Retain Talent? No, Engage Talent. A Guide with Seven Easy Steps to Achieve Engagement

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“Common sense is the least common of the senses.” This sentence stuck in my mind right from the first time I heard it. I don’t know who to attribute it to. I think it was one of my lecturers at the Psychology Faculty who said it several years ago. The subject matter of this sentence contains what I think should be a guide to managing people in an organization: common sense and sound judgement. It seems simple, but we all know it is not so, because both things require cognitive flexibility, constant questioning, developing critical thinking, empathy, and probably other skills.

The complexity of the challenge, however, should not make us abandon it, but drive us to achieve it.

Before delving fully into this topic, keep in mind the following premise when we are doing people management work: “Achieving complete satisfaction in any human group is impossible.”

People are individually too diverse to hope that a group (the sum of a myriad of individuals) can attain a feeling of total satisfaction. However, it is indeed possible to bring the conditions closer to a benchmark that enables us to establish and then increase employee satisfaction, knowing that this will have a real effect on their levels of engagement, motivation and performance. So, we will be contributing to developing the business and the same people.

Going back to what I said about common sense and sound judgement in people management, this has a lot to do with managing evident things. Yet here is a potential problem, whatever is evident often becomes invisible. Have you ever upturned the whole house looking for something you think you’ve lost? You move furniture, open drawers, look under the bed … all of that, only to later, sit down to one side exhausted and realize that what you were looking for was always there, on the table right under your nose. You never saw it. The obvious had become invisible.

Engage and not retain

It may seem like hair-splitting words, but it isn’t. “Retain” has a negative connotation, don’t you think? The Collins English Dictionary defines it: “To hold in position” among other options. In other words, it implies force. Applying this to the corporate world, it would be rather like taking measures to hold back or stop those people, who may be longing to leave, from actually leaving.

“Engage” however, offers another perspective. The Collins English Dictionary defines it thus: “To secure the services of, employ; to secure for use, reserve; to involve (a person or his or her attention) intensely, engross, occupy; to attract (the affection) of (a person); to draw (somebody) into conversation; to take part; participate;…”. In other words, engaging employees is about attracting and involving employees to participate intensely in the company’s business as well as drawing them into conversations and decisions. Of course, engaging employees is also about winning over their loyalty.  

So, the term, engage, better focuses the desire and need that we should aspire to as a company to keep the people who will help grow the business as well as grow themselves through their contribution. Based on this definition, this is the right term

In a nutshell, people management has to do with sound judgement, common sense and managing what is evident. Next are the 7 actions I consider the most effective for overcoming the great challenge of engaging employees and keeping them loyal to our organization. 

1. Be familiar with the work environment of your company. You may intuit how things stand in your company, but this perception is assuredly somewhat biased. It is essential that you understand the reality as it is. How do you do this? With a simple work environment study. Straightforward. Nowadays there are start-ups in the market that does them at reasonable rates. Many companies decide not to do this out of fear. Fear of what? Of thinking that by actually doing a study of this kind could spur unreal expectations among employees. That’s a poor justification. Proper communication can assist with defining these expectations. Yet there will always be subsequent actions that will not necessarily entail cash disbursement that upsets our budgets. Trust me , some things may have nominal investment, yet they are highly valued. For other things, will we have to invest more? Most certainly, but for these, you would have to decide when, the desirability, and the relevance of doing them. Remember, first you need to listen with care. Find out as thoroughly as possible before putting forward proposals. 

2. Define a reward plan. This is unavoidable. Knowing how your company pays in relation to the market and the sector is essential for attracting candidates and engaging them when they become employees. If you do not know how competitors remunerate, you will not be able to define your own program that, for instance, can compensate for a gross salary gap with some other measures such as flexible compensation, or work-life balance measures. Is a salary study expensive? Not so much if you weigh up the advantages that you can gain from it, not only for comparing sectors, but also by knowing that you are paying  correctly you will have more tools for defining the policies on salary raises and any possible negotiations on that.

3. Establish recognition plans. I underscore this point as a special need for non-monetary recognition. I am referring to the need to congratulate and recognize the achievements employees attain on the way. Did they bring in an important client? Did they win a tender? Was a difficult negotiation successfully settled? These are small and big achievements that impact the entire organization, mostly for the people directly involved; they know more than anyone else what it cost them to achieve that success. Recognizing ourselves as winners fills us with the pride of belonging to the team that achieved this victory and knowing that our work has positive consequences. As this is uplifting, does not all of this deserve recognition? Of course, it does! Immediate, close, and spread wide among all without exception.

The recognition plans that involve the employees’ relatives bring added value through the emotional facet which should be taken into account.

4. Deliver a plan for time off. Time is one of the assets that people have most valued throughout history and we appreciate it even more living in the current times. This is the time needed for personal situations, family events, emergencies, critical cases, and more. Being stingy about a few hours for an employee who is going through, for instance, a critical situation can severely affect their relationship with the organization. Exceptional cases will be treated exceptionally, that’s true, but as an organization it is expedient to have a policy that standardizes on how a given number of hours are set aside for handling such cases .A well-known example is “time-off” coupons; a good idea for which it is necessary to define how it is implemented and used based on the characteristics of the business or departments, but under the basis of “good will” that effects productivity positively and increases motivation. Start by questioning paradigms, implement a plan, measure (always measure the impact) and then assess the results achieved.

My personal opinion leans more towards creating a culture of responsibility and goal-driven work in which people truly take charge of working for our shared, common goals. This implies a cultural transformation. This is more of a long-term task. Indeed, nobody said it would be simple.

Separately I draw attention to some practices that no longer fall under this this “time off” buffer, such as teleworking (already legally regulated in several countries). This is no longer a differential value in many environments, it has become a mode of work, pay attention to how it is valued in your environment.

5. Always communicate, what we people do not know, we invent. This is not about informing but communicating. Let me say that again: communicating. The internal communication areas of organizations have a lot to contribute here. This is not about posting news on walls or an intranet or developing a collaborative social network with little activity to just to say that we have it,  a revolution in communication within the company, where first you must be convinced of the importance to communicate, and thereafter generate the corresponding communication spaces, but now effectively—top-down, horizontally and bottom-up—and providing an opportunity to express opinions, to disagree and to be aware of what is happening in the company. The first immediate effect is: reduced office talk and rumourmongering and reduced uncertainty caused by not knowing what is happening. Remember that what we do not know, we create narratives, we invent them, and what’s more, we socialize them. It is desirable to stop this problem. It is not difficult, but yes, it is hard; the first step: the will to do it. 

6. Provide training. Few things engage more than the feeling of building up knowledge and skills. I know that in times of less profitability one of the things that usually drops off almost by default is precisely this point, in the trust that the knowledge and familiar ways of doing things at the time will be enough for taking on future challenges (a mistake, from my point of view). However, if external training budget allocations are cut, there may be an alternative: internal training. Taught by in-house champions, internal training helps to address a need for knowledge for those who require it and places internal experts in a role that they usually find interesting and rewarding. Do not forget that from People Management, we must be permanently active facilitators of this initiative, so that being an internal trainer is ultimately viewed as recognition and not as a liability.

7. Encourage development. Whether your organization is a pyramid type or liquid type (with structures made up of projects and where leadership roles are continuously exchanged), it is important to establish the development model that your target audience (employees) is demanding and see how this possibly adapts to the business model (by logically seeking the best fit between both parties). Although there will be cross-cutting factors, such as helping to find the employee’s purpose in the organization, granting autonomy, promoting collaborative work, it is necessary to know and distinguish employees based on their needs and expectations. Until a few years ago, people joined a company and hoped to remain there until retirement; today this is desired less and less frequently. What development model does the company need? Is it appropriate for the characteristics of the professionals that the business needs? Get to know, define and propose a model, deploy it and be willing to change it whenever necessary.

Are some trivialities? Perhaps several, but how many of them are being done in your company? How many of them are being done well?

There is a tendency to go for the complex when there is lots of wealth to be found hidden in small, simple but well-structured actions. The trend is that work ties are less and less permanent. This is a reality that must be faced squarely and fearlessly. So, this is about enabling the duration of the company-employee link to be of quality: allowing people to give of their best and through their input, the organization can consolidate and develop. For this, engagement is required. Engagement for as long as necessary, for the time that both parties mutually need each other. 



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