Committing to Employee Engagement - Lessons from Community Colleges, Part 2
Posted Oct 28 2008 9:40pm
In Part 1, we looked at the five lessons the CCSSE (Community College Survey of Student Engagement) had learned in its five years of studying student engagement.
This week, let's look at their "Five Strategies That Work" to increase the level of engagement campus-wide.
#1: Set High Expectations and Clear Goals.
Once in a while I'll hear an Executive Director or top manager say something like, "I can barely get my staff to come into work on their scheduled days, let alone do something extra like take an online class." That same manager likely sets pretty low expectations in other areas of her team's performance. Likely, the expectations are pretty much about all staff can meet.
Interestingly, in the community colleges study the researchers found that you could tell, almost instantly, what the expectations and commitment of management is as soon as you walk onto a campus. The actions - and the focus of problems and solutions - clearly reflect the attitude of management. Is the focus on the team's skills or on their deficiencies? Is the discussion centered on challenging problems or difficult people?
Interestingly, "Institutions that expect students [employees] to perform well use language that communicates students' [employees'] value and potential. This language helps set high expectations for students [employees] - and it is contagious."
#2: Focus on the Front Door.
We're all concerned about turnover. In the college setting they refer to it as "attrition," but it's the exact same problem.
One solution that works: focus on people as they come in the front door. From the first moment of hire, look for ways to actively engage the person in his or her work and work environment. Make sure the job is both challenging and rewarding, and help the person make social connections as well. Getting through those first 90 days often spells success for the employee - or increases your turnover rate.
#3: Improve Early Education and Training.
Once again, the study found that the first semester of the person's work was the most important. This translates directly to our work too: employees who feel like the have not been given the initial training they need to do the jobs assigned to them typically are the first to leave or, if they stay, the least engaged.
Early, specific training - especially during the first 90 days - is crucial for building a stong, engaged team.
#4: Use Engaging Techniques in Training and Education.
Even in a college-based study, researchers found that the time that the individuals actually spent studying and learning was in high competition with their other life demands: work, family and friends.
In a caregiving setting, the time spent in training is even more thinly sliced. Making that training as engaging and effective as possible will help the employee gain maximum benefit from it. Certainly, doing just the minimum - consisting in some cases of the old "read and sign" approach to training - will likely create an environment where training is just one more element competing for limited time in the day of the employee. It will lose value - it will become a barrier, not a benefit.
This can be easily remedied by creating or utilizing training approaches that engage, challenge and interest the employee. Training of this sort has multiple positive outcomes for both the individual and the company.
In addition to engaging training, however, the study found that having the opportunity to discuss what the person has learned with a supervisor (or instructor) dramatically increases the person's engagement. When someone else is actively invested in the growth of the employee, benefits are considerable.
#5: Make Engagement Inescapable
In the college setting, this happens by making meetings with professors mandatory on a regular basis. It happens by making class discussions an integral part of every class. They can require collaborative projects, connecting students with other students.
In the work setting, engagement clearly needs to be just as intentional. Requiring goal-setting meeting with supervisors on a regular basis, for example, can facilitate those one-on-one meetings that are clearly valuable in building engagement.
Fostering team interaction through regularly scheduled pot-lucks, parties, note-exchanges or secret pals are examples of ways to make engagement virtually inescapable for every member of your team.
Employee engagement has clear benefits. Learning from these college experiences and applying them in our own work settings can help us find solutions to building highly engaged, successful teams.