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How to Make Employee Engagement a Team Effort

By George Dickson

Inspiring genuine employee engagement is one of the greatest, most rewarding challenges you can take on. It has the power to improve your organization at nearly every level, but you'll never harness it on your own.

Engagement can't be a singular (or departmental) effort. A lot of well-intentioned engagement strategies never get off the ground because they were designed in vacuum, then deployed in the wild.

That's never going to work.

If it does work, it's not likely to work for long. A successful and sustainable engagement strategy draws both its strength and its focus from every member on the team. 

If it's not a team effort — if it's not something everyone believes in and takes part in  it's not going to reach its full potential.

But how do you achieve that?

There are a few elements of engagement that are often overlooked or misunderstood, and they are some of the most direct avenues to success. Paying attention to them can help strengthen your engagement strategy overall, and increase its impact.

Inspiration

You can't legislate engagement; you can't buy it with free lunch or ping pong tables, and you can't hire for it.

You have to inspire it.

Inspiring engagement isn't a switch you can flip, or something you can approach halfheartedly. There aren't any quick hacks or shortcuts to success.

In his recent Forbes article, Carmine Gallow shares a story about meeting Sir Richard Branson, and the impression that made on him:

"Inspiring leaders praise people and encourage them to be their best selves. Richard Branson once said, “When you lavish praise on people, they flourish; criticize and they shrivel up.” When I spent a day with Branson I noticed that he gave compliments constantly — to his staff, crew, and airport personnel. He walks the talk."

Praise and recognition are some of the most universal means of inspiring engagement, and as in the example of Branson above, it's got to be a default, rather than a switch.

As important as it is to have a culture of praise and recognition expressed by senior leadership, its impact is magnified dramatically if it pervades throughout every level of the organization.

So how do you make that a reality?

Participation

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Employee engagement isn't "HR's job," and it's not only HR's fault when it fails  unless HR acquiesces to that role

It's not reasonable to expect one department to accept sole responsibility for employee engagement. If you're going to cultivate the necessary environment for strong engagement, you'll need a motley collection of senior leadership, middle managers, team leads, individual contributors, and new hires all pulling in the same direction.

As experts in maximizing human capital, HR pros can and should play a crucial role in developing an engagement strategy, but the comprehensive nature of engagement means it's everyone's responsibility to develop and sustain it across the organization.

Executing on the planning, implementation, adoption of a solid framework for engagement will make it much easier and more appealing for them to do that.

But that's just one part of a greater task.

You may already know the impact that employee engagement can have across the organization. Although it may seem clear as day, it's not often common knowledge for everyone else.

Encouraging global participation requires an effective educational strategy.

Education

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A successful engagement strategy impacts and draws its strength from every member on the team. One of the greatest barriers to achieving wholesale engagement is incomplete buy-in, and perhaps the greatest challenge for buy-in is education.

Each of these groups of stakeholders are likely to have different buy-in criteria, and it's your job to show them the value and impact it will have.

That might sound overwhelming, but here's the part that's magic: once they see the value, they'll be more likely to push together to achieve and maintain it.

Senior leaders will want to know how engagement impacts the organization's bottom line and how your organization's engagement stacks up against others. 

Managers are going to want to know how improved engagement helps them and their teams achieve goals more effectively.

Individual contributors are going to want to know what kind of impact their work, and their level of engagement has on the organization, their team, and the rest of the world.

Solid communication is the key to expressing that value, and how you're adding to it. 

Communication

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Effective communication is important in many contexts. In the case of employee engagement, it's absolutely critical.

Developing a feedback mechanism can dramatically improve your engagement strategy, and help stakeholders feel like their unique voice is being heard.

There are a lot of ways to implement an employee engagement feedback system, from home-grown solutions to purpose built SaaS solutions. The most important thing is to have a channel for feedback available, to accept feedback for the gift that it is, and to use the insights you've gained to improve.

At the very least, it's important to show that you've heard, absorbed and reflected on the feedback you've received. Even if you can't implement changes right away, you can show that you're working to infuse that feedback into your strategy.

Failing to follow up on any of that feedback is one of the easiest ways to sabotage all the hard work you're doing to build an environment conducive to employee engagement. 

Good communication isn't just about words.

Making the work you're doing and its results visible can be more powerful than any words. In Reese Haydon's recent TLNT article, he shared some research that laid out the negative impact a lack of communication and follow-through can have on an engagement strategy. In the example he shared:

  • 33 percent of employees are engaged before any surveys are issued
  • 25 percent of employees are engaged if surveys are completed, but a firm does not create any action plans
  • 20 percent of employees are engaged if surveys are completed, action plans are made, but no follow-through is achieved

It's not enough to follow through on the commitment to improve engagement. That follow-through needs to be visible to the stakeholders supporting the initiative in order to keep them actively participating.

Transparency is a priceless asset in this effort.

If you're not able to implement something, or it's a ways down the roadmap, make it clear as to why. If you have implemented something successfully, make sure stakeholders are aware of it.

In conclusion

A successful and sustainable engagement strategy is a team effort, and paying attention to a few important factors can help ensure everyone on the team is pulling in the same direction.

If you're ready to take the next step in building an organizational culture that inspires employee engagement, check out our latest guide:

20 Surprising Employee Retention Statistics You Need to Know

Written by George Dickson

George Dickson

George is dedicated to strengthening organizational cultures with thoughtful leadership and frequent recognition. George formerly managed content and community at Bonusly.

Originally published on August 10, 2016 → Last updated August 29, 2017