Tuesday, October 7, 2014


A lot has been written on employee engagement and it seems to be top of mind for a lot of executives. I had a discussion recently with a CEO friend of mine who is concerned that his employees aren't really engaged. They had done a third party engagement study, and I'm sure paid a fair amount to have it done, and weren't excited about the results.

"How can I get employees more engaged and excited about the company?" he asked. Now I'm sure in the expensive study he paid to have done they had some great business school advice which had all the latest buzzwords in it. What he really wanted, I think, was down to earth help.

I'm not one to beat around the bush so I asked "Well how engaged are you with the  employees?" So below is my advice to be a more engaged executive which will then lead to more engaged employees.

1. How many employees do you know? In this case it's one building with 350 or so employees. In my mind he should be able to at least recognize most of them by sight. Now maybe it's unfair to expect him to know their family history, hobbies and spouses name, but his direct reports and their direct reports is a small group. I worked for one VP of IT who had "flash cards" of his team made up so he could remember them better.

2. Does he eat lunch in the company cafeteria.  In my opinion the best way to get to know people is to be seen by them. Grab a table and a sandwich and talk over lunch. It's easy to hate the CEO, it's harder to hate "Rich".

3. Make communications frequent and informal. Anyone that thinks a quarterly newsletter is going to help change culture is missing the point. Culture takes time and investment and great communication. A newsletter, probably written by marketing, isn't going to do it. Now I'm not saying that's a bad thing, in fact I think company newsletters are great, but that's not communicating. When you do need to send an email out or voice mail etc, let your personality shine through. People like people so let them know you are a real person.

4. When you have bad news to deliver, get it out of the way as quickly as you can, without a lot of spin. We've all heard the usual canned speeches, dispense with that and speak what you mean. A rule of thumb is this "If you need to take 3 days or more, or a committee review to get a communication out, it's spin". That's OK for an annual report but this is your employees, your family, open up and be yourself. Now that doesn't mean airing dirty laundry or trade secrets, but being honest and open is OK.

5. Explain the why. Many years ago the company I was at had a gap in our product portfolio and there were a lot of startups filling that need. I was surprised we hadn't bought one and finally got a chance to talk to our CTO about it. It turned out that we had reviewed several and couldn't justify what they were asking based on the amount of revenue we expected the product to bring in. Clearly the executive team had spent a lot of time thinking about this and once I knew the reasoning, it made sense.

What are some other tips you have seen help get employee engagement working?