One of the benefits of being a mechanic is that engines are, well, mechanical. When there’s a problem, it gets solved through an objective process of diagnosis and repair. There aren’t many abstractions involved. If the mechanic is good, there isn’t a whole lot of guesswork.

When it comes to managing a business, getting the engine to run smoothly is quite a bit different. Our efforts depend, in large part, on keeping people engaged in their work, both as individuals and as a team. This is not an exact science – especially when so many people are working from home.

It never hurts to remind ourselves that engagement is the purest fuel for success. It drives performance, improves teamwork, and builds healthy work cultures. As we grapple with new realities and prepare for the future, what can we do to keep the workforce firing on all cylinders?

See employees as customers

In the marketing world, we hear a lot about turning customers into brand ambassadors. We can and should understand the workforce in a similar fashion. Our employees are brand ambassadors who represent the company, the organisation, and the brand every single day. They have enormous influence right at the coalface of our processes, culture, morale, and retention.

What are your employees striving for individually and collectively? What motivates them to get up every morning, and how does our broader strategy connect to everyday work? Do our employees have a strong sense of purpose around the company’s mission, vision, and values? Asking these questions (not just once, but continuously) is the first step toward better engagement.

Deliver meaning

Now more than ever, employees are hungry for meaningful work. They want to contribute impactful ideas and stretch their capabilities. When people are intellectually engaged in this way, their personalities are activated – not only as employees, but as human beings with the skills and creativity to solve problems.

Put your marketing team to work internally to ensure this message is cutting through. When employees feel like their work is meaningful, their day-to-day contributions are inspired by that feeling. This strengthens the individual’s connection to the organisation’s greater goals – which, in the end, is the only real way to meet those goals.

Normalise the human side of work

When the COVID-19 crisis began, the importance of human connections was quickly underscored. We saw employees in their homes with children skittering across the frame. We saw the human struggles and everyday challenges. Almost overnight, the act of leadership became more human.

As a result, many leaders are now doing what the great leaders have always done: Showing compassion, demonstrating empathy, doing the right thing without waiting to be told, keeping it simple, and showing a pragmatic optimism – all the while building trust with their people.

When we take stock after the crisis, leaders who behaved like genuine and decent human beings will be the ones we celebrate – not those who complied with outdated HR processes. Trust and authenticity are fundamental to leading a highly engaged team.

Build it together

It’s antithetical to think that employee engagement can be engineered from the top down. Instead of depending on bureaucracies and obscure knowledge, pursue streamlined solutions with which your team can identify. If an employee has the insight to suggest a revision to current practices, it’s important to hear that suggestion and be open to revising. Listen to information and insights about the culture you’re building. Make yours a culture of listening, learning, building.

Activate effective channels of communication for employees to provide feedback. Listen, encourage ideas and suggestions, and follow up. Provide a culture where employees shape processes. This should be a continuous leadership initiative. It can be tempting to “table” a new idea in favour of “how we’ve always done it,” but evolutionary thinking is more important than ever.

A well-oiled engagement machine

Employee engagement is the engine that drives business forward, but it can only run smoothly if employees feel heard and respected. It can only fire on all cylinders if leaders pursue an environment of curiosity, collaboration, and continued learning. It may not be an exact science – but when we get it right, the numbers are real indeed.

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