People & Human Resources

The small, satisfying steps to helping your employees feel engaged

Michel Hogan /

Last week I suggested that employee engagement is a volunteer activity. So what are some things you can do to encourage your employees? Or if you’re an employee feeling a bit ho-hum about your days, what could urge you to sign up to the cause?

An article from Jocelyn Glei offers some good advice:

“Making progress in meaningful work is the key to staying engaged. And, as Amabile notes, progress doesn’t necessarily mean great, bounding leaps forward — in fact, it usually doesn’t. A palpable sense of progress typically emerges from studiously tracking our ‘small wins’.”

Remember meaningful work isn’t about changing the world. As described by Eric Barker, it’s “doing something that’s (a) important to you and (b) something you’re good at”.

No bounding leaps is excellent news. Just imagine putting carnival like marketplaces or pseudo pep rallies on the shelf.

The bad news is it means something quieter and altogether more sustainable — building a practice of regular checks and rewards to help people see their progress.

More from the article:

Even if you’re great at setting lofty goals, it’s hard to stay engaged if you don’t have a system in place to document your progress toward them. Big wins are few and far between on the long journey of realising an incredible idea, which is exactly why tracking our ‘small wins’ is so very important.”

A good friend once gave me a terrific piece of advice. Things were a bit tough, and although my team was keeping up the good fight, I could tell they were struggling. The advice: “celebrate the small stuff”. It turns out he was right.

The idea of making visible progress an everyday things isn’t a new idea. From bell rings in call centres when a new customer is signed, to thermometers showing funds raised, it shouldn’t be news to people that we need to see progress.

But seeing progress can be maddeningly elusive when you’re building a company or filing papers and answering calls all day, unlike when you’re building a house and it is a relatively straightforward thing.

Before I go any further, I have to say this isn’t about doing more engagement surveys. Employees are besieged by so many these days that the term “survey fatigue” has become a real thing. And as a side note, customers are reaching the same state. “No I don’t want to tell you about my experience so you can keep improving,” is rapidly becoming my default reaction when yet another “opportunity to provide feedback” lands in my inbox or pops up on my phone.

So how can you demonstrate progress and help employees see their role in achieving it? Back to the point made last week — getting it right is hard work. You can’t just buy a program off the shelf and plonk it down on top of whatever you’re doing.

To learn more about deep work click here.

Look at what the goals are, what people are doing and talk to employees about what would feel relevant to them. Dig into the small stuff.

A few years ago I was working with an organisation struggling with employee engagement. Frankly, things were bad. So we examined where they were and where they wanted to get to. Then we asked employees what three things would build a bridge between the two points.

The results were shocking. What were the top three special, super-duper, hard-to-do things people wanted to help them feel more engaged and motivated?  

They wanted their managers and other team members to acknowledge when they had done a good job. Not with awards or email blasts, just with a sincere and simple “thank you”. They wanted goals to be real so it would be easier to know when they were making progress (no more abstract fluffy stuff). And they wanted to time to catch up in person as teams, with leaders, with each other.

Every one of those things is an opportunity for people to see they are making progress and contributing to something that matters. So what three things can you do to help your employees see their progress?

See you next week.

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Michel Hogan

Michel Hogan is an independent brand thinker and adviser dedicated to helping you make promises you can keep and keep the promises you make — with a strong, resilient organisation and brand as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com.

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