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What makes employee engagement really work?

When it comes to better people management, engaging your employees is the key to making it stick.

Walk into a workplace and mention employee engagement, involvement and people management and you may well hear a collective groan. “What’s that got to do with me?”, “All that’s just HR management jargon” or “I’ve got so much to do already, can you engage me later?!”

And even though comments like this can feel negative, it’s the kind of response that highlights why genuine employee engagement and people management excellence is so important – and why you need to be open to what your employees really think about what you are doing. Understanding what they know, think and feel – and how you can support them – will make all the difference.

It’s obvious that happy and engaged employees will be more open to change, will suggest new ideas and delight customers. But knowing that you need to engage your people and actually achieving it are two separate things. How do you really know if your people feel involved with your organisation? Do your employees understand what you are trying to achieve and how they fit in? Do you really listen to what your employees are saying and take their ideas seriously? Taking on board your employees’ perspectives can go a long way. From here, understanding the impact that feedback can have will help you to refine and develop your approach even more.

Firsthand experience and best practice can be invaluable when you’re looking at how to implement great people management practices that stick. So we asked some of the organisations we worked with at Investors in People to share how they’ve ensured people management practices really hit home with employees. Here’s what they said…
 

Lead by example

You need to make sure that your people really understand your organisational values, what you want to achieve and where they fit in, and your leaders and managers play a crucial part in this. “Any organisation that wants to make the link between developmental activity and organisational performance also needs to recognise the role of managers and the part they play,” explains Roshan Israni, Director of People Management & Organisational Development, Northumbria Community Rehabilitation Company. “From our experiences, you need to bring line managers on board with people development and develop strategies to support this.”

Being open about expectations with everyone, no matter what level they are, is also an essential part of this and again your leaders are fundamental to getting this message across. You need to make sure that all your managers have the knowledge, skills and behaviours they need to support their teams and that this is maintained, not an isolated development activity.
 

Managing change and transitions

Ensuring your employees feel supported and heard will go a long way when it comes to making sure any change processes in your business are a success. Even if change brings some negative feelings and feedback from your people, seeking it out and positively responding to it will build trust and loyalty.

“As an organisation we identified that if we were going to be successful, we needed to change – and drive that change effectively,” explains John Buffoni, managing director of the Yorkshire-based printers Ryedale Group. “To me that meant getting everyone on board with the same business reality, helping our people to understand and be comfortable with continuous change and the part they would play in the future prosperity of the business. Overall, we wanted people to see where we were going, the challenges of that journey and what that meant for them.”

Just like the Ryedale Group, if you prepare as much as you can, open up communication and bear in mind the effect changes might have on individuals at every stage you’ll be in a better position to maintain and build engagement throughout any period of change.
 

Finding the right ways to communicate

If you inspire, challenge and support your employees at all levels they can help your business meet objectives now and into the future. But considering how and when to communicate this approach is as important as the action of doing it. It’s all about translating what your organisation stands for and inviting your people to come on board so you need to get the message and the means right. Think about your methods and channels of communication carefully and how they fit with your culture and different audiences in your organisation.

For IIP Champions Arriva North West & Wales communication is a key priority and they have to carefully consider their channels, because many team members work remotely and on shift. “We use staff one-to-one job chats, have a personal review process in place and issue annual feedback letters on staff performance, while suggestion schemes and 'canteen chats' give the opportunity for feedback and interaction,” says Anne Hughes, HR manager from Arriva. “Effective communication and access to managers at all levels mean our people fully understand their contributions to supporting colleagues, meeting deadlines and KPIs, keeping customers happy, effective planning, working as a cohesive team and ensuring that Arriva has a good reputation.”

Rob Graves, a driver at Arriva’s Bootle depot agrees. “To me, communication is everything,” he says. “It makes the drivers feel appreciated and know that the feedback they communicate to management is truly valued in moving forward as a company.
The more the management involves drivers in discussions over buses, routes, running times and any other aspects of the job, the more drivers feel valued as individuals. I feel more motivated to do my job better with a more 'approachable' management team, where I feel I can pass on information about issues, know they’ll be discussed, and get feedback about them being resolved.”
 

Take this further:

For more suggestions on how to develop your leaders, embed your people management processes and empower your teams to take improvement forward in your organisation, check out our How to guides.

You can also take the pulse of your organisation’s health and wellbeing using our online tool.