Management Strategies for Keeping Employees Engaged During Uncertain Times
Employee engagement is always important, but in times of stress and change, it is even more critical. Using a single platform for communications can go a long way toward helping companies keep their workers aligned, connected, and committed to the organization. But leadership also plays an active role in engagement—and they don’t always do a great job when it comes down to it.
The guiding principle for leaders and managers who want to ensure that their employees are engaged is transparency and trust. That means being forthright with workers in regards to company policies and procedures, salary and benefits, expectations, and corporate performance. All the communications technology in the world won’t improve performance unless the message is clear, accurate, and honest.
Communicate honestly and directly.
We’ve all been on the receiving end of internal communications that are all “rah-rah” with little meaningful content. Of course, it’s perfectly fine—even desirable—to rally the troops with positive messages. But know the line between encouragement and embarrassment. Your enthusiastic missives must be backed up with facts, and they must be accompanied by information that is actionable, accountable, and authentic. And as with all good writing, show don’t tell. If you’re trying to convince workers that “we’re all in this together,” for example, show them the concrete ways in which the company has their backs (flexible PTO, a new employee-matching program for 401Ks or HSAs, paid opportunities to volunteer in their communities, training that enhances their skillsets and careers, etc.).
Rethink how you measure performance.
If you’re used to measuring employee contributions based on time worked and metrics met, it’s time to consider whether these goals actually match your end game. Frost & Sullivan’s research routinely shows that managers value customer satisfaction, collaboration, and innovation as the leading drivers for tech investment and other business initiatives. But are you actually measuring employee performance against those markers? Probably not. When it comes to contact center agents and service personnel, your software likely includes tools for tracking customer satisfaction scores and connecting them to specific employees, but many other people in the organization either interact with customers directly or impact their experience in some way—and when they do so in person, there is no way to digitally capture and assess those interactions. But it’s imperative to take those encounters into account when you evaluate those employees’ performance. Similarly, it can be difficult to quantify the ways in which specific employees are working together (collaboration) and contributing creative ideas to the organization (innovation). But again, it’s really important that you figure out how to do so in ways that are right for your business because these are the behaviors that ultimately lead to long-term success.
Empower all employees to make decisions and take action.
Except in the military and certain highly regulated industries or job roles, it is almost always better for employees to make decisions and sometimes fail than to never make their own decisions at all. That’s because your workers likely understand better than you do what’s happening on the ground, day in and day out with your customers—and they also know exactly which policies and edicts work, and which ones just get in the way of a better experience for all. Giving them the room to solve customer problems, suggest or tweak special pricing and offers, and rethink business processes will likely result in better outcomes. (On the rare occasions when they don’t—well, that’s the price you pay for innovation. No one bats 1,000.)
Trust in your people.
All of the above recommendations do require one thing: that you trust your employees to understand and process information correctly, respond like mature adults to news good and bad, to think well on their feet, and have the company’s and the customer’s best interests in mind, and to take their jobs and their obligations to their employer seriously. That trust starts with recruiting and hiring, as you look for candidates who are a great match to the culture and values of the organization. It also requires that you maintain clear and open communications with all employees, at every level—they need to know exactly what the company’s expectations and goals are so that they can effectively meet them, and they need to be immediately and continuously aware of all relevant policies and changes to the corporate mission. Finally, trust requires training, encouragement, and support. Good managers spend their time cultivating the skills and knowledge their employees need to be their best, then let them use those capabilities. Too often, managers base their own self-worth (and their own bosses base their performance reviews) on having employees who do what they say and follow orders. But the best managers are confident enough to identify great workers, give them the tools they need to succeed, and then allow them to put their experience and training to work.