It’s that time of year again.
The time for resolutions about how we will make the upcoming year our best ever. If you have the privilege of leading people at work, hopefully, one of your resolutions is to create a more engaging work experience for them.
If you go looking, you will find endless suggestions for how to better engage your employees ranging from simple to “you want me to do what?” And most of them aren’t bad ideas. But, where to start?
My suggestion is to stick to the fundamentals. From my early days playing basketball, I can remember coaches preaching the importance of the fundamentals. If you don’t do these things right, none of the other stuff matters. To this day, when I’m shooting baskets with my son and I can’t seem to make a basket, I remember this lesson.
- Am I squared to the basket?
- Is my elbow in?
- Am I keeping my eye on the target?
- Does my hand follow through?
These are the shooting fundamentals I learned as a boy and they still determine my success in shooting today. When my shot is off, it’s because I’m not doing one of these things–usually eyeing the target.
Engaging employees is the same way. It all starts with the fundamentals.
If you have been following my work, you know that work is a relationship for the employee. To increase engagement is to increase the employee’s feeling of connection with work thus strengthing the relationship. So the fundamentals of engagement are really the fundamentals of relationships.
To make progress this year, do these three simple things.
- Spend more quality time together. The vital ingredient of any relationship is time. Without it, there will be no relationship. As a manager, this means carving out dedicated time at least once a month for a one-on-one conversation with each person on your team. This time should be treated as sacred to be protected and preserved. But making the time isn’t enough. When you meet, you must be fully present and engaged with your employee, prepared to be nowhere else but in that conversation. It’s often a good idea to get away from your office to a place with fewer distractions. Maybe you meet for coffee or go for a walk together. Use this time to ask questions and get to know your people and what they care about. Show a sincere interest in them and they will reward you with the same.
- Say “thank you” more often. There’s been a lot of talk about employee recognition over the past several years and while I think recognition is important, it can also feel overwhelming when trying to figure out how to do it right. Instead of worrying about how and when to recognize each person the right way, start simply by saying thank you more often. Small acts of acknowledgment and appreciation can go just as far as a perfect act of formal recognition. Put a sticky note on your monitor at work with the works “Say Thank You” to keep it top of mind. Then, block one-hour in your calendar each week labeled “Gratitude” to preserve time for you to reflect and send notes of thanks for experiences from the previous week. These “thank you’s” don’t have to be for exceptional work. It can be even more powerful to say thank you for something that is expected and often goes unnoticed. In my marriage, my wife does the cooking because she’s amazing at it and she enjoys cooking (most days). It would be easy to overlook saying thank you to her for feeding us every day since it’s become our routine. But I know it matters greatly to her when we express our gratitude. This same dynamic is in play for every single person in the workplace.
- Ask more questions (and then shut up and listen). We live in a world (not just at work) where people mostly talk at one another. This can leave us feeling isolated, unheard, and wondering if we really matter. As a leader, the most powerful tool we have to address this is questions. Good questions do several things: show interest, invite sharing, and start a conversation. In management, it’s easy to fall into the trap of giving answers and providing directives–talking at our direct reports. When efficiency is prized, this is the fastest way to get people “back to work.” But, it’s killing the relationship. No one likes to be talked at. In this new year, challenge yourself to start every interaction you have with a team member with a question. Then, listen to their response intently and ask a follow-up question. You will be amazed by what you learn. If you aren’t sure what to ask, start with these.
- How are things going?
- What’s new this week?
- How are you feeling about that new project?
- How’s the family?
To improve engagement with your team or in your organization this year, focus on the fundamentals. And because these are relationship fundamentals, if you want to improve your connection with your significant other, children or friends, the same applies to those relationships too.
Here’s wishing you a prosperous and joyful new year full of strong and healthy relationships.