Want Better Engagement? The Little Things Matter More Than You Think

Companies everywhere are looking at how to drive up engagement scores and results. Yet, research tells us that the most significant factor in engagement is the relationship employees have with their direct manager, and if someone cares about them and their career.

We know that engagement takes more than a corporate program and free yoga classes at lunch. So, what can you do about it?

Here are a few reminders of simple actions you can take as a manager or team leader that make a difference.

Cheerleading is underrated

I’ve seen encouragement start amazing momentum.

A few years ago, Julie Porter, our marketing partner, encouraged us to jump into social media and blogging when we weren’t sure it was a priority or if we had the time. She raved about our progress and encouraged each new experiment – even when it was a small step forward.

As my colleague Kristi Erickson said recently, “She accomplished more with us through sheer encouragement than any business case or ROI would have.” And, we like business cases and ROI analysis!

Deep down, most of us still like and need encouragement, praise and someone else to believe in us. This can create magic so that we do things we didn’t know we could do – or weren’t sure we wanted to do – because someone else believed we could.

Small talk isn’t so small

Small talk is how you get to know someone, how you learn who they are and what makes them unique.

Ask questions to show you are interested in the answer. “What do you think?” “How’s the new role?” or “What has been different than you expected?” Small talk can do a lot for a relationship.

My colleague Martha Duesterhoft is the master at keeping in touch and asking how you are. She’ll remember the last conversation you had and ask how your son is enjoying golf. This interest builds trust and the relationship. As a manager, this is the glue for engagement.

Solve problems

Choose to be a problem solver and make your team’s work easier.

Work on changing a process, go talk to your peer who is sending unnecessary work to your group or add a new role that simplifies the work. When your team comes to you with problems or issues, help them fix it.

Be the buffer from other challenges that they can’t affect and you can’t either. You can add tremendous value by serving more than directing.

I’m part of a community service group and the president often comes to committee meetings just to see how she can help. She earned my respect by listening, taking notes and walking away with some problems to solve for us – and she did.

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Show up

Stopping by to check in is a powerful, but simple way of saying “I’m interested and your work is important.” I think we are too dependent upon meetings and formal discussions. Just showing up unexpectedly sends a big message.

At one of our clients, the CEO blocks time every day he is in the office just to walk around and check in with everyone. As a result, everyone knows he is approachable and that he cares.

Another leader drops by meetings and workgroups routinely to see firsthand how things are going and it gives her more than the PowerPoint summary. She is there to help and the team respects her for it.

Do what you say you’ll do

Nothing kills trust faster than missing this one.

We are working with a client now on a leadership series and this was the No. 1 frustration from their employees. Managers aren’t honoring commitments and doing what they said they would.

Imagine the power of following up with someone on your team the next day and letting them know that you checked on their question and it has been resolved. You have likely taken a big step forward in earning the trust of that employee. And, news travels fast.

The next time engagement starts to feel like the next big corporate initiative, the company-wide survey and something much bigger than you, stop in your tracks. Remember that engagement starts with you as a manager, team lead or supervisor and get busy.

The small things matter more than you think.

This was originally published on PeopleResult’s Current blog.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and organizational development consulting firm she founded in 2004. She is the author of newly released "Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life." Patti and her team advise clients such as PepsiCo, Microsoft, 7-Eleven, Accenture, Frito-Lay and many others on creating positive change in their leaders and organizations. Previously a Senior Executive at Accenture. Patti is an instructor on change for SMU Executive Education and for the Bush Institute Women’s Initiative, as well as a keynote speaker on change and leadership.


9 Comments on “Want Better Engagement? The Little Things Matter More Than You Think

  1. A little encouragement can take someone to great heights. Thanks for the reminder that a few simple actions can go so much further than most formalized “engagement initiatives.”

  2. Thanks, Patti, for the sound advice. I am reminded that truly caring, encouraging, and serving others inspires them to achieve great things.

  3. Great ideas, Patti! I will point out what might be obvious, but these great engagement builders aren’t ones you can put in place with a ‘flavor-of-the-month’ program. Good, solid behavior builds engagment, not programs.

  4. Good leaders take the time to reflect on the capabilities of their teams. Great leaders then take the time to reflect that back to their team in praise and encouragement. You get a lot more back than a thank you!

  5. The little things are huge especially for the lower end of the totem pole. Things like the yearly holiday party and the monthly doughnut day are a big deal to your lower paid worker, it shows that the company cares about them. It may not be a big deal for a 200K+ employee to have a three hour open bar and some free food, but I can assure you that it is a big deal for the 30-40K employee. This might be the only party they will go to this year and makes them feel valuable, the one hundred or so dollars spent for this party is well spen and much less expensive than replacing them.

  6. Valuing staff is really important especially when they put a lot of effort into a project and increase profits. I actually left a job when presented with a box of chocolates for my hard work and effort.

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