6 Ways New Businesses Can Build Employee Engagement From the Start

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When starting a new business, surely your focus needs to be on getting the business and the product up and running. You only have a few employees at most, so there’s nothing to worry about on the “people” front.

Right? Wrong.

Building a strong, engaged team starts right away

Let me ask you this question another way: Let’s say your business is a bridge, and you can only build one beam, such as your product.

What happens when the powerful forces of the world start blowing and bearing down on your bridge? Will it be able to withstand these forces? Will it be able to withstand the test of time and survive in this competitive marketplace?

The answer to this question is: absolutely not. You need to add more beams to your bridge—and not just any beams, but those that will make your bridge strong by focusing on your people, and focusing on employee engagement.

Not convinced? How would you like to achieve results such as 17 percent higher productivity, 20 percent higher sales, and 21 percent higher profitability?

Here are the three reasons why:

  1. Engaged employees make better decisions because they understand more about the organization, their customers, and the context they’re operating in.
  2. Engaged employees are more productive because they like or love what they’re doing—they waste less time and get less distracted by things that don’t further the organization’s mission or goals.
  3. Engaged employees innovate more because they deeply want the organization to succeed.

We worked with thousands of leading companies worldwide to develop our Engagement Bridge™ model to help businesses build this employee engagement beam. It’s a practical 10-part model that provides a framework for success by highlighting the areas that companies need to examine to build a highly engaged company culture.

These tested tips will help you start building employee engagement, even if your team is still very small:

1. Create an open and honest culture

Lying to your staff, telling half-truths, withholding information, and compulsive under-communication destroys trust. It creates an “us and them” culture and sabotages any possibility of employee engagement.

Find ways to create a culture of open, honest, and transparent communication from the start, and take care not to drift into these bad and ineffective communication habits of larger, more traditional organizations.

You can do this by sharing all key business decisions, including the “why,” as well as any and all updates impacting both the business and people. Default to transparency, and only withhold information from your employees if it is absolutely critical.

2. Create company values that define your organization

One of the most important strategic decisions you’ll make is defining your company values. They codify and showcase the behaviors you want to see in your employees if you want your business to not only succeed but to set you apart from others.

Your values don’t have to be complicated—in fact, the more straightforward they are the better—but they do need to be unique to you, and not be cut and pasted from another company’s website.

One of our favorite examples from the book is from an Australian telecoms company who created these four values when they were merging their business and wanted employees to be clear as to the behaviors required to drive the new business:

“Clever company, no muppets, have a crack (give it a go), don’t screw the customer, don’t be a d!@khead.”

And don’t worry, your values can change over time as your business develops and grows.

3. Hire managers who will engage

We’ve all heard the expression “people leave managers, not companies,” and at least 75 percent of the reasons people quit comes down to their managers.

Make sure that your leaders and managers understand the important role they have when it comes to employee engagement. Remember, bad bosses ruin lives, so don’t let this happen in your company and to your employees.

To help you and your managers understand what good looks like, here are five traits of a good leader we identified by surveying our workforce:

  • Own and live the company values
  • Communicate openly and early
  • Inspire people to reach higher
  • Own their mistakes
  • Recognize big wins, small wins, and hard work

4. Create policies and procedures based on trust

Too many organizations write policies for the 1 percent of their workforce who are going to abuse or misuse them.

Instead, create policies and procedures based on trust for the 99 percent of your workforce who will respect and honor what you’ve created. Deal with the people who go outside the rules quickly and efficiently, not basing decisions and programs on this small minority.

An example of this is the new peer-to-peer recognition program we put in place for our employees. Most companies have an approval process whereby someone in HR signs off on any nominations made by employees, to make sure they don’t do anything questionable like give an award to a friend or relative. But we decided to base our process on trust and turned the approval switch off, showing our employees that we trusted them to do the right thing.

5. Create engaging jobs

If you want engagement in your organization, you need to first create engaging jobs. People need to key five things in mind as you create engaging jobs:

  • Create jobs that will develop and use your team’s best skills.
  • Communicate in ways the help employees feel and know they’re producing something meaningful.
  • Create roles that have enough challenge and demand to be stimulating over the long term so your team has enough freedom and autonomy that they don’t feel like they’re treated like a machine.
  • Develop systems for managing that require accountability for clear and visible results without micromanaging.
  • Give your employees the freedom to innovate, iterate, and pioneer new ways of doing better. If you keep these in mind, you’ll have a better chance of creating a job that drives engagement from the start.

6. Make your employees feel valued

It’s a basic human need to feel valued, to feel recognized for our efforts and contributions. And the good news is that it doesn’t have to cost much, if anything.

According to a Reward Gateway study, 72 percent of employees felt a simple “thank you” would make them feel more motivated and help build morale. Find ways to build a recognition culture from the start, and make recognition a part of everyday life at your company.

So don’t wait. Start building your own version of your engagement bridge.

And don’t worry about perfection—whatever you do that shows your employees you care and are making an effort will help you and your employees to start reaping the rewards.

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Glenn Elliott and Debra Corey
Glenn Elliott and Debra Corey
Glenn Elliott is founder and Debra Corey is group reward director of Reward Gateway, a world leader in integrated employee engagement technology with more than 1,800 clients worldwide. Elliott and Corey’s new book, Build It: The Rebel Playbook for World-Class Employee Engagement (Wiley, Feb. 27, 2018), highlights practical improvements that organizations can make to build a highly engaged company culture. Learn more at www.RebelPlaybook.com.
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