Peer to Peer: How can I keep my employees engaged in the work they're doing?

Ensure staff buy into business purpose and have tools they need to succeed

Sandra Reder: President and founder, Vertical Bridge Corporate Consulting

It starts with the bigger question – why are they doing what they're doing? It's not about providing pool tables, yoga classes or funky offices. While these may be indicative of your corporate culture, this is not what ultimately engages your employees.

Most organizations have not looked at the "why" in what they're doing as a business for a very long time – if ever. The reason they exist has been forgotten. What's your purpose– why did you create the business in the first place? It's not to provide great customer service – that's a given, not a purpose. It's not to treat all people with respect – that's a value, not a purpose.

Individuals engage with each other and businesses for one reason: they believe in what each stands for. Some great examples of this are Nurse Next Door – its "why" is "making lives better"; or Cisco Canada, which recently topped the Aon Hewitt Top 50 Employers in Canada survey – its purpose is "changing the way we work." When an organization can clearly articulate its purpose, it engages the people who have the same desire, purpose and values. The "why" should be woven into hiring and interviews and then throughout the life cycle of every employee. It becomes part of individual and company-wide goal setting, performance reviews and training and development. It's the compass that ensures that everyone is moving together in the right direction.

The "why" is often difficult to articulate; it takes real effort, along with some digging, to get to the fundamental reason of why the business exists. If you're able to get to this foundational place and ensure your organization is living its "why" in all that it does, it becomes much easier to keep employees focused and engaged. When the work they're doing aligns closely with the "why," it ignites a common desire to succeed.

Jonathan Willcocks: Founder and president, Pinnacle Pursuits

I work with executive leaders and management teams from all sectors of business as a group dynamics coach and team-building facilitator. I know that people power organizations, and I have learned the following:

•Adopt a team-first mindset. People excel when their work supports open and honest communication, listening, teamwork and accountability. Ensure your team is fully aligned with each other and with clients. This requires listening, understanding, asking clarifying questions and being open to new possibilities.

•Have a clear vision and inspired leadership. Martin Luther King didn't say "I have a plan." He said "I have a dream." We all need a compelling vision to create a sense of purpose as this directly affects motivation.

•When you focus on passions and strengths, happiness and productivity skyrocket. If your staff don't love what they do or feel frustrated because they don't have the skills, you should look for ways to alter their tasks, teach them the skills or restrategize their approach.

•Encourage creativity and challenge. Creativity and challenge innately inspire people to think differently, challenge the status quo, push boundaries and explore new frontiers. Promote the idea of embracing challenge and celebrate "mistakes" , because they're learning opportunities for everyone, and inspire people to keep raising the creative bar, to learn and to grow.

•Create goals and incentives together. Studies show that recognition and reward programs work, especially when they're co-created. Find out what makes your employees tick, collaboratively create goals, and encourage and support wherever and however possible.

•It's about the people. Once your staff love working with the people, they will love working for the company. So create time for a team retreat or strategic play day.

Susan Alley: Vice-president, human resources, Western Canada, FirstOnSite Restoration

At FirstOnSite, we remediate conditions caused by fires, floods, winds, mould, environmental hazards, accidents and casualties. The work is 24/7 and often dirty, hazardous or unpleasant. It takes a special kind of individual to work in our industry. But helping others in their most dire times of need produces unparalleled satisfaction for our employees.

But is this end result enough to keep employees focused and engaged every day? Is it enough to make them want to stay? We believe that's where the leaders of our organization can make the difference.

We believe that simpler is better. You have to satisfy critical, foundational needs and build from there.

•Ensure employees know what is expected of them.

•Provide the tools and resources to do the jobs.

•Provide opportunities for your employees to do what they do best.

•Try to regularly recognize or praise for good work done, genuinely care for the welfare of your employees and encourage their development.

•Do your employees' opinions seem to count? Do they feel their jobs are important? The answers must be yes to both those questions.

•Do your leaders facilitate your employees to work as a team committed to doing quality work?

•Do you provide opportunities for employees to build friendships at work?

•Does someone speak with them regularly about their progress?

•Do they have opportunities to learn and grow?

Test progress regularly through a simple engagement survey based on the tenets above. Whatever the result, you will have established your foundation and know where you need to augment and build.

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