Engaging Your Team

If you ask most leaders who their most expensive employee is their mind usually goes straight to the person they pay the most. But that’s frequently not true. The most expensive employees in any organization are the ones who are least engaged. 

They “earn” their paycheck by doing the absolute least work possible. They provide little return for the investment the organization pays. They also tend to negatively impact the attitude and productivity of their co-workers. 

Labor shortages abound these days. Finding and keeping talented people is a top priority for any business hoping to be around in five or ten years. Keeping employees engaged is crucial to the effort to retain them. Engaged employees are more satisfied with their workplace. They are more productive than disengaged employees and they are the best recruiters of new talent that company has. 

Here are some strategies that may help you foster employee engagement.

  1. Establish clear and transparent communication channels. Regularly update your people about organizational goals, achievements, and challenges. Encourage two-way communication. For people to feel engaged they must also feel comfortable providing feedback, asking questions, and sharing ideas.
  1. Consistently recognize and appreciate your people’s efforts and achievements. Celebrate milestones, acknowledge exceptional performance, and provide constructive feedback. This recognition can be in the form of verbal praise, written appreciation, or rewards such as bonuses, certificates, or additional responsibilities.
  1. Support your people’s professional growth by offering training programs, workshops, conferences, or access to online courses. Encourage them to develop new skills. Provide opportunities for advancement within the organization. Discuss individual development plans and align them with employees’ career and life goals.
  1. Promote a healthy work-life balance to avoid burnout and foster overall well-being. Encourage your people to take breaks, use vacation time, and manage their workload effectively. These days implementing flexible work arrangements such as remote work, flexible hours, or compressed workweeks are not “perks” as much as they are requirements…if you what engaged people.
  1. Encourage teamwork and collaboration by organizing team-building activities, retreats, or social events. Foster a positive work environment where team members feel comfortable interacting with their colleagues and building strong relationships.
  1. Provide your people with as much autonomy as possible. Give them the freedom to make decisions related to their work. Give them ownership over their projects and encourage them to take initiative and be innovative. This empowers them, boosts their confidence, and increases their sense of belonging.
  1. Conduct regular performance evaluations to provide constructive feedback on employees’ strengths, areas for improvement, and progress towards goals. Offer ongoing feedback throughout the year to help employees stay on track and continuously improve. Don’t hold on to coaching comments and “dump” them on your people once a year. Coaching should be frequent and as positive as possible.
  1. Connect your people’s work to the larger purpose and mission of the organization. Communicate how their contributions make a difference and positively impact the organization, customers, or society. When people understand the significance of their work, they feel more engaged and committed.
  1. Conduct surveys to gather feedback on your people’s engagement levels, satisfaction, and suggestions for improvement. Use this feedback to identify areas of concern and take appropriate action to address them. And for heavens sake, never never ever punish one of your people for their feedback. That’s the surest way to disengage not just the person who was punished but every other person in your organization as well.

Remember, every employee is unique. It’s important to tailor engagement strategies to individual needs and preferences. Regularly assess the effectiveness of your initiatives and be open to adjusting and experimenting with different approaches to keep your people engaged and motivated.

A Million Dollar Meeting

Years ago when I was a younger salesperson one of my biggest potential accounts was the 3M Company in Minnesota. They had a group there that was called the 3M Meeting Management Institute. The group published a paper that gave lots of guidelines on how to hold effective meetings. They also estimated that the 3M Company was wasting 1 million dollars a day on ineffective meetings. (Apparently they weren’t following their own advice)


I hadn’t had a lot of luck breaking into that account until one day I was in a stationary store and saw a poster with a picture of 1 million dollars on fire surrounded by smoke. I bought a bunch of them and began mailing one a day to the CEO of 3M with the same short note every day. The note said “another million up in smoke…I can help put out the fire but only if you give me the chance.” 


I think I sent 14 or 15 posters before his administrative assistant called me to set up an appointment. 3M became the biggest account for my entire organization. 


The fact that 3M was losing 1 million dollars a day (if that was indeed accurate) speaks more to the shear size of their company than it does to their inability to hold productive meetings. I don’t think they were really any worse at meetings than any other company, including yours.


The jokes and one-liners about ineffective meetings are endless. You have undoubtedly heard many of them yourself like, “meetings are where the minutes are kept and the hours are lost.” Or “meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to get anything done.” 


They are funny and would be even funnier if it were not for the serious loss of productivity. Meetings are serious business. They are expensive whether the person or organization calling the meeting realizes it or not. 


You may never learn to like meetings but you can learn to give them at least a chance at being productive by following a few simple guidelines. These are in no particular order but the more of them you follow the better your chances of have a meeting that matters. 


Before you call a meeting, justify it. Don’t schedule a meeting until you’re certain you need a meeting. Most people assume that meetings are productive. If you want a productive meeting then you should assume the exact opposite. Ask yourself, “What is the intended outcome? What are we trying to accomplish? Do we need to put people in a room together to accomplish it?” If you can’t specifically demonstrate the need for a meeting, don’t have a meeting. If you can, then the process of justifying it will help you focus on what you want the meeting to accomplish. It will increase the chances of the meeting achieving your goals.


Don’t invite spectators to the meeting. It’s easy to “over-invite” people to meetings. We include people that may or may not help us accomplish the meeting objective. Don’t do that. Only invite people who you know will add value to the meeting. Inviting spectators to a meeting means you have people in the meeting who feel no responsibility to follow through. They feel no responsibility to accomplish anything. The only thing spectators actually accomplish is making the meeting take longer than it should.


Schedule only the amount of time required to accomplish the objective. Programs like Outlook are no help when it comes to planning productive meetings. The default time when scheduling a meeting with Outlook is 30 or 60 minutes. Ignore those defaults. If you can accomplish your objective in 12 minutes then schedule a 12 minute meeting. People will appreciate your respect for their time. You’ll likely accomplish as much in those 12 minutes as you would have accomplished in a 60 minute meeting. 


If you scheduled the meeting then it’s your meeting. When no one is in charge of the meeting then no one is in charge of the meeting. Few objectives are accomplished from meetings with no one in charge. If you called the meeting then you’re in charge of the meeting. You’re responsible for maintaining focus. Your responsible for accomplishing objectives and you’re responsible for keeping the meeting on time. If you can’t accept that responsibility then don’t schedule the meeting. 


If there are no action steps it wasn’t a productive meeting. I’ve never been in a meeting where there wasn’t lots of talking. I’ve been in a ton of meetings where there was no action. Talk is cheap but action is priceless. If no one is assigned an action step, or several action steps, then nothing will come from the meeting. (Well actually something is likely to come from a meeting with no actions steps….another meeting) Every meeting participant should know exactly what is expected of them as a result of participating in the meeting and also when it is expected of them. If, and that’s a big if, if there is a follow up meeting it should begin with a discussion of those action steps. Remember, a lack of action steps lead to only one thing… no action.

Just because most meetings are not productive doesn’t mean most meetings can’t be productive. You may not be losing a million dollars a day in unproductive meetings but you almost certainly aren’t getting what you could get from them. If you’re calling the meeting then the ultimate success of the meeting is on you. If you can’t accept that then no one else should accept your meeting.

Do You Know The People You Lead?

One of the more critical responsibilities of leadership is making sure you have the right people in the right positions. Leaders who don’t understand this fail, and they take their people right into the pit of failure with them. 


You can have one of the most talented people in the world on your team but if you don’t put them in a position to succeed then their chance at success goes way way down. 


Albert Einstein said that “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will spend it’s whole life believing that it is stupid.” So it is with people too! 


You may not see all of your people as geniuses but each of them indeed has their own set of strengths and as a leader it is incumbent upon you to make certain that those strengths are put to good use. Doing so is good for both your organization AND your people.


One of the challenges many leaders face is that they simply do not truly know their people. They don’t know their motivations, they don’t know their goals (or if they even have any) and they don’t know what challenges their people are facing in their own lives. Too many leaders are almost completely unaware of the totality of their people’s strengths and that results in people locked into jobs that are often far below their abilities. 


No one wins when that happens. Underutilized people become unmotivated people in the blink of an eye. If you don’t know what you have in your people you’ll likely never get it out of them.


If you’re a leader and you’re not conducting regular “strength inventories” with your people then you run the risk of demotivating the very people you need to be as engaged as possible. Conducting these types of inventories requires you to interact with your people. It makes you get out from behind that Great Wall known as a desk and meet your people on their terms. Indeed, the huge side benefit of conducting “strength inventories” is you’re also taking the pulse of your organization. 


Do not believe your organization is so big that you as the leader can’t do this. You may leave some of the inventories to your HR group or other leaders but every leader in your organization should be doing at least some inventories of their own people. 

Not providing your people the opportunity to fully utilize their skills is one of the fastest ways to lose them. If you’re lucky once you lose them they will move on to greener pastures, if you’re not lucky then you’ll lose them and they will stay in your organization.