The best first step to improve employee engagement

picture of Dodger looking out window

Our cat, Dodger, loves to gaze out the window, alert to any movements outside. Closing the curtains would not change that interest; it would only make him more frustrated that he couldn’t do something he enjoys!

Is someone on your team (or even you) struggling in their job? It’s usually pretty obvious to everyone else, including the person involved, when there’s a problem with employee engagement.

No one likes being in this situation–most especially the person–but inertia is hard to overcome. Daily routines become habits, such as one person compensating for another, or even missed tasks are left undone without any accountability systems in place. This happens even with the best intentions to do well. Most often, the manager is the one who needs to get involved and start the process for improvement.

Identifying the employee performance issue

But what do you do? How do you start? The absolute best first step is to identify exactly what is wrong!

Three conditions must exist for high performance. When an individual possesses all three, they can execute their function well. These include:

  • ability (through knowledge, experience, tools)
  • motivation (interested to do the work)
  • confidence (autonomy and respect by others)

It just takes a deficiency in one of these areas for employee engagement to suffer. But it could be that two or even all three are a problem! You need to know which area is the cause, and you need to be specific.

For example, if ability is the issue, what experience or tools does the person need? Those are some of the easiest areas to address. Motivation can change based on circumstances (such as working on a new team) but most of us are hard-wired to the types of work we enjoy.

If you have an outgoing employee isolated in a back room, it’s not likely that you’re going to entice that person to like the solitary environment. Make sure you don’t impose your needs or wishes onto someone else.

Methods to uncover the specific issue

There are many ways to uncover the root cause of a employee engagement issue. You can use one or many methods—the successful combination will depend on your own skills in working through these. Enlisting the help of others as needed is important.

Go to the source! Begin a conversation with the employee and ask for their insight. Sometimes this works well, though sometimes the person lacks the self-awareness needed to uncover the problem. Be keen to what you hear and weigh it against your own perspective. (The truth may fall in the middle!)

Gather input from others. This is delicate; you aren’t looking to judge the person—you’re gathering data. Whenever possible, include the person in these conversations or tap into those who have worked well with the person and are supportive of their development. Don’t look for faults or opt for blame. Instead, look to see where the person’s light can shine more brightly.

Include assessments. Using a scientifically-developed tool is an objective way to raise awareness in a non-emotional and straightforward way. Leaving someone’s self-esteem in place is a critical part of this process having good outcomes for all involved.

Be timely in your exploration

Don’t wait until the performance is lagging so much that it’s impossible to address respectfully. Without intervention, employee engagement is unlikely to improve on its own. That means if you do nothing, performance of the entire team—and ultimately the organization—will suffer.

Moving through this process can be much simpler than you imagine, and in order to make a difference, you have to take this important first step! Everyone, including the employee, will thank you once things improve.


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