Matt Driscoll: The key to engaging and retaining talent

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It is vital to proactively manage the issue of engagement and ensure that your best talent stays, says Matt Driscoll

Two things that organisations always want to know are: how to ensure employees are engaged, and how to retain talented people. But many employers seem to complicate these two issues needlessly. They are actually intrinsically linked – engaged individuals are generally much more likely to stay with the business than those who are not.

But, equally, many disengaged employees will stay with a business too, particularly if that disengagement is left unchecked. It is therefore vital to proactively manage the issue of engagement and ensure that your best talent stays, and your workforce is as productive and effective as it should be.

Why engagement matters

Around one in three UK employees feels disengaged, which means roughly a third of Britons go into work every day feeling uninspired, demotivated, or simply not happy to be there. The impact this has on the wider economy is potentially huge. A lack of engagement can hinder productivity and damage profit and growth. Clearly, then, the issue needs to be taken very seriously, but the question is how to manage and mitigate the problem.

It helps to understand what engagement really means, and you can break this down into three main strands. There is intellectual engagement, which is a willingness to work hard, improve, and ensure your job is done well. Then there is affective engagement, which means being ‘positively present’ and feeling good about doing well in your role. Finally, there is social engagement, which means experiencing positive emotions and meaningful connections in the workplace.

If you look at those three strands, it is easy to see how an engaged employee might benefit an organisation.

Underlying wants and needs

In order to achieve an engaged workforce, you first need to understand what makes people engage. When you strip away all the complicated stuff, there are a few fundamental elements that people want from their work.

People want to feel valued, and they want a sense of purpose. They want clarity in terms of what their roles and responsibilities are, and an understanding of where accountability starts and stops. And, importantly, they want open, two-way communication with their line manager.

Where these elements are lacking, you will find that people are much more likely to be disengaged and ultimately leave the business.

Keep it simple

When it comes to creating engagement, there really is no need to make things complex. Taking into account the underlying wants and needs discusses above, there are three key actions you can take: Put people in the right roles, communicate with them, and provide clear expectations.

It is a lack of those three things that will create negative feelings from people towards their roles. The best part about it is that those three simple actions are relatively cost-effective – it really comes down to proper planning and research, and creating an honest and open culture within teams.

Different focus areas

While engagement methodology needn’t be complicated, it is still important to be strategic in the way you approach it. When you are looking at employee engagement, there are three key levels at which your efforts should be focussed.

The first is leadership level, i.e. employing and promoting people who are able to share the vision of the organisation and demonstrate its values in everything they do. The second is at line manager level, which means hiring confident managers and supporting them in coaching and empowering, not controlling, their reports. Then there is cultural level, which starts with senior leaders delivering promises and reflecting the company values in their behaviours.

Be authentic

One of the most important things to bear in mind is that you can’t just pay lip service to the idea of creating a happy and engaged workforce. People will see right through it if it is disingenuous.

The ideal situation is to create a ‘nutritious’ relationship, i.e. one from which the employees feel like they are getting value, just as the employer is. When you strip everything else back, you are ultimately asking people to give up valuable time with their loved ones in order to come and contribute to your business every day, so you have to work out how to ensure people are willing to make that sacrifice on a continuing basis.

The winning formula

Truly, there is no one-size-fits-all ‘winning formula’ for employee engagement and retention. That said, if you bear in mind all of the above, provide open and honest leadership, train your managers in the right way, and give your employees the skills, knowledge and clarity required to work autonomously and effectively, you will have a far greater chance of creating a highly engaged workforce and holding on to your talent.

But you have to understand your staff. Only then can you create truly organic engagement which is permanently ingrained into your business, encouraging your best employees to stay because they genuinely want to, not just because there is something in it for them.

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