My time in the Civil Service taught me a number of things. One of them was of the benefits that having a workforce of engaged and committed people can bring to a business, in that such people perform better, they are less likely to leave and they are more likely to promote the organisation with their family and friends. In short, if you want to be successful, then the business needs to get their workforce teams engaged.
But my time in the civil service also taught me how difficult it was to engage senior management themselves so that they not only understand why they should embrace the idea of employee engagement, but convince them to commit to changes that allow it. Resistance and Inertia are very often your permanent companions when trying to motive people. There is the all important question on how to go about engaging your staff-especially at a time when large groups of employees , through severe cutbacks and early release/redundancy programmes, feel disenchanted, dis-empowered and dis-engaged: the opposite of where you need them to be. Now there is no denying that trying to engage people is not straight forward, but there are a variety of proven techniques which if you can adopt (or adapt), can go a long way to allowing you to have that passionate and committed workforce that is an essential pre-requisite of a successful organisation.
I think that there are five main areas that need to be addressed if you are to be successful:
Allow people to be involved in decision making
This is a tough one, especially for those parts of the public sector who are used to just being told what to do by their political masters and in turn to tell their staff what they need to do. Managers not used to consulting (rather than informing) their teams find the concept of involving their teams in changes quite difficult and worrying. But for people to feel that they are a genuine stakeholder in the business they need to be involved when for example changes are being proposed such as reorganisations or downsizing etc. It is the staff who operate the organisations systems and processes and they can very often provide an insight into the most effective way to organise or run a service.
Encourage people to voice their views and opinions
Employees can often feel ‘lost’ in an organisation and that they are just a clog in a mighty wheel, where their views do not count or, even worse, are not sought. Any successful organisation needs to view its employees as partners in the business and feedback on the challenges that you are facing is critical to getting the temperature of the workforce and to understand what changes might be needed. Views can be encouraged and articulated in a variety of ways from online and real forums to regular team briefings where those all important voices can be heard – but the feedback loop must be genuine. It is not a ‘box ticking’ exercise.
Managers to listen to these views
It is one thing to encourage opinions but it is another thing for managers and boards to genuinely listen to those voices. Yes, people want opportunities to express their views but they also want them to be heard with an open mind. What is the point of asking for feedback if you have already decided what you are going to do? Quite often, organisations have already decided what their course of action is going to be and that their discussions with staff are little more than a ‘tick in the box’.For the relationship to be two way, managers need to keep an open mind that their proposal may in fact not be the most effective one- this doesn’t mean that management stops managing, rather it allows them to understand the impact proposals may make before deciding what to do.
People to feel well informed about changes at work
Employees feel committed to their organisations when they feel involved in changes even if they may not agree with them. If you can tell your teams what is going to happen before it happens, then they are more likely to feel that they are important to the business. Nothing is worse for team morale then people not knowing what is going on and how changes at work might affect them. I often found that it is the fear of what changes might mean that concern staff (will I have a job, will more be expected of me, what do I tell my staff? etc) and these need to be addressed. It may be that managers have no control over those changes themselves if it is a political or board level decision handed down to them to enact but by telling people what you know as soon as possible and what it might mean for them creates a level of trust that can allow real goodwill as well as cement engagement.