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5 Ways to Increase Employee Engagement Now

When we were at ACPA we did a session titled, “Refocusing on Employee Engagement Ensures Team, Student, and Institutional Success.” As the name suggests, we dove into why employee engagement is so important for us, our team, and our students. But if you’re already overwhelmed, the last thing you have room for on your plate is worrying about some vague concept like employee engagement. So I wanted to help break it down by highlighting five ways you can jump in and increase team engagement starting now.

You probably have some questions about employee engagement, like what is it? Is it really that important? And how do I get some? I want to make this episode short and sweet, so I don’t want to go into too much detail here – I’ve done other episodes on engagement, so be sure to check those out too. But let’s briefly address those three questions.

What is employee engagement? It’s a psychological investment in your job and your institution. Do you feel invested in what you do on a daily basis and where you do it? Do you want to make things better than you found them? It’s similar to and just as important as the student engagement we’re all so familiar with.

Is employee engagement really that important? To quote, Michael Scott, "Yeppers." In a nutshell, engaged teams report…

  • 10% higher customer engagement – which for us are students.

  • 23% more profitability. I know we’re largely non-profits, but this means more money to use on things like better facilities, better salaries, and being able to hire someone to help you do the two jobs you’re currently doing.

  • 18% higher productivity in sales – which again for us are students. Sales in higher ed means enrollment numbers.

  • 14% higher productivity overall – so getting more things done.

  • 66% higher wellbeing.

And finally let’s talk about the question, how do I get some of that sweet, sweet engagement? There are plenty of engagement surveys out there, but if you want a tool that’s research based and allows you to take improve engagement quickly, we recommend Gallup’s Q12 Engagement Survey. It focuses on the twelve elements that most impacts employee engagement. I won’t go through them here, because I’ve done so in another episode, but they can help you assess where you and your team are AND more importantly, how to improve engagement levels.

I definitely recommend investigating the Q12, but to get you started, here are five ways you can jump right in and start positively impacting those engagement numbers...

1 | Coach Your Team

Research indicates that employees want a coach, not a boss. What's the difference? A coach asks questions to foster growth and development. A boss tells their team what to do and what they think they need to know. That can be a shift, especially when we feel like we’re under constant pressure to keep our nose to the grindstone. To do this effectively, you need to commit to regular meetings with your team members. This means scheduling and keeping those meetings – no more, “Do you have anything important, if not, let’s cancel.” You always have something important, because your job as a supervisor isn’t just to give them updates on what they need to do next.

You need to have these regularly scheduled meetings to make sure your team members know what you’re expecting from them (#2), talk about how a finished project went – whether they nailed it or failed (#3), invest in their growth and development (#4 & #5), and more. A well-structured one-on-one, coaching session allows you to hit on many of the Q12 elements that determine how engaged your employees are. When you don’t, you and your team miss out on all of that.

2 | Set Clear Expectations

We often assume our team knows what they're supposed to be doing. I mean they have job descriptions, right? Wrong. What people need to be doing is constantly changing. Remember when the pandemic shifted everything. Suddenly what you and your team did every day looked different. It’s stressful if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be focusing or where you’re headed anymore. This can lead to confusion, frustration, and wasted time & energy.

Instead, you need to become clear on what you want and what the team needs to be doing. That might include getting their input, but at the end of the day you’re the supervisor. You’re going to be assessing whether or not they met expectations. If you’re not clear on that to begin with, you’re going to be judging them unfairly. Have you ever had a supervisor that gave you an assignment, which you did and thought turned out great, only to find out that isn’t what they wanted? Then they called you out on it. How fair was that? Be clear on what you want, then clearly communicate it. Integrate this into your coaching meetings.

3 | Hold People Accountable

One of the most stressful things for supervisors is having to deal with team members when they don't live up to expectations. It's so stressful, sometimes we simply don't do it. But holding people accountable both reinforces expectations AND increases the engagement of the rest of your team. This starts with being clear about your expectations. Then during those regular coaching meetings, you check in with updates and answer questions. This isn’t about micromanaging. It’s about making sure your folks have what they need to do their jobs well without wasting energy or resources. It’s about making sure you’re both on the same page.

Then when the task, project, or event is done, you talk about it. What went well? What didn’t go so well? If they nailed it, you celebrate. Break down what they did well and note it for future projects. If things didn’t go so well, break it down too. What went wrong? What got in their way? How could it be improved next time? If someone keeps failing, yes, this might mean starting formal disciplinary procedures. But don’t wait until it gets to that point to meet and discuss your team member’s progress. And don’t miss the opportunity to help the folks who are doing well celebrate their victories. Integrate this into your coaching meetings.

4 | Invest in Strengths

One of the best ways to increase engagement is by using the CliftonStrengths framework. When people know what their talents are and understand how to use them more effectively, they become more productive, more creative, and have more positive interactions with you, other team members, and your students. There’s been quite a bit of research on this, but when folks have the opportunity to do what they do best every day – aka working in their StrengthsZone – engagement increases.

If your team has already taken the CliftonStrengths assessment, use it. If it’s been a while, reengage. If your team hasn’t taken the assessment, you’re missing out on a powerful tool. It can help you and your team make sure you’re each using your talents in ways that help you be more productive and waste less energy. In a nutshell, everyone has talents that show up automatically every day. When you use them productively, they show up as strengths. But when you aren’t using them productively, they are actively getting in your way. That means you or your team members aren’t being very productive – even if you’re still busy. When you invest in Strengths, you’re helping your team become more productive, positive, and creative.

5 | Maximize Your Team's Strengths

Once you know what your team member's Strengths are, you can use them to maximize your team's overall productivity. As you delegate and help your team grow with professional development opportunities, do it based on their Strengths. When you have the people who are best at doing something working on a task or project, its going to be done better and faster. That means you’re using fewer team resources to get ___ done. It also means those people are more engaged because again, when people get the chance to do what they do best every day, their engagement increases.

On a Strength’s based team, everyone gets the easy job. And that’s not because some of the tasks are objectively easier that others, but rather because someone’s talents make it easy FOR THEM. When everyone on your team is focused on what they do best, it allows them to be their best selves. That means when you put the right people in the right places, you maximize your team’s performance and productivity.

Okay, so those were five things you can immediately start to implement to increase you and your team’s engagement. If you want more information on employee engagement, we’re actually doing a webinar replay of the ACPA session I mentioned earlier, “Refocusing on Employee Engagement Ensures Team, Student, and Institutional Success,” on Monday, March 28th at 1PM (CST). Here’s a link to register -

We’ll go more in depth about how important employee engagement is and why these suggestions can make such a difference. And even if you “get it” and are already on board with this concept, feel free to invite other folks from your campus – including your supervisor, so they can better understand how employee engagement directly effects the success of our students and institutions.

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