I have to be honest. For the last week, I didn’t want to be here. I’d just come back from a dream holiday, and was feeling self-indulgently miserable about returning to reality.
Motivation ebbs and wanes, and it’s normal for team members (and leaders) to experience temporary periods of low energy. For me, I bounced back when I had a phone conference about an exciting new project with a global law firm. I felt reinvigorated by a new challenge and working with clients who inspire and energize me.
But while general malaise passes, it’s important to recognize when it’s a symptom of something bigger. When employees are disengaged, organizations can be left with the costs of attrition, presenteeism, mistakes and poor productivity.
Disengagement can stem from many things, but communication should always be a core component of your strategy to address it, before the problem takes on a life of its own.
Here are four communication tactics business leaders can employ to maintain an engaged culture, and correct course early when necessary:
Regular check ins
Business leaders who check in with their teams on a regular basis support the creation of high-trust, transparent cultures. This puts leaders on the information frontline, making them more likely to receive critical insight from team members, and enhance creative problem solving and innovation. And if things do take a turn for the worse, these leaders will be the first to know.
So what does a regular check in look like? They could be one-on-one, or they could be done as a small group; but they’re definitely not the same thing as a standing team meeting.
Leaders should use open-ended questions to allow employees to share how they’re feeling about the organization as a whole, their role, and any projects they’re working on. They are an opportunity for employees to ask for clarification, understand how their role fits within the organizational strategy, and raise concerns and new ideas.
Continuous listening is the engagement survey taken to a new level. Rather than asking folks once a year how they’re feeling, then filing the results away forever, continuous listening allows employers to have a constant finger on the pulse of their organization.
It depends on your organizational size as well as your human, technical and financial resources, but continuous listening can include:
Leadership listening sessions
Providing a safe space to give feedback, with options to do so anonymously
Online community management, tracking sentiment on internal social media, intranet comments, etc.
Short, regular surveys (designed for meaningful insights) after key events, communications and interventions
Regular one-on-ones with managers
The most important part here is what you do with the information you gather. There’s nothing more disengaging than being asked for your opinion, and never seeing any changes. A continuous listening strategy should include mechanisms for incorporating feedback into operational changes, and ensuring staff hear that they have contributed to improvements at the organization.
A whole person approach
We’re all human, and it’s rarely possible to separate our workplace self from our private self. At any given time, people in your team may be experiencing illness, caring responsibilities, relationship issues, or any other number of life events that impact their ability to be fully present and engaged at work.
People may not always be willing to share the detail of their private lives with their manager, but creating an environment that acknowledges their humanness is an essential step in helping people return to productivity, and it can even make work an important pillar of your team’s support network.
Building a culture of trust takes time, and it starts with leaders showing the way. Being willing to say, “I have some personal stuff going on today that’s affecting my energy levels, so if I forget to respond to you, please prompt me,” opens the door for employees to do the same.
Once you understand how your people are responding to life events outside the office, you can determine the best way to help and support them, whether it be redirecting work, allowing unscheduled leave, or providing coaching to help them build resilience.
Even the best leaders can have blind spots about how employees respond to their personal style. I once had to remind a boss that he needed to say hello to us in the mornings. He wasn’t a bad person, he was just overwhelmed, and didn’t realize that forgetting small courtesies was impacting how welcome I and others felt in the team.
Asking for feedback from those you lead, as well as peers, can be an effective component of a continuous listening strategy.
It’s not always easy, and requires leaders to be comfortable with having courageous conversations, and team members to feel unthreatened by providing their views honestly. If this is challenging (as in many workplaces it will be), there are options. One is to conduct regular, anonymous surveys, being careful to ensure those in even the smallest teams can’t be identified from their comments.
The other is to bring in an external advisor, who can meet privately with team members, and gather anonymized qualitative and quantitative data to share with leaders. This can provide invaluable insight into how others perceive your leadership qualities, and the opportunity to build new skills or enhance existing ones.
At AlphaJuliet we incorporate leadership communication reviews as part of our Communication Audit service, as well as carving this out as an independent service to organizations who want to focus on leadership development and improve employee experience.
To find out how we can help, please get in touch. In the meantime, we’d love to hear how you use communication to build engagement in your teams. Comment below!