Get Your Staff Engaged – and They Are More Likely to be Happy

Involving your staff in meetings and your decision-making can raise your staff morale.

Seven ways to make your meetings productive and engaging:

  1. Use individual stories: If you’re planning an All Staff Meeting for the beginning of the year, it would be great to have an overview of the financial results and the strategy of the company going forward. If it’s a quarterly meeting, make it a strategy meeting as well as an evaluation meeting (“where are we on the path to actualising our strategy?”). Pick top performers from various business units and reward them at the All Staff Meeting – tie their individual success to the performance/success of the company. This allows people to feel that that their jobs are part of the company’s success story.
  2. Use quizzes: Break up the audience in 4 teams and conduct quizzes on a theme . Winners are rewarded with a bag of chocolates etc. We get the leadership team to be a part of each team . This generates a lot of excitement.
  3. Ask how well we are doing: Conduct a pre-event survey to get feedback on the planned topics. Specifically, for each topic, ask “to what extent does this take us in the right direction,” and “how well are we doing?” Each should have a Likert scale with a comment box. Execs often focus on “why” and don’t repeat enough about the specific progress made. This exercise gives you data to show the execs–then they could target their messages on each topic to meet the needs of why/what. After the event, repeat the survey to show movement along the two axes.
  4. Get individual inputs through groups: We were at tables of about 10 each. The execs launched our new values (about 8). after they presented the values, they asked each table to appoint a spokesman, a timekeeper, and a facilitator and we were to take one of the values and discuss how it showed up in our work; translate it to something concrete in our own experience. Every table was to discuss a value. After 20-30 minutes (leaders were going around the tables), the main leader called on tables to tell everyone what they’d come up with, having a bit of a discussion. This was good – as every person was involved to a certain extent.
  5. Get staff to discuss their work cross-functionally: Get them to look at real problems or real situations that they experienced, but in cross-functional teams. You will see many ideas, ranging from small cost-free things that eliminated an annoyance, to some genuinely game-changing bigger ideas. And some of those ideas became reality within weeks – now there’s a way to make staff feel engaged with the organisation!
  6. Skip the PowerPoint and get interactive: If your meetings are purely information sharing, you may want to consider other methods. If the face-to-face is essential, you may want to consider a different approach — perhaps an in-house open house or tradeshow approach to balance some of the formal presentations.
  7. Have doughnut days: Give the staff a free doughnut (or cake), tea and coffee and a chance to have an informal chat with the senior team afterwards. Really works well for us and develops great engagement between colleagues and the ‘top tier’. Your senior team have to want to do it though, and give it the time to deserves (not rushing off to meetings directly afterwards).

The usual communication channels such as a fun staff magazine, an intranet overhaul and managers team briefing document and increasingly, they are not enough. Employees’ expectations are getting higher and stuff like  social media cannot be ignored these days.

Empathy First

When you think about how to get your staff onboard with you, it’s a good idea to give people some input into its content so it’s not just a one-way stream of communication. All too often, the corporate magazine is full of messages from management or profiles of senior leaders – and the Internal Commnications team wonders why they’re not read by ordinary members of staff! To get your staff reading your magazine, think about creating content about your staff – what initiatives they came up with, how they solve problems at work, or how they have accomplished something.

Next, it is a good idea to study the demographics and psychographics of your staff in order to target them effectively. These are traditional marketing tactics and they can work well even for internal communication. For example, if you find that 70 percent of your employees are between the ages of 25 and 30, you can try and creating content that would be of interest to this age group. They may enjoy adventure travelling, competitive sports or even starting a family. So content relating to these areas will be useful to them.

Approaching internal communications through the lens of Human Relations is also worth considering. The basic idea is that the individual worker is a human being and he or she has a need to belong, to form natural goods, to communicate with his employer. Employers who value two-way communication also make for good leadership, leading to more coherent decision-making in the company.

Give A Sense of Ownership

The key to engaging your staff, whether it is through social media, a blog, a magazine or periodic events for leaders and staff, is this:

  • Tell them and they’ll forget
  • Show them and they’ll remember
  • Involve them and they’ll understand

When you involve people, in a way that gives them a sense of ownership and allow them to have influence over the result of their efforts, they will feel responsible for the results. That’s really engaging employees. There are many ways to give them a sense of ownership – letting them blog about their achievement, how they overcome their challenges, how they earn mastery over an area they were unfamiliar with – these are fantastic opportunities to allow them to share their stories, to inspire and to get recognised in the organisation as well. Once you have agreed on the objectives with your leaders and other stakeholders, get a group of people from your organisation (representing the business areas, hierarchy and ages) involved in brainstorming the best ways to get people understanding and curious about what’s required of them.

Understand the Message and the Media

The first thing to do is to understand what the management wants communicated, what they want staff to feel, think, do when they’ve heard the message. Next, speak to staff to find out what the barriers are to preventing miscommunication or misunderstanding. Find out the pain points of the staff in understanding the message.

Is it lack of clarity around the vision, a lack of visibility from senior managers, a lack of praise for good work, or a failure from managers to tackle underperforming colleagues (thereby demotivating a team)?

Look at the channels available – and do you need new ways to target them? Do a survey of social media habits and hangouts for a better idea of when you can use social media optimally. Before you use social media to interact with your staff, do remember, however, that senior managers are more conservative and it’s best to do some kind of pilot first. Some may not be aware how to use Instagram for instance, or because one or two may say things that the hierarchy would prefer not to leak out. Yes, support the staff and safeguard them from any embarrassment. Risk management has to be part of our job, too.

Then implement the plan, and ask your brainstorm team collect feedback about how people are reacting to the communication or the change.

From that, develop your communication plan and implement it. Keep your ears to the ground for feedback on the impacts to your boss(es), including anecdotal comments and that will help them to better understand the impact of well designed and implemented communication. This route is as much about planning as well as the involvement!

Adjust your communication plan after allowing for a few months to collect some data. The employee opinion survey feedback form is very useful. It is important to have focus groups via different methods: face to face, online. It is a good idea to say, “Now that we hear you tell us this. What do you think we can do about about it?” It is a golden opportunity to use inclusive language to ask people what they want to see changed. We often forget that and instead head off in a certain direction only to realise 100 miles down the road no one is following us!

A happy workforce is the best thing that could happen to any organisation, but is not IC’s task to deliver happiness. What IC needs to focus on is to convey managements’ wishes effectively. Engaged, informed, listened to and involved employees is the goal. If management wants happy people, all they need to do is involve people in the decision making process and they’ll barely keep up with the energies and initiatives that will pop out everywhere.

Helena Ma brings with her a wealth of experience and a truly cosmopolitan perspective, having lived and worked in Shanghai, China; Gothenburg, Sweden; and London, UK. Her stints in Europe and China has armed Helena with a potent blend of ancient Chinese wisdom and contemporary Western knowledge which she incorporates into business management and client project