It’s a new year, and that means a new beginning. We resolve to lose weight, exercise more, drink less and countless other things in our personal lives. But, it’s also an opportune time to focus on organizational resolutions. If nothing else, the fact that everyone is resolving to be better people means they’re likely to be receptive to new resolutions for the organizations of which they are a part. For that reason alone, it’s worth doing—for once, you’ll be pushing on a (slightly) open door. Every organization can resolve to be better at employee engagement.
Find a Theme
Start by asking a simple question: what is it you want to improve?
How do you make these things a cohesive unit that is readily communicated, absorbed and enacted? If you want to get a fresh start to employee communications, start the year with a theme. “The Year of .” Just fill in the blank. The Year of Living Dangerously (a pretty good movie with Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver from back when I was young), The Year of Magical Thinking (a book by Joan Didion), The Year of Rembrandt (a current exhibit at the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands). Look at what it is you want to achieve and make it The Year of THAT.
Suppose your organization has undergone downsizing. Make this The Year of Bouncing Back. The theme at its core is “we have been through tough times, but now we start rebuilding.” Bouncing back and rebuilding; hand out stress balls and Legos if you can’t think of anything else.
Or maybe accounting has noticed that top-line revenue growth isn’t translating into bottom-line earnings growth. That’s usually a sign of waste somewhere in between. So, this is The Year of Efficiency or The Year of Fighting Waste.
Draw up a Plan
Now, you have your theme. How do you propose to make each day, week and month add up to The Year of Whatever? When you fail to plan, you plan to fail, as the old saying goes. Well, you need a plan. Sending out emails and putting up posters alone to remind everyone it’s The Year of Whatever isn’t going to cut it. The theme merely unites all the activity that you are going to undertake in the coming months.
Take your personal resolution to drop a few pounds. Do you simply keep reminding yourself it’s The Year of Getting Fit? Or do you hit the gym three days a week, give up on desserts and have salad at lunch? There has to be action and comprehensive communication that support the strategy in employee engagement. Any action that doesn’t support it should be questioned. If it undermines the theme, it’s gone. If it is irrelevant to the theme, you still need to ask why you’re doing it. It could be part of last year’s theme, and that would be fine. It might just be a waste of resources, though. So, even if it isn’t directly undermining the theme, it could be preventing a better implementation of the theme because resources aren’t tightly focused.
Find Employee Engagement Ambassadors and Influencers
I’ve noted before that there are some people who are on board with what you want from the beginning. They may even be displaying the behaviors you want before you come up with this year’s theme. Then, there are the people who would back the new ideas, but don’t want to go first. It’s not that they’re cowards; they just know pioneers have high attrition rates. As I wrote then, “Show them that you and the first tier are serious and get some easy wins, and they will come along. The momentum will continue increasing.”
Since I wrote that, I have thought about what that means in practice. You don’t need to go to the C-suite, nor the department head. Your best ambassadors may be in the middle or even near the bottom of the org chart. People are usually more receptive when influenced by peers, by people they consider equals rather than from supervisors or the CEO. Top-down management isn’t always a good thing and, in this instance, maybe top-down communications won’t be as effective as lateral communications.
As always, remember that employee communications must be two way—aim for walkie-talkies, not radios. You’re asking people in your organization to do things differently, and there is always the law of unintended consequences. At West Point and Sandhurst, there is a saying “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.” All that means is that the minute you put your plan into action, circumstances you didn’t and probably couldn’t have foreseen will force you to make changes to that plan.
Your employee engagement theme and plan may be wonderful for everyone except the IT department. If there’s a mechanism in place for them to let you know why it isn’t so great for them, you can correct course. The steering wheel in your car is useless if you can’t see the road to adjust your direction and speed. If you don’t know IT is upset, the plan isn’t going to be as effective as it should be. Feedback is crucial to the success of any plan.