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During the past few years, there have been some significant changes in the way many people work. Today there are many more flexible working environments, arrangements, distributed teams, composite teams made up of full-time employees, strategic partners, and external consultants, all of which present challenges when it comes to creating an employee engagement strategy for successful implementation.

Previously, the majority of people either worked directly for their boss, or at least they were employed by the same company which meant that they could look to try, engage, and motivate people by offering bonuses, looking to give them development opportunities, offering the prospect of promotion, or talking about the purpose of the company.

But when people no longer either report to you or even work for your company, this can become a bit of a challenge.

Just recently I ran a program for Fujitsu where we had Fujitsu teams based in UK, India, Russia, Serbia, Germany, and Switzerland working on the project, we also had two strategic partners and also a handful of contractors and external consultants involved in the program.

As an external consultant myself, none of these people had a direct reporting line into me, they all worked for someone else and were just temporarily assigned to the project, so how does improving employee engagement work in this kind of situation so that your project turns out to be a success?

What I would like to share with you are 6 simple things that every team member expects from their leader and if you provide them, then even in today’s fast-paced, ever-changing, highly mobile, and distributed world will work to help create highly engaged teams. Most employee engagement surveys say the same.

1. Clear Direction: Catalyst to a Successful Employee Engagement Strategy

The first thing we need to do is to give people a clear direction. If you do not know what the goal and objects of the tasks are, then it is impossible for people to be able to connect with them. When people lack clarity and direction, it’s difficult for them to become engaged, if not impossible. We should also look to give clarity not only around what we are doing but also why it is important and if we can explain why it is important to them, then that’s even better.

As part of the program we were running at Fujitsu we were moving a client to a new IT platform, so we looked to highlight to the team that they would be the first in the company to gain skills within this new technology which would help give them a competitive advantage and put them in demand for future projects.‍

2. ‍Creating a Safe Environment

‍Nothing kills an effective employee engagement strategy faster than having a blame culture. I see this time and time again where people are criticized for mistakes, demeaned in front of others for any tiny mishap. This is a morale killer, it not only stops people from taking risks, but they also look to keep out of the firing line so do the minimum that is required of them and if it gets too toxic then they become disengaged completely.

Good leaders create a safe environment, one where people don’t feel afraid of making mistakes because that fear itself can lead to hesitation and mistakes. If mistakes do happen, then focus on finding solutions, not who’s to blame, and give any feedback in a way that is supportive and will help people improve rather than highlighting their shortcomings, and also do it in private. Public autopsies of individual failure only serve to make people warier of making mistakes.‍

3. Set Them Up For Success

Ever heard the phrase “Success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan child”, this is one of my favorite sayings because it shows that everyone wants to be part of a winning team. We all want to feel that we have achieved something, to experience success and get some rewards and recognition. We are hard-wired for this, one of our basic needs is to have good self-esteem and a little bit of success serves to fill that need.

So if we can show our teams how to be successful, if we give them the tools they need to be successful, then not only will they become engaged, but they will become excited to be involved.

People are not afraid of hard work-- they are afraid of failure, and when we as leaders can give them the confidence that they will be successful, then in my experience, they will work hard to achieve it.‍

4. ‍Give Them Space To Be Successful

Whilst I believe that blame is one of the worst things for killing engagement, I must admit that Micro-Management is a very close second. Even with distributed teams, I have seen people become disengaged by managers constantly chasing them up through chats, emails, and phone calls. It sometimes feels that Micro Managers see virtual teams and people that are 1000 miles away from them as some kind of challenge and look for new and better ways to keep a very close eye on them. Even though we might be working at home, it feels like big brother is still watching you.

Don’t do that!

Give your team space, give them a chance to make progress before you check in with them. Ideally agree with them when it would be a good time for you to come back and see how they are doing.

When you give people space, it shows that you trust them, they will feel respected and those are two feelings that will help to drive engagement.

Now that doesn’t mean that we should never check-in, it means that we need to do it at the right times, and ideally, at mutually agreed times. Not only will that help with engagement, but it will also help to drive accountability.

‍5. Give Them Support When Needed

When it comes to making people feel like they will be successful, one of the most powerful tools we have is to let them know that they have our support and that they can reach out if needed. This is like giving a trapeze artist a safety net, probably they won’t use it, but knowing it is there will help to give them increased confidence which will help to boost engagement even further.

89% of workers at companies that support well-being initiatives are more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work-American Psychological Association

We should let them know at the start that they can reach out if there are any difficulties, or things that they are unsure of or need a little help with. This also contributes to creating a safe environment, one where they know that if they start to have issues, not only will they not be blamed or criticized but one where they can get some help.‍‍

6. Give Them Good Feedback

With highly distributed teams we need to make sure that the communication channels are clear, open, and in regular use. We need to set up regular calls so that we can share the progress with the teams when they can see that they are being successful this is a great motivation and shows that their efforts are succeeding. It also gives opportunities to provide support when we need to make some changes if things are not going quite to plan.

Employees feel 5x more empowered if their feedback is valued in the organization.- Salesforce

We also need to make sure that we praise people for their efforts and the good progress being made. If people put in the work but receive little to no feedback then they can quickly fall into the “I don’t know why I bother” mindset and when that happens they are now starting down the path to disengagement.

Positive feedback costs nothing, but the return on investment is significant, give it freely.

As the world changes at an ever-increasing pace, these simple things will help you create engaged teams, they will work with teams that report directly to you, they will work with suppliers and external staff too because they help to fulfill some of our basic needs. The better you become at these the more engaged your teams will become and the better the results you will achieve.

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Gordon Tredgold

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Gordon Tredgold is a leadership and engagement expert and speaker from West Yorkshire, UK. His first passion is rugby. He speaks, writes, coaches, and teaches leadership. He makes leadership simple.