Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Recipe for an Engaged Workforce

Employee engagement is like that thing that kids have which we all wish we could bottle up and sell to make our millions. It’s that unexplainable energy and drive that is evident in their behavior. How do I connect children’s energy and employee engagement in my brain you may be wondering? Well, wonder no more, I’ll tell you. I am always amazed at how my children can spend 5 hours running around a zoo and still have the energy to go play at the park and play for a few more hours when they get home. I wish I could bottle that energy up and sell it to the world.


I have come across employees in my years in HR that have a similar energy in the workplace. You wonder how they can do X for 8 hours and still be smiling and full of life at the end of the day. Maybe they are in sales and despite 100 rejections, they keep their game face on and keep smiling and do their best on every customer interaction every time which leads to the next 100 sales. How can they stay so positive? Or for a person working in a labor intensive or physically or mentally demanding job, how do they still do their best all day and even in the proverbial 11th hour?

Here is my theory, observation and subsequent recipe for an engaged employee… Start with good leadership, throw in a dash of continued support and encouragement, whisk away all negative feedback and pour in positive reinforcement, and combine that with a person who is both willing to do the job and qualified to do it. This is your recipe for an engaged and happy workforce. Granted, some employees will defy logic and be happy and engaged even with the worst manager and the worst working conditions, and I wish I knew how to find more of those folks. However, we can help employees to be engaged and thriving in the workforce with my recipe.

I know it sounds easy enough, but how do you get all those ingredients to work together? Training your managers to lead and not micro-manage is an important first step. I highly recommend that every manager read ‘Whale Done!” by Ken Blanchard, Thad Lacinak, Chuck Tompkins, & Jim Ballard. It is a great book about the power of positive reinforcement in relationships. It’s a short and easy read with some great insights. Positive reinforcement is an important tool to help employees feel empowered and encouraged to do the right things at work without the shame and resentment that is often brought about from negative reinforcement.

No matter how much positive reinforcement you provide an employee, if they are not qualified or trained to do a job, they are not likely to succeed or at least not to thrive. It is important to make sure that you have the right employee in the right job. To be fully engaged at work, an employee needs to be in a position that they have the ability to thrive in. If they struggle to understand core concepts and what is expected, they are not likely to really be tuned in and using their strengths to make improvements to efficiencies and to tackle tough assignments.

Is your workforce engaged and doing their best? If so, great! You are doing something right! If not, start by working with your staff to ensure they are getting the support and encouragement they need from management to tackle the challenges they face every day.

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