For the last 6 months, organizational leaders and Human Resources practitioners have been deeply committed to reactive practices to figure out how to keep businesses running. The hope (often the assumption) has been that these practices would be short term, just to help us get through the next few months before we return to normal. Here we are, 7 months later, and the one thing we know for sure is that we’re not out of the proverbial woods with this global health event. The idea of getting back to normal has come and gone. We are now settled into a new way of working. The impact of the disruption has stabilized, and we’ve entered the phase of long-term uncertainty.
But uncertainty isn’t new. In so many ways, uncertainty has always been the reality. Sure, it might be coming at us a little faster and in some unexpected ways, but this isn’t so much new as just a little different. This means there are a few critical practices HR practitioners and business leaders should double down on. These will help not only navigate the global health event but also power through it. While you can’t control the outside environment, you can impact the environment inside your organization in a way that will make it more likely your employees will be fully engaged.
Fully engaged employees—those who are “all in” and committed at the highest levels to the team’s and the company’s success—are the secret sauce to innovation, productivity, and retention. And according to the ADP Research Institute’s newest study, engagement explains 64% of resilience, an essential capacity for your people in times of massive disruption. Given the complexities of work and life, it’s been hard to create an environment at work where employees are more likely to be all in. We’ve tried complicated programs, fancy technology, and countless town hall meetings, but it feels like we haven’t made much progress. It turns out the biggest ingredient in the secret sauce isn’t complicated, fancy, and delivered from the top down.
The key ingredient is one-to-one connectivity. In fact, employees who have radically frequent connections with their team leaders are 1.5–3 times more likely to be fully engaged. That means they are more likely to stay with the organization, more likely to power through tough times, and more likely to do more of their own unique best work. Although this secret sauce feels like common sense (we all know that attention helps), it’s not necessarily common practice. You can’t make your team members and team leader connect in a meaningful way, but you can increase the likelihood that it happens.
You can also increase the likelihood that it’s meaningful to your employees by giving team leaders guidance about how to have great check-ins. These don’t have to be long, drawn-out conversations, just light-touch one-on-ones that get to the heart of work by asking two things: What are you working on? And how can I help?
If it’s so easy, why is it so hard? Here are two silent barriers that often prevent this from happening and that you can easily adjust to ensure your team leaders have the time and capacity to support their team members with frequent attention:
- Get rid of team leader tasks and activities that don’t add value. How many of those action plans you’ve had team leaders create have actually been put into practice? And how many of them that were put into practice produced tangible results? We’ve muddied up the world of work with practices that sound good to us but simply create administrative burden for our employees and especially our team leaders.
- Double down on the activities and tools that are proven to drive engagement. This is a popular space, and there are a lot of opinions, but the research and experience are crystal clear about how to do this. With the right framework and frequency, you can create the conditions that ritualize connectivity between team leaders and team members. Organization after organization continues to find that weekly check-ins are the most powerful practice to drive engagement.
It really is common sense. You need to remove the waste and burden from your employees’ work and create the space to focus on the most powerful rituals that will accelerate engagement and performance. When you create this attention-rich environment, employees are more likely to thrive and power through the inevitable challenges that are coming at us at a pace unimaginable just a few short months ago. This is very doable, and the impact is evident in weeks, not years. As leaders, we have a responsibility to rethink our priorities and act on them. Without fully engaged employees, your organization may survive, but it will not thrive sustainably in this new world of work.
Amy Leschke-Kahle is the VP of Performance Acceleration at The Marcus Buckingham Company, an ADP company. Amy combines her practitioner experience with research to collaborate with clients across the globe. Her unique approach has resulted in sustainable, proven techniques for measuring and accelerating engagement and performance in the real world of work.