Ken Keller: How do I increase employee engagement?

By Ken Keller, Signal Contributor

Last update: Monday, November 7th, 2016

Dear Ken Keller,

This has to be a common issue among owners that read your column: What do I need to do so that my employees are more engaged in their jobs?

I think we pay pretty well and this is a nice, clean, safe place to work. But I have noticed that these things are just expected by the employees. In the end, it seems to me that my people just really care about their paychecks and not much else. Am I wrong? What can I do or should I do? — David T.

Dear David:

Everything you provide to your employees is great. The problem is that every one of the potential employers for your employees (the companies that could steal your employees away) offer the same things (clean place, safe place, good rates of pay, etc.).

Given this situation, what sets you apart from all the other possible employers?

Please don’t tell me it is because you have been in business for so many years, that you have a great product line, that you are a nice owner. Do any of these things really matter to your employees?

What matters is that employees want to be heard and to be recognized for their efforts. They want to work in a place where they are respected and treated with dignity.

You may own and lead what you consider to be a great company, but if you have poor managers, the employees that work for those managers are likely to be disengaged.

Employees don’t quit their company, they quit their direct supervisor. And employees often quit their supervisor and their job long before they turn in their resignation. Some, in fact, never resign and because they work for lousy managers, stay on the payroll for years until they retire.

Let me suggest five things you can do to start on the path of re-engagement with all of your employees:

  1. Have every employee make a list of three things that they believe the company needs to stop doing. You should read every item and implement as many as possible as soon as possible. Give full credit where credit is due and tell those who ideas that were turned down the reason why.
  1. It may be your company but you don’t do everything that happens in it and you shouldn’t take all the credit for everything either. The same is true of every manager. Rid “I” and replace it with “we.”
  1. People crave recognition. Ask every employee how they want to be recognized. Use that knowledge to create a better work environment for all.
  1. Everyone in the company knows at least one employee not carrying their fair share of the workload. Do the right thing, identify who these individuals are and have private meetings with a discussion about what each under performer needs to do to change their attitude, effort, focus and results.
  1. Personally confirm that every employee has been formally evaluated within the last three months, in writing, by their supervisor. Keep a checklist to make certain than no employee is missed, accidentally or otherwise. You perform the evaluations of each manager; bring in help to do this if you need to.

This is a great opportunity for you to change the culture of your company. There are two difficult steps in this process. One is getting past the built-in resistance to change that exists in your company. The second is that you can never declare “victory” because it will be a constant battle to keep the momentum going. I wish you the best of luck.

Ken Keller is a syndicated business columnist focused on the leadership needs of small and midsize closely held companies. Contact him at KenKeller@SBCglobal.net. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of this media outlet.

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Ken Keller: How do I increase employee engagement?

Dear Ken Keller,

This has to be a common issue among owners that read your column: What do I need to do so that my employees are more engaged in their jobs?

I think we pay pretty well and this is a nice, clean, safe place to work. But I have noticed that these things are just expected by the employees. In the end, it seems to me that my people just really care about their paychecks and not much else. Am I wrong? What can I do or should I do? — David T.

Dear David:

Everything you provide to your employees is great. The problem is that every one of the potential employers for your employees (the companies that could steal your employees away) offer the same things (clean place, safe place, good rates of pay, etc.).

Given this situation, what sets you apart from all the other possible employers?

Please don’t tell me it is because you have been in business for so many years, that you have a great product line, that you are a nice owner. Do any of these things really matter to your employees?

What matters is that employees want to be heard and to be recognized for their efforts. They want to work in a place where they are respected and treated with dignity.

You may own and lead what you consider to be a great company, but if you have poor managers, the employees that work for those managers are likely to be disengaged.

Employees don’t quit their company, they quit their direct supervisor. And employees often quit their supervisor and their job long before they turn in their resignation. Some, in fact, never resign and because they work for lousy managers, stay on the payroll for years until they retire.

Let me suggest five things you can do to start on the path of re-engagement with all of your employees:

  1. Have every employee make a list of three things that they believe the company needs to stop doing. You should read every item and implement as many as possible as soon as possible. Give full credit where credit is due and tell those who ideas that were turned down the reason why.
  1. It may be your company but you don’t do everything that happens in it and you shouldn’t take all the credit for everything either. The same is true of every manager. Rid “I” and replace it with “we.”
  1. People crave recognition. Ask every employee how they want to be recognized. Use that knowledge to create a better work environment for all.
  1. Everyone in the company knows at least one employee not carrying their fair share of the workload. Do the right thing, identify who these individuals are and have private meetings with a discussion about what each under performer needs to do to change their attitude, effort, focus and results.
  1. Personally confirm that every employee has been formally evaluated within the last three months, in writing, by their supervisor. Keep a checklist to make certain than no employee is missed, accidentally or otherwise. You perform the evaluations of each manager; bring in help to do this if you need to.

This is a great opportunity for you to change the culture of your company. There are two difficult steps in this process. One is getting past the built-in resistance to change that exists in your company. The second is that you can never declare “victory” because it will be a constant battle to keep the momentum going. I wish you the best of luck.

Ken Keller is a syndicated business columnist focused on the leadership needs of small and midsize closely held companies. Contact him at KenKeller@SBCglobal.net. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of this media outlet.

About the author

Ken Keller

Ken Keller, Signal Contributor

  • 4 truly excellent points…but not so sure about point 5.

    Gone are the days when we need to schedule formal evaluations and reviews. Today’s workforce craves for continuous feedback and openness among their peers and with their manager. After all, would you expect the IT department to only check up on mission critical systems a few times a year – absolutely not. They have real time monitoring and a similar approach is critical in the workplace.

    That is certainly how the article finished and major kudos for pointing out that ‘you can never declare “victory” because it will be a constant battle to keep the momentum going’.

    Nicely done…..