How to improve employee engagement? 5 strategies for managers

Do you manage other people and want to know how to improve employee engagement? Engaging employees effectively is crucial for a manager’s success in leading a motivated and productive team. Here are 5 strategies for managers to engage their people more effectively.

1. Hold regular one-to-ones

Without this it is not physically possible to engage your people.

The idea of one-to-ones might seem time consuming, but it is only by talking to people that you will be in a position to do the other strategies outlined below.

Everyone is different, with different motivations, needs and desires. It is only by engaging with them individually that you can find out what these things are and work out how to manage people effectively.

One-to-ones don’t have to be a formal sit down so don’t assume that the annual appraisal discussion is enough!

It is often enough just to ask “how’s it going?”. Just make sure you listen to the response and give your undivided attention to the discussion.

Your people will appreciate the time, feel that you are valuing them as an individual, and that you care. This is the foundation for a productive working relationship.

2. Clarify your expectations

One of the things that managers often get frustrated with is where their people don’t do things in the way they expect. This is not just about the task, i.e. what people do, but how they do it, their behaviour.

It might be something like the employee tends not to let the manager know when there is a problem that could cause a bigger issue, or they tend to rush and make mistakes. It could be one of a thousand things.

Explaining to the team what you expect of them is a constructive way to avoid some of these situations. If people know what the standards are, they will aim for them.

3. Give regular feedback

Of course, what do you do if people either continue to do the things that frustrate you, or they weren’t aware of your expectations?

Many managers will quietly seethe, often complain to others (their boss, their partner at home).

However, the psychology of behaviour change tells us that people will continue to do what they’ve always done, so the thing that is causing the frustration will not go away until the individual knows it needs to change.

The standards you get from your team are based on the things you accept. If you expect everyone to have a tidy desk then you need to feedback to people if their desk is untidy. Otherwise, they will ignore your pleas for a tidy desk because you never pick them up on it.

There will be occasions where you need to give negative feedback so don’t avoid it.

However, the psychology of feedback tells us that positive feedback is actually more powerful when it comes to promoting behaviour change. People are more likely to repeat the way they do things when they feel they are rewarded for it.

This is why feedback is also a powerful way to recognise people. Employee experience surveys often show that people do not feel rewarded or recognised at work. The normal response is to assume that the company needs to look at pay and remuneration. Actually, what can be more powerful is simply for managers to say ‘thank you’, ‘well done’ more often.

Giving feedback is a skill and our manager’s guide for giving effective feedback will help, but the most effective managers do it often.

4. Be a role model

One of the most powerful ways to undermine your expectations is to do something that contradicts them. The most engaging managers lead by example.

If you ask people to keep you in the loop, then keep them in the loop. If you expect your team not to swear, don’t swear.

You set the tone for how your team behave. They will look to you for guidance on how to do things and mirror your approach.

If you expect tidy desks, then keep your desk tidy!

Also, if you expect your team to respond to your feedback, then make sure you seek, and act, on their feedback.

5. Provide Opportunities for development and Growth

People want to know that they have a future with the organisation. They also want to know how to grow in their role and career.

As the manager you need to show people that you have their interests at heart and are there to help make it happen.

It starts with a conversation with people about what their future looks like (remember those one-to-ones?). The conversation might need you to give some honest feedback, but it should end with a structured plan for how your employee might progress.

Remember that development is not just about ‘training’.

Development is about learning so you should provide people with the opportunity to learn new things and gain new experiences. Help them reflect on what they learned from their experiences and how it can be applied in the future.

Similarly, growth is not all about promotions. Plan to increase people’s responsibility or visibility in the company with specific projects.

Delegation is a great way to develop people. It also makes your life easier! Don’t go too quickly though – make sure you delegate appropriately.

Where people lack capability or confidence then start small. Delegate a new task and provide them with guidance and support.

As they grow in confidence then invite their input into how things should be done.

As they grow in capability increase the size of the task and begin to delegate responsibility for decision making. We use this model as a way to think about how to delegate decision making:

how to improve employee engagement, decision making boundaries

Eventually you will be in a position to delegate chunks of responsibility to your people, which saves you time and grows their capability.

Together, planned experiences, the application of learning to new situations and the gradual increase in responsibility is what will equip people to be ready for promotion when it arises. Even if promotion is not an option, people will still feel that they are making progress.

Just make sure you continue to review learning, provide feedback and plan further development.

In conclusion

The strategies we have outlined above will enable managers to cultivate a motivated and engaged workforce, leading to increased productivity, lower turnover, and greater overall success for their organisation.

Employee engagement is a complex topic, but the benefits to both the employees and the organisation are well worth the effort.