Over and over, around the globe, researchers are reporting low levels of employee engagement and predicting these will threaten economic recovery and corporate survival. The news certainly looks dire and is leaving many executives, managers and HR professionals wondering what specifically they can do to engage and retain their employees.
If you look at most of the surveys and questionnaires used to measure employee engagement, there are some recurring themes. To be engaged, researchers commonly tell us employees need:
clear goals and expectations
a sense that they and their work matter to their manager and the organization
meaningful feedback on a regular basis
opportunities for growth and development
fair and consistent rewards, recognition, appreciation
What’s encouraging here is that there are some basic HR performance management best-practices that, when adopted systemically in an organization, ensure all these needs are met — resulting in higher employee engagement, satisfaction, productivity and retention.
Provide Employees with Clear Goals that are Linked to Organizational Goals
As part of your regular process for assessing employee performance, (or as part of a separate goal setting process) you should ensure that all employees are given individual goals that set out what is expected of them in terms of performance. Ideally, each employee goal should be linked to a higher level organizational goal that it helps support; this gives employees the context they need to understand the importance and value of their work.
The tried and true practice of setting SMART (specific measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound) goals is still recognized to be one of the most effective. And goal setting is even more engaging when employees are involved in drafting their goals; this gives them a greater sense of ownership and accountability. Two more things are important here: ensuring progress on goals is tracked and communicated, and providing training on how to write effective goals.
To feel engaged and connected with the organization’s high-level goals, employees need to receive regular communication on their status and progress; that way they can feel a measure of participation and pride in achieving organizational goals. And all your staff need regular training on how to write effective goals; it’s not an easy skill to master and is easy to forget when you only do it once a year.
Ensure Employees Get Ongoing Feedback on Their Performance
All employees need to receive regular feedback on their performance, to know what they are doing well and where they can improve, and more importantly to feel someone cares about them and their performance.
Giving feedback, while an essential part of your performance appraisal process, should not be limited to performance appraisal time, but rather, given all year round, as part of an ongoing, two-way dialogue on performance and expectations.
Here again, training can make managers more proficient in this skill and engrain it in your corporate culture.
Provide Opportunities for Professional and Career Development
Being given the opportunity to develop is another key contributor to employee engagement. You can encourage this by making development planning an essential part of your performance appraisal process, ensuring there is a budget and resources to support employee development, and encouraging internal mobility and promotions.
Employees should be given development plans to address any performance gaps, but also to help them broaden and/or deepen their knowledge, skills and experience, and prepare them for career progression. Since research shows that up to 90% of the learning we do is on the job, special emphasis should be placed on developmental work assignments and coaching.
Encourage High Performance with Performance-based Rewards and Recognition
To foster employee engagement, your compensation and rewards programs need to be transparent and fair, but most importantly, linked to performance. This link to performance communicates to employees that what they do matters.
The most engaging programs include a variety of forms of rewards and recognition: formal and informal, monetary and non-monetary.
Effective HR Tools to Drive Up Employee Engagement
Leverage Employees’ Strengths and Passions One final way to create higher employee engagement is to actively leverage your employees’ strengths and passions. Managers can do this through work assignments and goal setting, by using every opportunity to assign employees work that is meaningful to them, that they are passionate about, and that leverages their core strengths. But managers and organizations can also tap into employee strengths and passions through special assignments, task forces, organizational initiatives or even volunteer work. Recent research has found that capitalizing on your employees’ strengths and passions drives significantly higher productivity, commitment and engagement — leading to superior results.
As the research tells us, cultivating high employee engagement is good for business. The good news is, your basic HR performance management programs can help you provide almost everything your employees need to be engaged in their work and loyal to their organization. The only challenge is to do them well.
Sean Conrad is a Certified Human Capital Strategist and Senior Product Analyst at Halogen Software. He has spoken at numerous industry events sharing his unique blend of technology expertise and understanding of HR-specific challenges. He writes regularly about employee engagement and other talent management topics on the Halogen Software blog.