The annual CIPD survery reports that 37% of company employees are engaged in their work, a figure which has remained fairly constant over the past few years. Managers who want to improve performance in their organisation will naturally look at this figure and wonder how they can improve on it in their organisation. How do you incentivise people so that engagement increases?
Avoid cash incentives
Provided that your people are rewarded well for the work that they do compared to colleagues and people in other organisations in similar roles then money is unlikely to be the cause of a lack of engagement.
The problem with bonuses is that they become expected and, furthermore, an increase can become the expectation. Obviously with business cycles this cannot be sustained. So, bonuses after the first year lose their benefit and can become a huge problem if they need to be reduced.
So, what are the key elements to increasing engagement?
Understand that you need to engage the people you want to be engaged
It's not something that you can just expect people to feel. Yes, people should be grateful that they have a job and give it their all, however, they also deserve good leadership. Engage them with an interesting goal that is clear, relevant and measurable. Make it exciting.
Stretch your team, don't stress them
If a goal is a challenge and people have the skills and resources to make it happen it will be a stretch. Stretching is satisfying and very motivating for the people involved. To achieve something that seemed a challenge when you started out gives people a great sense of achievement.
If the team does not have the required skills and resources then it is likely to be a stress. People quickly lose motivation when they are expected to do something and can see no way of doing it.
Empower people to get things done
Give competent people step changes in their responsibilities to allow them to achieve key objectives in a project. You don't need to think in terms of promotion, it can be as simple as adding a new person to someone's team who has extra skills. Within each promotion there may be several steps of increased responsibility which take them to the next level. Chart these and plan them.
There's no better way to increase someone's sense of engagement than to give them an important client or a project to work on that everyone is talking about.
At the most basic level this really does mean 'recognise people'. Know their names and enough about them to have a conversation that tells them that you know they exist as a person. Beyond that you need to know when they have achieved something and mention it.
Sometimes it might be appropriate to do this in front of people, but often it's just as meaningful to do it in private. Sincerity is absolutely critical when you are doing this.
Don't favour some teams over others
In results driven organisations the sales team is often favoured over others. They may get more money, more perks and more attention. Sales teams that are doing well are often the most engaged in any organisation. It's the other supporting teams that may need the attention.
Look at the whole organisation, not just the room where the noise comes from.
Track and publish progress
Keep an eye on how your are doing against Key Performance Indicators and publish them. It may help to do this on a large chart that is visible to everyone to remind them of progress. This is fine when things are going well or targets are only being narrowly missed. However, when things are not going well it can be a problem. This is why it is essential to ensure that goals are realistic. Do not be afraid to change them if the wider market significantly changes; the recent financial upheavals have shown us how important it is to be flexible,
Offer some material incentives
It may be appropriate to offer such things as prizes and vouchers for specific achievements. If this is a large scheme then be sure to consider the tax implications. It is better for the organisation to absorb these that to pass them on to the employee.
Some companies offer time off as an incentive and this can be very effective. However, it can fall into the same issue as cash incentives in that it can become an expectation.
Training and development
An effective training and development programme can be a very good way of incentivising people. You can increase employee's skill sets for exisiting roles within your organisation or you can train people to cover tasks and projects that are currently being outsourced.
A common reason why organisations are reluctant to train employees is that it may result in them leaving the organisation with their new skills and taking them to another company. This is unavoidable and you need to look at career progression opportunities within your company when you are considering training and development.
The reality is that if you don't have a programme because you're worried about losing people then you will probably lose those people anyway.
There are many ways that you can increase engagement and incentivise employees. Using money is, to some degree, the lazy choice but it's probably also the least effective choice.