If you took a casual survey at your company, what do you think people would say about the level of employee engagement? Do people really live the mission of the company? Are they all on board with the culture? Their answers may surprise you. Gallup released a study that 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged. Eighty-seven percent! For leaders, employee engagement is a key driver of company performance. In fact, the Gallup study found that highly engaged workforces outperform earnings by 147% over disengaged workforces. For employees, engagement is a significant part of what makes a job fulfilling. Both sides have every reason to desire high levels of engagement, yet they are all failing nearly 90% of the time.
YPO member Greg Harmeyer, co-founder and CEO of TiER1 Performance Solutions, has devoted his career to improving employee engagement. Harmeyer recognizes that engagement is a two-way street: the company has to make an effort, but so do the employees. Harmeyer has made considerable strides, and TiER1 has appeared on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies in the U.S. for 12 straight years. TiER1 has also won over twenty awards as a best place to work in multiple cities, including twice by Inc. Magazine’s Top 50 Best Workplaces in the U.S. TiER1 has consulted with major companies like P&G, Kroger, FedEx, Delta Airlines, and over 200 other major companies on how to activate their business strategies through their people. In working with industry leaders, Harmeyer and TiER1 have seen challenges around culture, employee engagement, leadership, and overall alignment and performance from the lens of both senior leadership, and the thousands of individual associates that make up a company.
Much has been written on how companies can make their environment more engaging. But what can employees do to embrace that opportunity? They can’t just sit back and wait. Here is Harmeyer’s advice on how to become a more engaged employee:
1. Ask what is expected of you.
This may seem simple, but subtleties matter. Harmeyer says, “Ask your manager, and ask your peers. Then re-check your thinking.” He also sees this as a way of advocating for yourself, advising, “The best way to influence what is expected of you is to ask what is expected of you.” Harmeyer also encourages employees to ask for specifics, so they can make sure they know how to react in any given situation.
2. Request what you need.
Here again, Harmeyer wants employees to be their own best advocate. He says, “Think about what you really need to be effective. If you aren’t getting it, can you articulate how it will make you more productive? Can you identify the ‘business case’ for why you need it?” This will help the employee in other ways, too: “Developing a business mindset about what is needed to be effective will make you more effective at communicating and in the process may also help you get what it is you are after,” Harmeyer says. If you aren’t sure how to articulate it, check out Number 6.
3. Know your strengths.
Harmeyer wants employees to be able to say, “I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.” This starts with knowing yourself, he says: “What are you uniquely good at? What do you do best? Then figure out how to connect that into what matters to the organization.” This is a win-win for company and employee: the company gets the very best from the employee, and the employee is fulfilled and making a real contribution.
4. Be known.
Harmeyer is careful in his explanation. “Not in an obnoxious, overbearing way,” he emphasizes. Instead, “make connections to managers and ask them how you are doing,” Harmeyer advises. The purpose of being known is to influence the type of attention you get. “The more you proactively seek feedback, the more recognition you will receive,” he explains. Bring attention to yourself in a positive way, so people know the contributions you’ve made, but don’t think of you as a showman.
5. Care about someone else.
Being kind is something you should do anyway - but it can also help you. If you want someone to care about you, Harmeyer advises you “start by caring about someone else. Ask about their families, and their stresses at work and at home.” You’ll be amazed at the effect it has on your workplace. “Caring about others makes your work environment more humanistic. And it’s contagious. The more you help create such an environment, the clearer it will be that others care about you, too,” Harmeyer smiles. A supportive office has happier, more productive employees.
6. Find a mentor.
Finding a mentor can require a lot of time, but Harmeyer strongly believes it’s a worthy investment. “One of the most rewarding things people do in life is helping others,” Harmeyer says. “Asking someone to mentor you is not a burden to them; it is a gift to their own sense of growth and development,” he explains. He goes on, “If you identify 1 or more mentors in your work life, you are far more likely to feel encouragement and connectivity.” Mentors can also play an important role in guiding an employee’s self-advocacy. They can help the employee find the right words to ask questions, identify what they need, and give and receive feedback.
7. Dig deeper for clarity.
Harmeyer knows that employees want to work in an environment where their opinions matter. He says, “Sometimes we may feel our opinions and thoughts are quickly discarded. This can be an unfortunate byproduct of managers who may be too absorbed in their overloaded schedules and too consumed by their own perceived expertise to take the time to explain their reactions to our opinions.” You can’t control others, but you can control your reactions. Harmeyer advises, “Rather than being defensive or feeling offended, dig deeper. Try to understand the context that others might think you’re missing.” He encourages employees to conduct a thought experiment: “It may be helpful to take the perspective, ‘My opinion must be incomplete if it’s not resonating. So what other context am I missing?’ Doing this will reduce frustration and cause you to engage in a learning process.” Try to connect your opinions to the strategy of the business, and find the source of the misunderstanding.
8. Find how you can create value.
Every employee contributes something a little different to the company. According to Harmeyer, “We generally have very little influence over the mission or purpose of the company. But every company creates value for others or it will cease to exist. Who are those ‘others’? How does your company affect their lives?” Asking yourself these questions will help you identify what you can do for them. “Getting explicit about the connection between your work and the individual lives that are affected has a huge impact on our feeling of meaning. If you can’t make the connection with the company’s purpose, what about your own department or division? How can being great at your work have an effect on someone else’s happiness, productivity, or stress level?” Harmeyer says. Virtually every job can have a meaningful effect on someone else. Embracing this will make your jobs inherently more satisfying.
9. Work with others.
Some people enjoy collaboration more than others. It certainly comes with complications, but it can be very beneficial. Harmeyer recommends, “While it is hard to directly influence the quality of the work of associates, we can pay attention to what teams, departments, and divisions have the greatest success. Be conscious of those groups and look for opportunities to work with them.” Even when that’s not possible, there’s still more you can learn. “Look for opportunities to imitate what they are doing. Discuss with your associates what makes those groups successful and what it might look like if your own group operated that way,” Harmeyer advises. People will start thinking of you as a team player, and they’ll appreciate your desire for improvement.
10. Make close friends.
This goes beyond just caring about others, suggested in Number 5. Harmeyer believes it’s critical to have good friends at work. “One of the best ways to connect and engage in your job is to make close friends,” he enthuses. Creating friendships requires investment, and the best way to make a friend is to be a friend. Harmeyer has easy suggestions: “All of us can take time to ask someone to lunch or to happy hour, just to get to know colleagues better. Find out about their interests, families, passions, goals…” These connections will make your day-to-day life more pleasant. “All of this makes your own work more meaningful and the environment more engaging,” he says. Having strong relationships at work can even help make personal relationships better.
11. Seek feedback regularly.
Harmeyer is adamant about this. He wants every employee to be able to say, “In the last 6 months someone has talked to me about my progress.” And if they haven’t? “Don’t wait!” he urges. “Initiate this, at least every 6 months. You don’t need formal performance reviews - what you need is a sense of direction. Am I adding value? Is the work aligning with what was expected? Is my progression aligning with what is normal? What is on the horizon?” he explains. These questions are critical to your continuous growth, and your employer should want to help you get there. It also demonstrates to the company how hard you’re willing to work to make yourself and the company better.
It’s important to take stock of your own progress. Harmeyer asks, “In this last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow? Research has shown that a critical ingredient in both learning and growth is the process of reflection.” Think back on all the projects you’ve completed, the conversations you’ve had, and the decisions you’ve made. What skills did you enhance? Have you become a more thoughtful employee? “Often we’ve had opportunities to learn and grow that we don’t even recognize,” Harmeyer offers. To combat that, “Find a mentor to reflect with. Identify what you’ve done, what you know now that you didn’t prior to doing it, and how you might apply it in future work,” he advises. Taking the time to appreciate what you’ve accomplished will help make you more conscious of the growth that is occurring.
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