One of the hardest things about employee engagement is knowing how to do it. The engagement gap is well documented, and time and again well-intentioned leaders are left scratching their heads when it comes to figuring out how to drive meaningful, sustainable change.

Every company’s employee engagement journey is different. What works for one organisation can’t always be applied verbatim to another, but there are some principles that might help along the way.

At Propellernet, we’ve tried and tested lots of bright and not so bright ideas over the years. You can find some of our better ones in the SUPERENGAGED employee engagement toolkit and on our blog. Overall though, our main take out is that the best employee engagement ideas tend to spring from honest communication and an open attitude.

We’ve condensed our learnings down into some guiding principles for people in leadership roles, with some case study examples of how we put this into action at Propellernet:

Photo by  Jon Tyson  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

1.      Listen: Listening is crucial. Perhaps our biggest game changer has been conducting an annual survey with our employees to ask them how we can create an even better place to work.

The survey we use, Culture Catalyst, is run by an engagement consultancy, then somehow, who anonymously gather and analyse the data, and help us understand our key improvement areas. Working with a third party has been helpful for us, but might not be right or realistic for everyone. Self-managed surveys via free online tools, like SurveyMonkey, are a good option if budget’s an issue and will provide some decent insights to get you started.

2.      Invite and welcome frank feedback: Asking for candid feedback is one thing, receiving it gracefully can be another. Keep listening, and listen some more. Don’t jump to assumptions, and ask open questions to make sure you understand. Ask people to tell you more. And, when they’ve finished, ask them how else they think you can improve, and keep asking them until they tell you they’ve covered everything.

Be careful to create an environment where people are comfortable giving honest feedback. It takes guts to tell your boss how you think things could be better – recognise that. Don’t judge or dismiss, or take things personally. Thank people for being brave enough to speak up, and tell them which parts of the conversation have helped you learn.

 3.      Take a step back: It might feel impossible to address every issue flagged, but often individual comments circle similar topics. Taking a step back to identify root causes will help you direct your energies into affecting greater change. Categorise feedback to help you identify and plan around priority improvement areas. Comments about line managers micromanaging, or people feeling that favouritism is rife in the business, could be indicative of training needs within your senior team, for example.

4.      Commit, act and stay accountable: Now you’ve listened (and listened some more), commit to change. Your team has been brave enough to speak up, you need to show them it was worth it.

Play back to the team the key learnings and prioritised areas of focus that their feedback has uncovered. Commit to working with your people to address issues, and explain how you’ll be accountable for change.

This can be done in different ways. We tend to use our all-company meeting to present back key insights and proposed next steps from Culture Catalyst, and we use the same company meeting forum to summarise quarterly progress too.

5.      Involve your team in problem solving: Invite your team to work with you to address or even own the engagement priorities they’ve identified. Entrusting responsibility to individuals within the team will help to build engagement.  Support them by helping them create and protect space to meaningfully focus on these internal initiatives, alongside their day to day work.

We regularly ask our team what they’d like to get involved in, and as a result have a number of taskforces who own, plan and implement changes that make Propellernet an even better place to work. In doing so, we’ve tapped into our peoples’ passions and expertise around areas like sustainability, interior design, people development and producing bloody great work to up the entire agency’s game.

6.      Keep the conversation going: Even after listening, listening again, diligently collaborating with your team to work through your priorities, holding your commitments to account and presenting back positive progress, there will still be more to do. The brutal truth is that this is a never-ending journey. Gamely embrace the ever-shifting target of employee engagement and collectively celebrate your wins along the way. Strive for continuous improvement by maintaining a dialogue with your team. Stay open to feedback and porous to ideas – from within or beyond your company.

There are always new approaches and ideas to feel inspired by – and employee engagement ideas can come from everywhere. At Propellernet, Sophie, Jo and Corryn recently designed and ran a workshop, after Tara Mohr’s book, Playing Big, struck a chord with them. The workshop centred around giving women within the agency more confidence to achieve their dreams. The session took place at Brighton’s i360, so we all felt we really could reach for the sky!

The women in our business have now embraced Playing Big as an ongoing initiative, complete with its own Slack channel, an explicit commitment to help raise each other up and future plans to share the tools and insights from the book with everyone else in the agency too.  

In summary, listen, engage and act.

If you don’t listen to those around you, you’ll end up being surrounded by people with nothing to say.

There is no point hiring smart people and telling them what to do. Hire smart people, listen and engage with them and they’ll do the rest.