How to Maximize Your Employees’ Ability & Willingness to Perform at Their Potential
We always talk about building an engaging employee experience environment where people can thrive with the right tools, resources and culture. Where does it start? What does it look like?
Keynote speaker, author, employee engagement expert and workplace culture consultant Jason Lauritsen defines employee engagement as “the degree to which an employee is willing and able to perform up to their potential.” During an interactive Q&A session Jason explored the foundations of an engaging employee experience that unlocks that potential. Here’s a synopsis of the 9 key takeaways:
1. Differentiate employee engagement from employee experience
In HR we do a lot of rebranding. We take employment and make it recruiting. We take recruiting and make it talent acquisition. But that’s not what’s going on with employee engagement versus employee experience. They are certainly linked but they are not the same.
Engagement is an outcome measurement. Experience is something the employee is immersed in every day. Employee experience is the kind of thinking we’ve been waiting for to break us open on engagement. It moves us into a proactive mindset. We start to think from the beginning about how we can design and create our workplace culture for great employee experiences, as opposed to measuring our workplace to see how engaged we are, and THEN going back and trying to fix the brokenness.
What’s essential to remember is that no one individual or department can own this by themselves; the organization as a whole has to design and create the experience. Communication and HR and IT play a role. Management and leadership play huge roles. Our fellow employees play a role.
2. Shift from a contractual to a relational employee experience mindset
Organizationally we treat work largely like a contract with the employee. Almost all of our management and HR processes are designed around enforcing that contract, making sure we’re getting our money’s worth. Performance appraisals, job descriptions, policy manuals and all of those things are really about the organization saying: “Hey, this is what we’re going to get back from you in this contract.”
Yet the data on engagement tells us that what employees need to feel good about working are things like feeling valued, cared for, trusted, accepted and embraced. All of these things are not contractual in nature. They are relational in nature. Employees don’t experience work like a contract. They experience work far more like a relationship.
3. Build employee experience from a foundation of healthy relationships
The work of creating circumstances that maximize a person’s ability and willingness to perform at their potential, whatever their ceiling is, begins with building a foundation of healthy relationships.
For that to happen, we have to think about how we design processes, how we define the way a manager should interact with employees, how we coach managers. It has to be built from an understanding of how healthy relationships work. It’s about creating positive moments of recognition. It’s about reinforcing someone’s social worth. It’s the things we knew were important from the data, but we didn’t necessarily understand why. It’s important in a relational context. And it’s important to emphasize support going in both directions – the idea of reciprocity. We expect employees to be loyal, but we don’t always demonstrate loyalty back to them. In a healthy relationship it’s reciprocal. It goes both ways.
Start with the most central unit or source of the relationship – which we know in most organizations, is our relationship with our immediate supervisor and our close peers. If employees are going to feel like they’re in a good relationship at work they’re going to need to feel like they’re in a decent relationship with those people.
4. Connect on a deeper level to build an engaging employee experience
A good place to build your employee engagement foundation is to require managers to have one-on-one Sync-Ups with their people ideally weekly, depending on the nature of their work. Help managers understand how to have a good conversation. That alone can transform how people feel.
Think about where you commune, where you build relationships. What do we do around team meetings or huddles or when we’re together? What does that look like? What does that feel like? Is it very contractual, very one-way? Or are we using it to foster relationships?
It comes down to things like the kinds of programs, communication, and tools we offer to everyone in our organization so that we can all more freely and readily share appreciation with each other. Appreciation is so core to a healthy relationship. Ritualize appreciation as part of almost every meeting structure; build it into employees’ most frequent interactions or touch points every day.
5. Make communication king of the employee experience
If we want to have a better relationship with employees, it requires a lot more communication. It requires a lot more dedicated time. This is why the employee voice has gotten to be a big deal. It’s not just asking. It’s truly listening. It’s asking better questions; it’s really being present in those conversations.
If there were something wrong in one of your personal relationships what would be your first instinct for how to address it? Dedicate time to it? Talk about it with the person, right? That’s something we overlook in the workplace.
Teach managers to have better conversations. Teach employees to have better conversations with each other. Teach them how to have good feedback conversations, or conversations in general. Asking and listening and acting are super important. To establish a better foundation for employee engagement, those are the things you’ve got to get really good at.
6. Listen, really listen to employee feedback
We all use tools like Surveys & Insights, focus groups and Sync-Ups to get feedback. But for some organizations, getting input can be like pulling teeth. That’s not a feedback problem. That’s not an employee problem. It’s not a question or a voice issue. It’s a trust issue. In these situations you’ve got to find ways to start re-establishing trust. Demonstrate that you really do value opinions, you really do want to hear: “When you tell us something we’re going to listen and we’re going to take action on it.”
If there’s been some kind of breakdown in that cycle in the past – where people were upfront and honest and nothing happened (or they perceived that nothing happened), or they’d been burned by feedback coming back on them somehow in a bad way – why should they bother again? Find ways to address communication gaps, remembering that it’s not just about pushing information out.
Communication’s purpose is to reduce uncertainty, to create greater clarity and trust. Whether it’s a large or small employee population, think very fundamentally about what lies behind relationships and what we can do through communication – whether it’s one-to-one or one-to-many.
7. Think and ACT like a computer hack when building or modifying the experience of employees
If you think about computer hackers, they go into a string of code and manipulate it to try to make the whole program do something different. It’s about identifying small changes that will have a fairly sizable impact on the outcome of the process.
Engagement hacking is about taking a bigger problem and breaking it into smaller pieces to find something you can take action on now.
Say something surfaces – we hear we have a team trust issue. Hacking means taking that problem and breaking it down to identify all the different things that could be going on. It might mean naming all the different components that lead to team trust – expectations, the manager’s behavior, the people on the team, the way the team meets. Identify one thing to start experimenting with, make changes, take action, try it and see what happens. If nothing changes, throw it out and try something else.
Leadership trust and communication are always common survey issues. Those are long fixes. What small change can you try quickly? Do that, and then find another one, and another one after that, and so on. That’s the magic of hacking. Break it down, find a small thing you can take action on, and go.
8. Amplify the impact between customer and employee experience
Every executive group is different in terms of what their hot buttons are. If you’re going to be talking about engagement, a good tactical way to get leadership buy-in is to talk about performance.
Customer experience design is something executives have been thinking about for a while. Make the link between customer experience and employee experience. Talk about the customer experience, why we spend so much time thinking about how we want customers to feel or the experience we want them to have, and then show how the same dynamics are in play with the employee experience.
We try to engage customers, we try to listen to them, we try to make sure they never leave us through loyalty programs. Take those constructs of how we look at our customers and relate them to talent so they can see the picture you’re painting.
“Experience” is also showing up in software. User design experience is another well developed field that you can use to help leaders understand and think about designing an experience for employees that naturally guides them toward success. Anchor the employee experience work you want to do with concepts from other parts of the business that are already accepted to be valuable, and point it back to employee success. Don’t talk about happiness or well-being or discretionary effort, which leaders aren’t really familiar with, talk in terms that matter to them and connect back to the bottom line.
9. Draw from your own personal employee relationship experiences
Do relationship styles differ by age or generation? Sure, the way we communicate with our grandparents is different from the way we communicate with kids. But everyone want to be appreciated; we all want to be heard and seen.
Reflect on your personal life. Your own experience will likely give you a lot of employee engagement answers – including how to deal with a multi-generation workforce. Start putting the things you do at work through that personal relationship filter.
Think about traditional performance appraisals and how awful that process is both for employees and managers. Would you do something like that to your kids or parents or life partner? So why do we do that to people at work?
It’s pretty simple: when we start stepping back, we realize that we’ve been doing a lot of stuff that doesn’t build relationships very well. Set aside the annual appraisal and start thinking more deeply about how we empower people throughout the year so they can succeed in every moment.
“We’re dealing with humans, and I’ve never met two single human beings that are the same or do relationships the same, which is also the complexity of the work environment,” Jason reminds us. “We have to be conscious of that. Engagement and experience exist on a unit level, and that unit is the human being.”
At WorkTango, we’re revolutionizing how the world’s most forward-thinking companies engage and inspire their people. We offer the only holistic Employee Experience Platform built for the modern workplace that enables meaningful recognition and rewards, offers actionable insights through employee surveys, and supports alignment through goal setting and feedback.
WorkTango is built for the workplace we all want to be a part of – where priorities become clear, achievements are celebrated, and employees have a voice. To learn more, check out our platform overview video, or schedule a demo.