How to Cut Through Fake Talk to Increase Employee Engagement

Will had worked hard for the company for about two years. Not once in that time had his manager spoken with him about his development. Somewhat concerned, Will approached his manager and asked if they could discuss his career development. The manager said, “I’ll have my assistant reach out to you next week to schedule some time together.” Nothing happened, so Will brought up the issue with his manager again. This time the manager scheduled the appointment himself about two weeks out.  When the time finally arrived, the manager canceled the appointment about an hour before the meeting. Frustrated, Will rescheduled the meeting, but his manager missed the meeting to attend a “more important” meeting with the CEO. Will put his resume on Monster.com and in two weeks, he was gone.

I never found out if Will’s manager was ill-intended or if he was just not well organized, but his actions spoke louder than his words.  Everyone is busy these days. Priorities change, meetings have to be rescheduled, and some fires just won’t wait. But the fake talk Will’s manager engaged in and his inability to manage his schedule and keep his commitments led to the loss of a stellar employee.

The old adage around personal engagement used to be, “Managers trump companies!”, meaning that individuals joined a company, but left their boss. In the last several years, the high engagement of an organization’s employees has drawn even more attention. Recent research on engagement shows that high engagement drives financial results. Additionally, the notion of engagement has come to encompass more than just the people skills of a manager. Employees are engaged by an ever increasing number of factors that serve to attract and retain quality performers.

Before providing you with a number of factors that increase employee engagement, it is important to understand that each element has at its foundation the ability to hold REAL conversation rather than what I call Fake Talk. Fake Talk would include any conversation where the desired result is not achieved. In order to create and address the factors that create a highly engaged workforce, a manager has to be able to explore and identify the needs of each employee. Here are a number of questions that will help you assess the quality of engagement that you or your organization provides.

Are your mission and values clearly stated?

Employees are constantly asking themselves, “Do I fit in here?” The “fit” question is answered for employees by the presence of clearly defined goals and priorities, by leaders who live the company’s espoused values, and by knowing that they can make a contribution. Younger employees want to know that the work they do, while being demanding, will be fulfilling. Employees are highly engaged when they know that they will be able to add value, innovate, and collaborate toward a mutually beneficial goal.

What is the quality of the work environment?

This factor includes not only the physical working conditions, but also the culture within which the work is done. The work conditions need to be modern with up-to-date equipment. Employees want the company to understand what physical obstacles exist and be working on removing them. They also value transparency; they want to know what is going on. Employees also seek flexibility in how and where they complete their work. Finally, they desire effective teamwork, trustworthy peers, and fairness of treatment. All of these conditions contribute to the culture of the work environment.

Are there opportunities for talent development and upward mobility?

Companies that provide opportunities for individuals to grow and develop either through training or varied work assignments retain employees who clearly feel that the organization is interested in them and their professional growth. Obviously employees are also interested in opportunities to advance their careers rather than being stuck in a dead-end position where they do the same thing over and over again. Employees want opportunities to learn new skills and advance based on their expertise. Variety of assignments and opportunities to grow are highly valued by today’s employees.

Are you hiring the right people?

Individuals want to work with a more diverse workforce who is capable, interested in doing the assigned tasks, and are fully committed to the company’s goals. They also want to know that people are hired based on their ability to fit the company’s culture and to perform the requirements of their position. Some of the latest research indicates that peers can have a greater impact on employee commitment and retention than individual managers. Hiring competent people that will work and play well together impacts employee engagement.

Is the leadership committed to the success of the company and its employees?

Leaders need to lead and support the people that work for them. Employees want to know that their leaders will support them, trust them, and coach and develop them. They want their leaders to be part of building an organization where the work is exciting, fulfilling, and fun, rather than only “engaging” or talking to them from time to time.

Does the company take care of its people?

Employees want to know that the benefits and compensation are fair and commensurate with similar positions in other companies. They want to know that rewards and bonuses are calculated based on contribution and performance and not a system where only a small percentage of people may be recognized and receive a performance bonus based on predetermined norm.

Employee engagement encompasses more than having effective communications skills. Managers and leaders must effectively articulate a clear vision and live the values that are tied to what people do. The quality of the work environment is created by the leader who knows how to speak and treat people with respect and who inspires others to achieve their full potential. Likewise, an effective leader believes in and invests in the development of his or her people and spends the time and money to make growth happen.  REAL Talk leaders know how to hire the right people through the questions they ask and what they come to understand about high potential candidates.  Finally, leaders who are committed to the company and the success of their people speak and act in such a way that there is no doubt about their commitment and what they are trying to achieve. A leader’s ability to hold REAL conversations is critical to all factors that impact employee engagement which ultimately determine the company’s financial success.