Are sterile goals preventing viral employee engagement in your business?

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By David Perks

The corporate world has been scratching its head over how to better engage with staff but despite its best efforts, engagement levels remain as low as 32% by some reports.

Among other things, employee engagement results in greater discretionary effort, lower attrition, lower absenteeism and higher levels of innovation−so it is a prize worth winning.

Traditional advice is to “align your team to common goals” which seems to makes sense. Get everyone moving in the same direction like rowers in a sculling crew and they will be motivated by belonging to a team with a common objective to hit, right?

Wrong!

Many organisations use the SMART framework for goal setting, which involves setting goals that are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based.

But setting a SMART goal to “increase sales of product X by 5% by the end of Q2” is about as engaging as describing steak tartare as raw meat and an egg yolk.

These types of goals are convenient for layers of management to chart and measure but they are not doing anything to engage people’s hearts and minds in their work. And yet, these are the types of goals we commonly see cascaded down throughout the organisation.

Make SMART goals SMARTER through employee relevance

Engagement is about understanding and supporting each individual. Individual goals therefore need to be about the person, not about your business. More specifically (unless you are completely altruistic) the goals need to be about how the individual can utilise their unique skills and passion to help achieve your business outcome.

Step back from that sterile objective to increase sales by 5% and there could be some great opportunities to personalise goals that will make engagement viral in your team:

  • Mary, use your passion for blogging to promote the benefits of product X so that social media becomes our main lead source;
  • John, you love to present and you’re a fantastic story teller, so hold 3 webinars for product X that convert on average 10% of leads to prospects each session; or
  • Frank, share your skills in complex negotiation with Jack and Jill by helping them each close one of their most challenging sales opportunities in the next three months. It will take you a step closer to the leadership role you’re looking for.

Inherent in this approach is knowing what your team members want. Why do they do what they do? It also takes some creativity and courage to work out how you can balance that with the needs of your business. These are leadership qualities that are seldom recognised or encouraged so little wonder that sterile goals and disengagement prevail.

Orienting work to satisfy the purpose of each team member may seem overwhelming to start with. It is certainly a long-term undertaking for all concerned and humans are notoriously bad at long-term planning and commitment, not to mention the all too frequent reorganisations and leadership shuffles.

The best approach is to break it down into the next one thing that will move each person closer to their purpose while doing valuable work that accomplishes business outcomes. Co-create and jointly commit to a short-term action per employee that captures this and put your focus onto supporting that action. Feed success and correct issues using continuous feedback to reinforce your commitment to your team.

From these first little signs that you are genuinely interested in your people and not just the unit of work they can produce, engagement can become contagious and you’re heading for a “best places to work” list.

All this can be achieved by turning the tables and helping your people succeed in their purpose so that they can help you with yours.

 

David Perks is managing director of Pay Compliment.

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