Employee engagement is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Prior to becoming a consultant, I spent 14 years in the field building and managing contact centers, customer service groups, and other operating departments. I've seen firsthand the power of engaging employees. The most successful and truly fun departments that I ran were those in which my staff was actively engaged in all aspects of the business—they came in every day knowing they made a difference to our customers and the company. (In one credit card shop, this was reflected by an annual attrition rate of less than 7 percent.)
Employee engagement is frequently viewed as a "soft" topic or activity, and is often overlooked because there is always something more important to do. I believe that engaging employees is likely to be one of the most valuable and powerful investments managers can make. And when it's done well, it can have an amazing impact on your operating environment, employees, customers, and possibly your bottom line. Consider Zappos—there is a reason they've been ranked so highly in customer service. Their job isn't just to sell shoes and other retail products. Their job is to thrill their customers with outstanding everything—products, service, and anything else representatives feel is necessary to "help" customers, and management left it up to them to decide the meaning of help. These employees are empowered, and that is the key.
Here are some proven approaches for engaging employees:
Listen to them. Invite your employees to share their recommendations, and really listen to what they say. These are the people who are doing the job every single day, and it's very likely that they'll come up with ways to do it better. Create an environment that welcomes new ideas, and demonstrates this by applying staff input and giving credit to the people who made the suggestions.
Involve them. Invite your staff to get involved in activities that go beyond their primary job functions. This will encourage people to do more than just the basics, which is desirable in employees. Create an operating environment that welcomes innovative ideas and actions.
Support them. Be there for your employees, just as you want them to be there for you and your department. This means everything from just listening to them when they need a friend to supporting them when they come up with new business ideas. Help them succeed.
Excite them. Communicate your department's direction and plans to your employees. Share what is happening, and get them excited about changes; help them see the opportunities that change and innovation can give them.
Invest in them. Give of your time, just as you want them to do for your department.
Develop them. Create a warm and welcoming operating environment that gives employees an opportunity to grow professionally and personally.
Challenge them. Give your employees new opportunities, and help them succeed and grow to the next level.
Recognize them. Recognize, thank, and reward employees for doing a great job; show your appreciation when your staff does outstanding work or comes up with a great idea.
Celebrate them. Celebrate every employee success, and create a positive and fun operating environment so that your staff enjoys coming to work.
Respect them. Show employees respect for the work that they do.
Compensate them. Pay people for doing their jobs, and use pay-for-performance to motivate and recognize staff for doing more than necessary.
Promote them. Whenever possible, promote from within your department; this goes a very long way toward demonstrating that your department and employees are appreciated by you and other senior management.