April 19, 2016 karynross

Do You Know What Really Engages Employees?

Does your company use some kind of survey to measure employee engagement?

If you do, I’m wondering if you’ve noticed what many of the companies that I work with have been experiencing. No matter how much time and effort you put into trying to find creative new ways to recognize employees so that they’ll be more engaged, nothing ever really seems to work:

  • “It doesn’t feel like my manager understands or recognizes the work I do.”
  • “The same people are always recognized and rewarded. It’s just not fair.”
  • “Our rewards and recognition system isn’t meaningful to me.”

These are just a few of the comments I’ve heard from those surveys lately. Frustrated managers sigh and shake their heads: “It seems that no matter how many pizza parties, jeans days, peer recognition boards or reward rand incentive programs we come up with, the same comments keep coming back, year-after-year. There must be something that we can do so that our employees feel more engaged,” managers say. “But we just don’t know what it is. Do you have any suggestions?”

“I have some ideas,” I always answer, “But they might not be what you are expecting.”

That’s because, in my experience, it’s not pizza parties, jeans days or any kind of public or private recognition that actually engages employees. Those things might be fun, and they might make some employees happy in the short-term; however, what I believe really engages people is the opportunity, on a day-to-day basis, to do meaningful work to satisfy their customers and contribute to your businesses’ ability to meet its goals, reach its potential and fulfill its purpose.

What do I mean by meaningful work? I mean work that allows their customers to receive the exact service they want, exactly when they want it, right the first time. After all, no matter what type of service organization you are in, isn’t that what all customers want? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines service in a number of ways including:

  • the occupation or function of serving
  • the work performed by one who serves
  • contribution to the welfare of others
  • a helpful act

Might seem pretty basic, however, most of the people that I know who work in customer service really understand that the service part – the simple, everyday acts of caring for their customers’ wants and needs and contributing to their welfare, whether by answering their questions, providing them with a meal, or a product that they need – is what is most important and meaningful in the work they do on a daily basis. When their customers are happy because they’ve had a great service experience, they are happy. Having happy customers is the first part of having engaged employees – because what is meaningful to those in service to others is knowing that they are actively contributing to the happiness and well-being of those they serve!

The second thing that really engages people is being able to see HOW their service to customers contributes to the company’s ability to meet its goals. And not only its financial goals, but its greater goals – its deeper purpose – for existing in the world. Purpose is about something greater than ourselves. In my experience, most people care very deeply about being a part of something that allows them to contribute to the world in a greater way than they could on their own. Working with others in an organization is a great way to do that. And working to serve others is an even greater way. Serving others allows people to work towards fulfilling the organization’s purpose – and their own personal purpose – at the same time.

So, if your organization is truly concerned about employee engagement, before you set off on the next round of brainstorming sessions for new and exciting ways to engage people, here are some suggestions to help you focus on the the two things that really engage service providers:

  1. Find ways for your service providers to spend the majority of their time serving their customers and making them happy!
    • Get out of your cubicle and go and see what your service reps are spending their time on. Are they actively engaged in serving your customers for the majority of their time at work or are they spending most of their time on internally focused responsibilities such as running reports, admin or other non-customer facing tasks? If they are, find other ways to get those tasks done and let your service reps do what is most engaging for them – serving your customers!
    • Are problems in your underlying service processes preventing your reps from delivering exactly what customers want, when they want it, right the first time? If they are and your service reps are spending a good part of their days fixing problems that your service processes created, or telling customers what they can’t do for them, they aren’t going to be engaged because their customers aren’t going to be happy. If your service processes can’t support your service reps in creating meaningful service interactions with your customers, fix them!
  2. Make your service providers’ contributions to your business’ performance and ability to fulfill its purpose accessible and visible. Everyone wants to see how their work contributes the organization’s success!
    • Involve your employees in solving strategic business problems. They talk with your customers every single day and they know best exactly what your customers want and what will make them happy.
    • Involve your employees in solving problems in service processes. They use those service processes day in and day out to make meaning with your customers. They know what frustrates customers and they’ve probably got great ideas of how to fix the problems. And when the problems are fixed, customers will be happier and so will your reps!
    • Create visual systems so that your employees are easily able to ‘see’ how the work that they are doing on a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis contributes to your company’s success; both its financial success and wider purpose. If you don’t have a dashboard that shows every employee’s contribution to the company, create one!

In my opinion, it’s easy to see why rewards and recognition programs such as jeans days, pizza parties and recognition raffles don’t really work to engage people: they’re totally focused on the employee! And for those who work in customer service, what’s really and truly engaging is the connection and contribution that they make to others – your customers! If you want engaged employees, then every single employee in your company should be able to make their customers happy each and every day, and every single one of them should be able to explain exactly how their work contributes to your organization’s financial success and ability to fulfill its purpose. Once every employee can do that, you won’t have to worry about comments on employee engagement surveys anymore because service to others and being part of something that is bigger than we are is what people really want and need to be totally engaged.

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