage Your Employees

It’s no secret that having a highly-motivated workforce is good for business. But can small and medium-sized businesses really compete with the employee engagement programs offered by larger competitors? The answer is yes. By following these ten tips, even organizations with a minimal budget can create an open, accountable and enriching environment for their staff:

1. Awards only go so far. ‘Employer of the year’ award programs are great ways to show that the organization is committed to the concept of engagement, but they do not guarantee an engaged workforce. Ineffective management can undermine even the most innovative employee incentive programs. Likewise, just because an organization has not submitted to external validation does not necessarily mean they are any less of an employer of choice for their staff.

2. If you want them to care, you have to care. This one is pretty straightforward. If you want people to commit their time, energy and commitment to things that matter to your organization, it pays to show an interest in your employees and their work. Remembering names and paying attention to the things they tell you about their families, special events, holidays, hobbies and interests is critical. This type of behaviour proves to your staff they are more than just a ‘resource’ for you. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Undercover Boss, you can see this very clearly. Sometimes, the best motivation comes from someone simply paying attention and listening.

3. Demand excellence and hold people accountable. While you may not condone his brutal leadership style, those who work with Gordon Ramsey seem to be highly engaged. A small compliment from Ramsey over a well-executed risotto can wash away the devastating critique he dished out only moments prior. And whatever you might think of Ramsey, he is a perfectionist who holds people accountable and expects them to live up to their potential. While you may not wish to be quite so aggressive in the workplace, it certainly pays to be real when it comes to performance. A tough critic who gives compliments sparingly and asks people to redo work that is not up to par can certainly drive engagement.

4. What you choose not to do is just as important. As a leader, your every action is being closely monitored by others. If someone is underperforming, the team expects you to deal with it. If you turn a blind eye, or worse yet, delegate an increased share of work to others to compensate for this weak link, your stronger performers will start questioning why they should work as hard as they do. Without the proper feedback, a weaker performer loses the opportunity to step up or find a better fit for their skills elsewhere.

5. Don’t let your lack of planning become someone else’s emergency. Putting something at the bottom of your pile until you get around to it, or until a creeping deadline makes it urgent, is a clear indication that the project is not important to you or the organization. Imagine how motivating it is then to be the one who has to deal with that last-minute emergency due to your procrastination or lack of planning. If it wasn’t important to you to do it sooner, then its not important enough for someone else to have to drop everything they are working on to make it happen, perhaps causing them to fall behind on other projects.

6. Help them discover their strengths. All employees want to see personal progression. For some that might mean promotion and financial reward, for others it could mean something more personal. It’s worth asking your employees what would make today, this week, this month or this year a worthwhile use of their time and then show them how to achieve their goals.

7. Ask for feedback. Find out what your employees consider the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and ask people what they would tell a new potential hire when asked “what does it mean to work here?” But be warned: Asking for feedback can be hazardous, especially if you try to make excuses or try justifying any shortfalls rather than seeking ways to fill the gaps.

8. Be open and transparent with your results. I’m always amazed by how many corporate workers are removed from the reality of the business results. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to generate an entrepreneurial level of engagement if your workers are not exposed to the financial information needed to make sound business decisions. Show them how to read a balance sheet. Teach them why certain business metrics and key indicators matter in your business and how their role contributes to the bottom line. Even if they are not in sales, they can make a proactive impact by reducing costs, eliminating redundancy and improving efficiency to increase profits.

9. Give people the space and time they need to explore new ideas. Being able to influence the future direction of the business can be very motivating. Often, front line workers who engage with customers or interact with your products genearlly have great ideas for improving your business. Unfortunately, those with the most direct access to improvement opportunities are also the people who have the least time and authority to think about solutions. Give junior members of the team the opportunity to explore beyond their job description. Minds not yet entrenched in organizational patterns are a prime breeding ground for new connections. But be careful to avoid not-invented-here syndrome and its close cousin “we’ve tried it before and it didn’t work.” Fresh ideas plus new timing plus new champions may just be the combination needed to make it work and can be very motivating for those involved.

10. An engaged workplace is not a conflict-free zone. Constructive disagreement and collaborative debate amongst respected colleagues can be the source of great inspiration and engagement. On the other hand, conflicts that are buried can fester, creating dysfunction and disengagement. The important difference is a level of mutual respect, appreciation of diverse perspectives and a willingness to operate as if your answer is not the only way. Your role as a leader is to foster healthy debate. Encourage your people to explore alternatives to their own ideas and enable them to be honest with their differences.

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail Small Business – The Top Tens feature. Click here for the original


Hot On The Presses…

Having your content published in the newspaper or a quality trade journal can add credibility and exposure for your professional expertise, but how should you go about selecting a readable topic, developing a story idea and pitching your story to an interested editor?
Here are some quick tips inspired by great questions from one of my clients

Read first …

If there is a publication you admire, feel is well suited to your ideas or has an ideal subscriber base for you to reach, scan through several recent editions. Get a feel for the kinds of articles and columns the publication covers. Get a sense of the tone and pitch of their stories: are they deep and detailed, or light and breezy? Do they reference a range of other sources or simply provide “top tips” and practical ideas? What are the hot topics or themes in the area you wish to write about?

Figure out what you might have to say…

Before you write anything, have a clear idea of what you might want to write about and what might be of interest to your target reader. If your topic has been covered recently, how can you build on what has been published already? Where can you add a new or slightly different perspective? Can you bring additional concrete examples or “how to” steps into the discussion?

Why should anyone read it? …

Once you have thought about what’s already been written and what new slant or perspective you might be able to offer – think about what the reader might have to gain from reading your article or listening to your ideas. While an article is a potential soapbox for providing your point of view to a wider audience, it should also provide a call to action and leave the reader better for having taken away some of your ideas. What are the 3-5 points that someone will learn as a result of reading your piece?

Write the Abstract …

Now write a “pitch paragraph” or abstract rather than the full article. This will save you a lot of time and wasted effort writing an article that struggles to find a placement, or rewriting an article which hits the right notes but is not best suited to a publication’s audience. Use 300 to 500 words to outline your core theme, highlight the main points your article will touch on, and an overview of the leave behinds you will deposit in the mind of the reader.

Show where it fits…

If you can, show how your article will fit into the landscape of the discussion topic (i.e., x writer recently referenced this, this article will go beyond that idea to discuss y & z in more detail and demonstrate how n happens …).

These are just a few ideas on how to get your content noticed by editors.  I’d love to hear your hot tips for getting ‘on’ the presses.  

Do you have time to make a new friend today?

Today an inbound unsolicited cold call got me thinking. Do we always welcome new contacts into our lives with an open attitude, or do we inadvertently shoo them away with quiet reserve and resistance?

“Have I caught you at a bad time? the caller asked, No? then please allow me to introduce myself…”

And so began a delightful conversation with a new business contact. Yes, it was a sales call, and there was a certain amount of candour over the reason for the call and the hope of the commercial future it might bring, but there was also a warm and genuine exchange of two people who might benefit from getting to know each other.

It was not so much in the words the caller used. Rather it was the gentle, polite and invitational way in which they were delivered. Translated, they said “do you have time to make a new friend today?”  Listening to the subtext, I paused and opened up for a great conversation with an intelligent, friendly and entertaining business contact. Now perhaps someone else might use exactly the same lexicon and I would have found their delivery presumptuous, manipulative, intrusive. But with a perfect tone and a pitch that can only evolve over time, the caller proceeded to intrigue, amuse and entice me into a conversation that proved fun and purposeful. Light banter, exchange of relevant information, occasional non-intrusive questions, a fair exchange of air time…within moments I am seduced, my mood is lightened and my intellect tweaked by the breath of fresh air that just approached my desk by way of an unsolicited phone call.

Got me thinking…

What if there is no such thing as a cold call. Only a cold manner. Maybe the resulting mood or temperature of the call is altered simply by the manner in which the caller or the recipient approaches the potential opportunity for initiating a new relationship. If you are not open to being approached by a new friend or contact, how do you know what opportunities you may be overlooking? Maybe that stranger calling you is simply a friend you haven’t met yet …

I see dead people…

If you’re a fan of M.Night Shayamalan then you’ll recognize this memorable line from the Movie The Sixth Sense.  This is the moment when Haley Joel Osment provides Bruce Willis with a huge insight into what might be going on. He goes on to share that they are… “Walking around like regular people. They don’t see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dead.”

At the time, Bruce’s character Malcolm puts this odd comment down to a young boy’s morbid imagination. It takes several more scenes for Bruce’s character Malcolm Crowe, and the audience watching, to realise what Cole really meant with these words.  The power of the movie comes from this slow realisation that a change in mindset and perspective is needed to truly see what is happening all around them.

I sometimes wonder if that’s what’s going on in the corporate world today. In amongst the change agents and innovators, the doers and decision makers, are a large number of ‘ghosts’ not realising that the conversations they are having and work they are doing are part of an old reality. People clinging to a sense of what used to work, the way things have always been done, and the comfortable tried and true… But the world of work has changed. As people are shouting from the rooftops all around us – lead, rise up, make a difference, bring value, build business based on trust, give away knowledge, attract followers, stop interrupting people, give people a reason to invest in you or your business (by providing deep value…)

Don’t wait for the splashes of red to learn you’re one of the dead people…