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Employee Engagement - Why You Need to Listen

People are the key asset that a company has. People have the ideas; people win the business; people deal with the customers; people make things happen; people fix the problems. Companies succeed or fail due to the quality of the people they employ.

A lot can and has been said about the black art of identifying, selecting and securing the right people for your business, but that really is less than half of the equation. Once you have found them, you have to keep them engaged in the business and giving their best, not to mention making sure that they stay.

Plenty of companies monitor retention rates and try to understand why people leave them, but in practice this is rarely systematic and thorough until it is already too late. All too often exit interviews don’t happen, are perfunctory, or are carried out by inappropriate people. If people are leaving due to a problem manager, what it the point of an exit interview carried out by that same manager? Quite frequently, even when exit interviews happen nothing is done with the outcomes and the information is simply filed in a drawer somewhere for posterity. At best, an exit interview only closes the stable door after the horse has bolted. To really deal with retention as an issue, you need to be understanding whether or not people want to stay with your business long before they’ve handed their notice in.

This is where retention intersects with employee engagement, and why getting employee engagement right is the best way to manage retention. Don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘employee engagement’ is just some kind of corporate jargon suitable only for laughing about during a game of buzzword bingo, it’s a new name for a very sensible and pragmatic way of doing business.

Employee engagement is a conversation, you need to both talk to your people and listen to them. Firstly, you have to make sure that your people understand what you’re doing and where you’re going with your business. People, or at least good people, like to feel part of things and that what they do matters. They are loyal to a business, and they care about it doing well. Help them understand what you’re doing and why what they are doing is important to that goal. You need them interested in what is going on around them and how what they do fits into that wider context. Most importantly, you need them to understand that you care about what they are doing and that it makes a difference, no matter how small. That’s the talking part. It isn’t a lot of use, though, if you don’t back it up with the listening.

Listen to what your people are saying about your business goals and about what is going on around them. If they aren’t happy, then you need to know about it, and you need to do something to make it better. Find out why they aren’t happy and take steps to change things to address the root cause. That might be as simple as explaining things about the business direction more clearly, it might be about training, or even about salaries and compensation. The important thing is that you need to do something about it, don’t just hope it will magically go away of its own accord. Getting back to talking again, you also need to tell your people what you’re doing about whatever it is. Even if it an issue you cannot do anything about, you need to acknowledge the issue and tell your people why you can’t fix it. Not doing anything about it, or not responding simply suggests indifference, and who wants to work for a business that is indifferent about them?

That is just part one of listening. Part two is listening to what they say about themselves and the business, not just about what is making them unhappy. They have insights into customers and operations that can be invaluable in making a business work better. They will be happy to tell you about they want to do with their careers, what training they want or need and what they think they can do in the future, as long as they think you’ll do something about it. Understanding these issues and responding to them positively is a huge factor in keeping your best people in the business and engaged with where you are going. It helps you understand who your high achievers are, too, which is vital to keeping a business healthy and developing. Perhaps equally important, you will also be able to see the people who have goals and dreams that don’t match up to where your business is going. You can’t retain everyone, sometimes you have to let them go rather than trying to hold onto them and turning them into a nexus of negativity and resentment that will infect those around them.

Everyone talks about how social media and associated technologies are changing the face of recruitment, but look at how much they can change your employee engagement strategy. It has never been easier to communicate with your people and for them to communicate with you. Blogs, forums and effective use of social media makes this simple and easy, and incredibly immediate. Equally, getting it wrong is just as immediate and highly visible. Sites like Glassdoor are becoming more widely used as people share their experiences about what it is like to work for businesses. More and more candidates are starting to look at those sites before they apply for jobs, so it impacts the quality of the new people you bring into your business as well.

You need to care about employee engagement because you need your people to make your business work. If you don’t engage with them and understand what makes them tick then they won’t stay, and they’ll tell all their friends what a lousy place to work you run. Where do you think that will leave you?