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Whether you went to business management school, or learned how to manage employees in a non-traditional way, you know this: positive reinforcement works! Doing so will, more often than not, increase employee engagement.
The Workplace Research Foundation says that highly engaged employees are 38% more likely to have above-average productivity. Employee engagement software company, 15five, recently published a blog post covering some very interesting employee engagement trends for 2016. As the blog post suggests, there is an abundance of data and real-life case studies that suggest employee engagement can be a growth strategy for businesses of all sizes, across any industry.
Along with statistics, it’s interesting to read what proven business leaders have to say about employee engagement. Here are three of my favourites:
“When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.” — Simon Sinek
“It’s about getting the best people, retaining them, nurturing a creative environment & helping to find a way to innovate.” — Marissa Mayer
“A company is people … employees want to know… am I being listened to or am I a cog in the wheel? People really need to feel wanted.” — Richard Branson
The three conversations I believe most managers fail at having with their team members are to think long-term, invest in yourself and be curious.
When I was growing my career as a wide-eyed, anything-is-possible, eager employee, my greatest strength was that I was able to think long-term. I knew that my efforts would pay off one day. I never chased the pay cheque; I chased the dream. My dream was to one day advise, invest and keynote speak for multi-million and billion dollar companies.
Often this long-term mentality led me to willingly make short-term sacrifices to win in the future. Working for free (i.e. staying an extra 15 to 30 minutes without asking to be recognized or paid) was common. Did I care about receiving recognition or extra pay? No! I was aware that others would notice my diligence and hard work.
As the saying goes:
Work hard in silence. Let success be your noise.
As a leader in your organization, it’s your responsibility to help your team members peer into the future. Allow them to envision what their future looks and feels like, then gently bring them back to reality. Help them create a plan for themselves and share real-world examples of how colleagues of yours have propelled their future by making small sacrifices in the short-term to win long-term.
Invest in yourself
I wrote a blog post titled, Employees Needs to Be Responsible for Their Own Development. The thought was inspired by an idea I had while at an airport. In short, the blog post outlines my belief that an employee that wants to excel can’t rely on their manager. Rather, they must take ownership over their own destiny.
I turned to my friend, Annette Franz, a master in customer experience and employee engagement, for her thoughts on this topic.
I wholeheartedly support my employees investing in themselves. As a matter of fact, I tell them they are in charge of their careers, their development, and how far they will go; I’m here to support them along the way, to provide some tools, guide rails, encouragement and direction. I’m always happy to answer any questions they have or to provide whatever help they need, but I also suggest that they look at the vast majority of external resources available to advance their skills and knowledge: books, blogs, Twitter chats, LinkedIn groups, webinars, meet-ups, whitepapers, continuing education courses and more.
What I liked most about Annette’s advice is that several of the ways that you can invest in yourself are free – all it takes is effort. When it comes to customer experience management, Annette recommends the CXPA as an opportunity to learn, network and advance your career.
Be curious (and ask a lot of questions)
Ever since I was a boy, I have always asked a lot of questions and been very curious. Whether it was turning over a stone to see if there were any worms underneath it, or being in the workforce and asking a neighbouring department what they were up to, I always had a desire to ask questions so I could learn new things. These questions led me to conduct my first round of research on customer experience which eventually became my profession.
A primary reason why I’m an advocate of open-office layouts is because it increases the ability to have candid conversations and reduces silos. Furthermore, it allows team members to freely ask questions without skyscraper high cubicle walls to overcome.
Interview Tip: When I advise companies to help them refine their interview strategies – to recruit customer-centric team members – I always suggest that they ask a question or two to understand how curious the candidate is. You can ask a question like,
“When was the last time you were curious about something that eventually became a hobby or regular occurrence.” Candidates may say things like salsa dancing (after watching Dancing with the Stars) or archery (after watching The Hunger Games).
My friend and former colleague, Rhys Green, Director of Field Operations at O2E, takes it one step further with a profound thought.
I don’t hire people who aren’t curious. Curiosity is the fuel that drives learning and a person who doesn’t want to learn is as valuable today as they’ll ever be. I hire for what you’re going to do for the organization in the future, not what you’ve done in the past.
When managing employees to excel in their current positions, and help them propel their careers to new heights, we must reevaluate how we are mentoring them. It’s easy to go through the suggested management best practices, by identifying your strengths and working on your weaknesses, but that isn’t enough.
The three suggested conversations worked for me when I developing my career and, if you hire correctly (watch this video on how to hire motivated customer service employees), you will be able to inspire your team to exceed your expectations as their leader.
What type of management tricks, tips or tactics do you use to increase employee engagement? I would love to hear what’s working for you; leave a comment below.
But first, I want to share a few statistics on employee training and engagement that shows the positive ROI that organizations can experience when they take these concerns seriously:
40% of employees who receive poor job training leave their position within the first year. – Go2HR
Companies with engaged employees outperform those without by 202%. – Gallup
69% of employees report engagement is a problem in their organization. – Psychometrics
What is peer cross-training?
Peer cross-training is the practice of having one representative from each department host a presentation to their neighbouring departments. During these presentations the representative describes a day in the life of their team, as well as provides detailed descriptions of their motivations, challenges, measures of success/KPIs and goals.
Imagine you were to ask your marketing department:
“Can you describe what our call center agents do?”
Would they have a detailed answer, one that adequately describes the ebbs and flows of a typical day in the department? Would they even be able to recite the service-level agreements or workforce management protocols of the call center? Or would they simply reply with:
“They answer calls from new and existing customers.”
You see, often our teams have a general idea of what their colleagues experience, but seldom do they have an in-depth understanding of what their neighbouring departments do to help customers and achieve their goals.
As a consultant, advisor and keynote speaker, my career is built on helping companies improve their customer experience and increase employee engagement. It was nearly a decade ago that I recognized that no company will ever reach their maximum potential in creating a world-class customer experience if their organization isn’t truly aligned.
Why peer cross-training?
By appointing one member from each department (or more if you’re a large company) and asking them to build and host a presentation describing their department’s motivations and challenges, your company will experience the following benefits:
Employee engagement: It’s likely that your team has never hosted such an event before in their career and, if you’re hiring the right people, they will jump at the opportunity to describe what their department does to their neighbouring departments. Peer cross-training provides your team the ability to share how their department contributes to the overall success of the company.
Organization alignment: After hosting the workshops, each member of your company will walk away with an in-depth understanding of each department and clearly understand the end-to-end customer experience. How can you possibly achieve alignment if your departments don’t know what each other do?
Peer empathy: You will experience an increase in empathy after hosting peer cross-training. You will often here employees say, “I had no idea that’s what your monthly sales goals are!” or, “Oh, that’s why you need three days to complete that task.” This greater understanding only stands to benefit your employees’ intra-organizational relationships.
New initiatives: Sometimes asking someone who has an unbiased, unemotional opinion will lead to new, cutting-edge initiatives. Often we can become so entrenched in our day-to-day professional lives that we neglect to identify new opportunities to improve. Neighbouring departments, once they are exposed to every facet of what your team does, may be able to offer great ideas that your department can adopt.
Better customer experience: Your customers won’t truly experience a seamless customer experience until your company is aligned. By hosting peer cross-training, you will be one step closer to creating a fluid and frictionless customer experience for your customers.
I want to provide you with a step-by-step guide so that you can host peer cross-training for your company.
Step 1: Set goals for the initiative
How will you measure success?
When creating an initiative for your company, always outline the goals before you start building to ensure your team understands what success looks like. Your goals when hosting peer cross-training may include the following:
– Have attendees walk away with a deep understanding of other departments’ operations and customer experience. This can be measured by sending a short survey after the training sessions have been hosted.
– Improve your team’s presentation skills. The person or small team that hosts the presentations will walk away from the workshops with a newfound or improved skill set for presentations.
– Build and deploy a high-impact, medium-effort initiative within the next 30 days.
Before you go into ‘solution mode’ you must first outline the goals for your initiative.
Step 2: Outline follow-up plan
Like any initiative, you want to create a follow-up plan that will ensure the program is successful long after deployment, and in such a way that it builds off the momentum you have created. After you have hosted the workshops, I recommend that you do the following:
– Create awareness for the fact that the individuals who hosted the workshops are now the main point of contact for other departments when they have questions or commentary for the respective department
– Form an advisory council. In an earlier post I outlined how to create a Customer Advisory Board (CAB). The people who hosted the presentations will be each department’s representatives within this advisory board. This team should meet regularly; I recommend that they meet weekly or bi-weekly.
– Produce quarterly department reports, company-wide, that share each department’s initiatives and goals. By doing so, your entire company will be able to receive a snapshot of each department.
Following these three steps will increase the likelihood that the program is successful long after you host the initial peer cross-training sessions.
Step 3: Outline the education you want attendees to walk away with
What type of knowledge from each department do you want your company to walk away with? Before you begin hosting your peer cross-training workshops you must outline exactly what you want your company to learn.
For example, you may want your entire organization to understand:
– What your sales team’s targets are
– What your service-level agreements are for your call center
– How your marketing team measures success for the content they produce
It’s highly recommended that you understand how each department contributes to the top and bottom line and communicate these metrics. Whatever is measured should be shared during peer cross-training.
Step 4: Select your single point of accountability (SPA)
Who will be each department’s representative during cross-training? There are two ways to determine this. Please note that I’m not partial to either way; the choice really depends on how your company prefers to move forward with Step 4.
– Your leadership team can identify an individual from each department who would be a great fit to represent their team and offer this individual the opportunity. This person should exemplify leadership qualities and a strong desire to grow within the company. Often this person is someone that management is grooming for a leadership role or future promotion.
– You may follow a democratic approach by presenting the opportunity to each department and allow individuals to volunteer their services. After you have selected the SPA, be prepared to explain your decision to the individuals who were not selected. To ensure that your decision doesn’t negatively impact anyone’s morale, invite these individuals to help the SPA build their presentation and offer feedback.
When determining your SPA, it’s advised that the chosen person has the experience and tenure to effectively represent their department and that they feel comfortable presenting to their peers.
Step 5: Build presentations
Your SPAs will need time to build their presentations. Don’t ask them to do this on their own time. Instead, reserve a day to allow the peer cross-training team to get together and work in coordination to build their presentations.
I’ve hosted peer cross-training sessions with companies on-site, at their office, and even off-site at a hotel conference room. Later this year I will be hosting a peer cross-training session with a company that has rented out an entire home through Airbnb, which will host the team for the duration of the session.
The following content should be included within each presentation:
Department overview: What does the department do? What does a day in the life look like? How does the department measure success (i.e. KPIs, etc.)?
Customer success: How does the customer define success? What does the department do to achieve this success?
Barriers to success: What barriers does the department face in delivering a world-class experience? How does the department avoid or overcome these barriers?
Department collaboration: What departments do they regularly interact with? What’s the dynamic of these relationships?
Q&A: Reserve time for the SPA to answer any questions the audience may have.
Ensure that your SPAs are very specific. For example, you want them to communicate specific service-level agreements and key performance indicators in their presentation.
Step 6: Host presentations
Now that all the preparatory work has been completed, it’s time to have your SPAs host their presentations! There isn’t a one-size-fits-all for scheduling presentations because each company has a different bandwidth.
For small and medium-sized companies, I recommend that the audience size for each presentation does not exceed 24 people. Presentations may be held over a few days, or longer, but don’t allow it to exceed two weeks as you may lose momentum.
For large-sized companies, it will be virtually impossible to schedule presentations due to the sheer number of people involved. In lieu of in-person presentations, consider having the SPA record videos that outline their presentation, which can then be shared system-wide.
Step 7: Debrief with team
As you would with any initiative or new program, you will want to debrief with your peer cross-training team after presentations have occurred. During your debrief period, it is the leadership team’s responsibility to understand the following:
What did the peer cross-training team enjoy about presenting to their peers?
Do they believe that the training material resonated with the audience?
Allow them to provide feedback on the process and approach that was designed to host the peer training program
You may also consider surveying the audience to understand the effectiveness of the program. I recommend using survey tools like TINYpulse or Survey Gizmo (both have free options).
Regardless of your company’s size or industry, peer cross-training is a high-value, medium-effort initiative that can align your company, improve your customer experience and increase employee engagement. The positive results you will achieve when hosting peer cross-training far exceeds the cost of resources that the initiative requires.
Sales, marketing, and business development teams are provided with the internal resources needed to succeed. Companies use traditional methods, such as radio, television, and print advertising, to increase their chances of converting new customers.
But none of the aforementioned tactics are where the greatest opportunity lies. To grow our businesses, we must look internally before we try to expand externally.
As a management consultant and keynote speaker, I’m trusted by companies of all sizes to look into their strategies and find new opportunities. Whether it’s a small business, or a billion-dollar brand with international recognition, the story is often the same: they want to grow their business or increase their profitability.
After looking at their yearly plans, I tend to see the same thing – traditional programs are given a lion’s share of the company’s operating budget, which produce good results that achieve quarter-over-quarter success. However, living quarter-over-quarter isn’t an advantageous position; the greatest companies in the world build programs to secure their livelihood for the next ten years, not the next ten weeks.
When I work with a company that is trying to grow their business, I NEVER start with customer acquisition or loyalty strategies. Instead, I respectfully challenge the company to build a stronger relationship with their employees before trying to influence something that is external to their business.
But how can companies of all sizes achieve this? There are three essential ways for any company to increase employee engagement.
Efficiently survey your employees
The world’s greatest athletes ask for feedback from their coaches and mentors to better themselves and make necessary adjustments. The same approach can be taken with your employees with great results. Despite the importance of asking employees for feedback, a lot of companies don’t actually gather it. A company called Critical Metrics found that around 90% of companies believe that gathering feedback from employees is important, yet only 30% have the processes in place to actually gather this feedback.
I highly recommend surveying employees to understand what makes them tick (and what ticks them off), so that you can embrace their feedback to drive change in your organization. The word ‘survey’ can have a negative connotation for some; we picture a long, outdated, and inefficient survey that takes employees forever to complete. In this day and age you can’t survey employees like this if you want to truly understand their motivations and challenges.
Whoever is responsible for gathering the feedback must take the next steps, which include:
Finding trends within the data and deciding what you are going to do with it
Quickly delivering the results back to the entire organization, with full transparency. Don’t let this data live within the C-Suite or management team
Surveying employees more than once a year. You must keep your finger on the pulse of your employee culture at all times.
Create meaning over delivering money
While it would be naive to assume that employees don’t want a competitive salary or monetary incentives, if you’re hiring correctly your employees will sacrifice a higher salary for a meaningful relationship with their company or boss. The idea that employee engagement is determined by financial incentives has long been disproven. A 2020 post on MoreThanAccountants.co, found that the top engagement drivers for employees are career opportunities, recognition, and organization reputation.
When I got my start at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? I worked within the call centre. I was earning a fair wage, but nothing worth glamourizing. Why did I enjoy my time with the company? For me, I really liked the culture of the company and the opportunities for growth.
Companies allocate incentive budgets and bonus programs for their sales teams to achieve greater results, which has been proven to work, but these incentives don’t tend to resonate with employees for very long. Why? The incentive they receive, be it cash, iPads, or vacations, can be spent very quickly, which erases the memory of their achievement. To genuinely create stronger relationships with our employees, and achieve greater business results, we must pull at their heart strings and make them emotional.
Whether you are the CEO, a sales manager, or customer service team lead, I recommend “hacking” your leadership style to find cost-effective ways to inspire your team. My recommended strategy is to block off 30 minutes a week on your calendar and set it as a recurring, non-negotiable meeting. For example, you may choose every Tuesday from 11:30am to 12:00pm. During this time you only have one responsibility: to identify someone on your team (or within another department) and acknowledge them for a personal achievement or for helping you achieve an outcome. This conversation can be done over coffee or lunch, sticking with the theme of being cost-effective. While hosting this conversation, there are a few rules that you should apply to make it a success for both parties:
Keep the “business talk” to a limit
Get to know them as an individual and not as an employee
Close the loop. Ask them outright, “Can I help you?” and deliver on any promises you make
If you hire correctly, this is what will inspire your salespeople to sell more, your PR professionals to pitch more effectively, your developers to code more efficiently, or your customer service staff to deliver better service.
Understand that employee relationships are a long-term investment
Similar to our personal relationships, building memorable relationships with our employees takes time, but will ultimately create greater business results. After all, lifelong relationships with our friends or family aren’t cemented by successfully dropping someone off at the airport one time or helping them move. Rather, it takes many instances of goodwill to build strong relationships.
Too many organizations believe employee engagement is a campaign. For it to be truly successful it must be part of the DNA of the business. In addition, it takes a champion within the organization to advocate for the strategy and rally the organization by continuously talking about the subject, not just creating an initiative that happens once.
When thinking about how your company is going to sell more, market better, or deliver better service, consider what’s happening inside your organization before you look externally. It’s not a coincidence that companies like Airbnb, Starbucks, or ZenPayroll are achieving massive success. They are successful because they hold their employee engagement in high regard, becoming admired brands in the process.
Leave a comment below. Do you think these three tactics are achievable for all companies?
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