Recruiting and retaining top talent today is the single highest challenge and expense that businesses face.  The problem is that most of them are doing it wrong.

The average adult today between the ages of 18 and 46 has 11.3 jobs.  With access to job boards, freelance sites, consulting deals and on line “resume databases” the idea of staying with one company for a long time is almost a foreign concept.

The issue however is not ‘job-hopping non-committers’, it’s terrible bosses, poor management and disconnected work environments.

Employee engagement as a solution has come up quite a bit over the last few weeks, and it’s accurate.  However, “act in a way that makes it seem like you care and try to make people feel as though they are important” as a management tip (and I will not footnote the article spouting that riveting advice) is part of the problem.

The solution is not to “pretend.”  It has nothing to do with “acting.”  Trying to act like you care is fairly transparent, and employees feel uncomfortable answering questions like “how is your family?” when they know you’re asking because you think it makes you look good.

Making small talk with an employee for a few minutes every day does not mean that you are “building a relationship”.   And just taking the employees out for beer and wings once a week to spend some “quality time” outside of the office doesn’t mean you’re bonding either.  

Now, I’m not suggesting to stop having team events.  Just don’t mistake buying beer and chicken as “connecting” with your team, especially if when you’re in the office it’s clear that you don’t.

What really makes a difference is when a management team understands and implements the following authentic factors and practices into their business.  Insert these into your work environment and watch the evolution of engagement occur. 

1.  Motivation

Have a one on one conversation with every single employee and find out what they are motivated about. The key to motivational matches are these two simple questions:  what do people want? and, can you help them get it?

Ask them and discover what their goals are.  What are they working towards?  What are their long term goals?  What are their short term needs?  Gain a clear understanding about what is important to them.

Next determine how working with your company can help them either achieve some of those goals, or help them get closer to achieving them.  What is the value proposition for each employee?

Too often companies only promote the company’s goals and expect that everyone will be excited to be part of the team that hits them.  If people have no connection to the goal, or the accomplishment of it in no way serves their own goals, they don’t care if you hit them or not, they’ve learned how to act when they have to too.

2.  Clarity

It is essential that there is explicit clarity about all of the following: individual roles, tasks, duties, timelines, goals, expectations for performance, who does what for whom by when, and who to go to for assistance when facing challenges in different areas.

Understanding exactly what is expected/required out of every employee as well as the processes and code of conduct everyone must follow permits simple confidence to exist in the execution of all tasks.  

This also fosters an environment that can feel more like a community.  Everyone knows what their individual job is and how that impacts the rest of the team.  Working together is easier when you can identify colleagues that you can collaborate with on certain tasks.  

One of the main factors in job selection for everybody is who they get to work with. Ensure your employees are set up to preform at their best and in turn are great to work with, so that your team genuinely appreciates each other.

Clarity demands accountability.  Accountability recruits individual performance and commitment in a team environment very quickly.

Never keep people guessing.  When there is a lack of clarity progress stagnates.  People would rather be slow or late than wrong.

3.  Recognition and Reward

Recognition is a huge driver of engagement.  The second motivational factor (after material success), recognition and reward drives action and commitment in a powerful way.  The key is to understand what type of recognition or reward each employee desires.

Everyone is different.  Some people seek public praise.  Others desire simple private appreciation for the hard work they invest. Others are all about the financial rewards and bonuses.  Some want quality time with a mentor.  Others are driven by promotions, added responsibilities or growth opportunities – investing in courses for them or training to increase their skills.

As opposed to guessing what each employee seeks from a recognition standpoint, ask them.  We all have different recognition desires, so instead of recognizing someone in a way that doesn’t serve them, find out how each employee most desires to be recognized and when its deserved – really deliver.  

Read this article to learn more about how to effectively provide recognition.

4.  Aligned Values 

Often companies have a list of their values.  They are usually posted on the wall somewhere, printed at the bottom of their letterhead or attached in the signature of their emails.  

Don’t let them become the same as the “smiles are free” sign behind the counter at that famous fast food place…  (Seemingly written there where customers can see it because no one working behind the counter actually has a smile on their face.)  

Ensure you behave in alignment with the company’s values.  Any demonstration of management behaviour contrary to the company’s values makes every employee who knows about it believe that the values are just there to look good on the wall.

Values deeply connect us.  Honouring values generates a deep respect as well.  As opposed to only focusing on the company’s values, find out from each employee what their highest values are too.  You can have them go through this quick exercise to do so – What do you most value?

Once they have identified their highest values, have them post their top 5 values in their workspace so that others can see them.  Respecting each other’s values is possible when you know what they are.

Knowing that you share some of the same values generates a connection to the things that we hold most important.  

5.   Communication

Be available.  Ensure that communication is freely accessible to anyone seeking information or assistance.  Meet regularly to discuss progress, challenges and course correct if needed.  

Employees will get frustrated if they want to get their work done but need something from management before they can.  If they have to wait and suspend their work until they get what they need because no one is available to provide it, they will feel unimportant and overlooked.

High performers take this type of project mismanagement or absenteeism as a form of disrespect.  You’ve hired them to do a job, ensure they have everything they need to do it well.

Regularly touch base to ensure everyone is on track and confident about how to handle their tasks.  Provide both regular encouragement as well as specific constructive feedback.  

People want to learn how to improve so providing direction and further education creates an environment that fosters real experienced growth.

6.   Contribution

Provide a contribution map that defines how each job interlaces with all others and influences the success of the overall project or business.  Ensure that everyone has the opportunity to really make a contribution that they are proud of.

Ask your employees what type of contribution they think they bring to the workplace.  Ask them what kind of contribution they would like to bring to the workplace – their answers I am certain will surprise you.  

Getting “permission” to contribute the value that individuals believe they can deliver, to enhance their workplace can completely change the level of engagement someone has all by itself.

Brendon Burchard wisely professes that the #1 leadership secret is people support what they help to create.  If it’s appropriate, allow brain storming solution sessions to exist with your team.  You do not have to solve every problem behind the closed doors of the management offices.  

When people collectively decide on even a piece of a solution or next steps program, their follow through and desire to see success dramatically increases.  Let them have some “solution accountability skin in the game”.

employee engagement

7.  Security

People love to feel secure.  Even though it is common for shorter work contracts today more than ever, being dismissive of the concept of security and indifferent to the extension of work for any of your employees beyond your current project may be your biggest mistake.   

Strive towards a corporate culture where people do feel secure about their future with your company.  If you deliver on the first five factors then you’ve created an environment that employees won’t want to leave.  

Instead of thinking about security exclusively for your employees, think about adhering to these factors as the security for your company. 

Be secure in the fact that when you recruit the best people and spend resources to train them, that you won’t lose them because you manage them or your work environment poorly.

Employee engagement isn’t a strategy, it’s a reality that either exists or it doesn’t and it’s primarily responsible for why your company is either winning or losing the recruiting and retention war.

Where the first six factors exist, the seventh one is the result.  Follow them.  Solve your employee engagement issue for good.