Engaged employees can transform a company. They can take customer loyalty to new levels, reduce hiring costs, and improve productivity and product quality. But boosting employee engagement is hard work. And busy executives are sometimes so focused on the objectives that they don't take the proper steps to keep employees tightly tied into company culture and inspired to do great work.
A recent survey from Bain and Company in partnership with Netsurvey analyzed responses from 200,000 employees in 40 companies and found two troubling trends. First, the survey showed that engagement declines with employee tenure, meaning that your most experienced and knowledgeable employees are typically the least engaged. The survey also found that employee engagement was weakest at the lowest levels of the company and in service and sales departments, putting the least engaged workers on the front lines of a company's daily interaction with customers.
So how does a company boost employee engagement without the trial-and-error, time-intensive process of launching a new program from scratch without a blueprint for success? I recently had the chance to discuss this challenge with Darius Mirshahzadeh, President and co-founder of Endeavor America Loan Services. Mirshahzadeh has built a great team of highly engaged employees at his fast-growing mortgage company based in Walnut Creek, California. In less than a year, Endeavor has attracted 200 employees while spending zero dollars on recruiting. Here are 5 of his secrets for making sure employees start off on the right foot and stay highly motivated in their positions throughout their tenure.
1. Me before WE.
Barrels of ink have been spilled over the concepts of collaboration and teamwork. These practices are vital, but so is the often overshadowed emphasis on the individual employee. Mirshahzadeh practices the "me before we" mentality using the StrengthsFinder talent assessment tool to discover and grow employees' natural skills. His management makes it a point to mentor employees in their specific strengths and assemble teams that have complimentary skill sets. "Me before we" does not sacrifice the team for the sake of the individual, it puts an emphasis on individual development that ends up making for stronger teams.
2. Practice the "1 Percent" rule.
So many executives delay putting a program in place because they think it requires a lot of effort or resources. Mirshahzadeh instituted a rule requiring at least one percent of company resources dedicated to employee development early in Endeavor's lifecycle. The commitment equals roughly 20 hours per employee each year focused on personal development. The program fosters company loyalty and high morale.
3. Make first days and birthdays special.
Employees need to feel appreciated from day one and throughout the year or they'll feel detached and possibly resentful. On first days of work, don't just put the employee in a desk and let them fend for themselves. At Endeavor, first days are significant with an executive or founder spending personal face-to-face time with employees. On work anniversaries and birthdays, employees get hand-signed cards from senior management, a gift certificate and a personal note.
4. Use easy employee recognition tools.
Consistent employee recognition is necessary for engagement, but doing it in a meaningful and consistent way is time-consuming and complicated for many. Endeavor uses a software tool that simplifies the process and democratizes recognition to allow the entire staff to recognize their colleagues. YouEarnedIt is a points-based software system that allows employees to gift points to deserving co-workers. The points can be redeemed for prizes or other rewards. Recognition comes in real time. The tool alleviates the burden of a manager having to launch the program and the results are a more authentic gauge of true employee achievement.
5. Make feedback easy and effective.
A huge part of any executive or manager's job is listening. Listening sparks some of the best ideas, helps identify workplace problems early and builds a more connected and collaborative workplace. Endeavor uses the 15Five software system to provide a real-time, direct feedback pipeline to managers. Employees take 15 minutes each week to send comments that take a manager only five minutes to read, review and respond. The best ideas are quickly and easily passed up the chain of command, while problems are identified and addressed immediately. Listening is still best done in-person and face-to-face, but the system organizes feedback, sets up regular check-ins and allows unfiltered feedback to be sent to the highest decision-makers in the company with the push of a button.