Talk your way to employee engagement

In researching employee engagement for a client this week, I came to the conclusion that engagement starts in the heart. Although improvements can be measured, strategies and tactics to encourage people to identify strongly with their work have to be as individual and varied as the people in the organization. And they have to penetrate deep into the soul.

I read a lot of literature from consulting firms selling tools for measuring employee engagement. But my big insight was that people do their best, not because of the financial rewards, but because their job is who they are.

Of course, employee engagement communication has to be driven by actions to fix problems and create a culture of engagement, where people feel valued and comfortable in speaking out. Toby Ward of Prescient Digital Media has written some good posts on this.

We hear a lot about how social media tools promote engagement by offering channels for feedback, input and user content.

But what about a client where computer-based engagement communication strategies are of limited use? In my case, the client is a hospital where most employees are too busy taking care of patients to spend much time on a computer. Like most healthcare organizations in Ontario, they have not yet embraced mobile media.

They talk. In person. One-on-one or in small groups.

The obvious solution is to strengthen supervisor/manager communication. In study after study, this has proven to be the most popular and credible channel with employees. What’s more, it solves the problem of communicating with employees who work different shifts.

Although I love the way computers have created such a wealth of communication tools, we all need to be reminded that people talking to other people is the basic, and most effective, communication.

Sure, far-flung organizations have to rely on virtual communication. But even the most tech-savvy companies are trying to personalize their online communication through videos, web cams and other means.

People who work in hospitals, construction crews, farms and many other places rely on two-way communication with their supervisors and managers. So should anyone who wants to touch hearts and souls.

It’s ironic that there’s so much emphasis on measuring levels of employee engagement and the results on organizational performance. Yes, there’s lots to measure. But the true measure of engagement can be seen only in real life. The nurse listening with compassion to the patient’s complaints… the electrical worker caring enough to make sure the job is done safely… the call centre employee who actually talks to a customer instead of reading a script.

Social media gurus talk a lot about conversations, though the conversations on Facebook and Twitter tend to be pretty superficial. So let’s not forget that the best conversations take place in person, between people who already know and like each other.

How sticky is that?