Are you looking to boost employee engagement at your company? After more than two decades of working with clients to improve their working environments so employees are fully engaged, we know one thing for sure—unless you obtain executive support and commitment, success is doubtful.

The very first step to take is to define the problem in a way that will make executives sit up and take notice. Only when the problem of lagging employee engagement is articulated in a way that leaders care about will they spend the time and energy to help craft a solution. And only when executives are fully engaged in the process will you achieve your goal. First the problem…then the solution.

Based upon over 500,000 employee engagement survey participants per year, we have consistently found that the question “The leaders of this organization are committed to making it a great place to work” has the highest correlation to overall employee engagement levels. In other words, you really need your leadership’s expressed commitment and follow through.

  1. Define the Problem with Hard Data
    Executives need to understand that low employee engagement is not just a “soft” problem. The costs of disengaged employees and unwanted attrition are well understood. According to four recent studies, the impact of lower employee engagement scores is pretty startling:
  • 12% lower profits
  • 19% lower operating income
  • 28% lower earnings per share

While higher employee engagement scores correlate to:

  • 18% greater productivity
  • 12% higher customer satisfaction
  • 51% less voluntary turnover

Use this data in addition to information you have found from a recent company-wide poll or what you have observed as a lack of employee motivation or increased turnover after a major change effort. Present the data and ask if they would work with you to find a solution. Chances are they will say “yes.”

  1. Search Out Possible Solutions
    Do your homework. Research different potential solutions. You will probably come up with a combination of options that could include a survey, a communications campaign, some training, adjustments to performance expectations and tweaks to current compensation incentives. Ask for leaders to help with setting criteria for the solutions you evaluate. As you review possible surveys, for example, does it matter more for the technology solution to be easily accessible or innovative? What, exactly, are the data that you need to guide next steps?
  2. Present Your Top Three Options
    Schedule a presentation to the leadership. Be well prepared with back-up data that show how you came to your final recommendation. Know answers to the questions they are likely to ask. Use only a few slides to present the “pros” and “cons” of each of the top three options. Then explain why you recommend one of them. For instance, your recommended solution may cost more but it will be company-specific. Anticipate justifying the additional cost with data on how the lower cost alternative will not deliver the data you need for your specific culture.

Once the path is chosen, the fun begins. Implementation is tricky. You need everyone on board…willing to be patient, understanding that change is difficult, and committed to the ultimate goal. But with leaders providing the resources and setting the example, you are on the path to success.

To learn more about employee engagement and retention, Download Our Employee Engagement and Retention Toolkit Now

We know from decades of designing and delivering customized new manager training programs that new managers and leaders are especially apt to shy away from difficult conversations or tough situations.

Most are concerned about becoming the “bad boss” or alienating their new team members. But there are some times when it is important to step up and confront a problem that will only grow if not handled in a smart, timely and skillful manner.

When taking on the role of supervisor, you naturally hope for a ready-made team of collaborative, cooperative individuals. But this is rarely the case. More than likely, you will have at least one team member who lacks the skill, knowledge, capability, willingness or motivation to get the job done in a way that makes sense. Others are, of course, watching. You need to find a way to deal with this situation effectively.  You need to show the team that you deserve their respect.  You need an ace up your sleeve.

Here is a scenario shared at a recent new manager training program with escalating negotiation strategies for managing the situation well:

You have a team member (Chris) whose work is critical to the team’s current project. His work is well done but consistently late. His tardiness (due to simple procrastination) affects his colleagues who have to sacrifice nights and weekends in order to deliver their related pieces of the project on time.

  • A simple conversation with an “anchor”
    Establish that your guiding principle (your “anchor”) as a manager is to build a healthy, dynamic team. Make clear how Chris’ delays affect the rest of the team and how difficult it is for them to make up for time lost. Ask if there is a way you can help set up a schedule that will ensure Chris’ work is delivered in timely fashion so that team members can finish without working overtime.
  • Using a “positive no” between two yesses
    You reiterate that your goal as a new manager is to support Chris as well as the others on the team. But you cannot allow Chris’ procrastination to undermine others’ efforts and sabotage their work-life balance. Offer to brainstorm solutions together to create a solution that makes sense.
  • Reframe the problem
    Clarify the team’s goals, plan, scope, deliverables, success metrics, roles and responsibilities with Chris. Then ask to explore ways together to do that consistently and in a way that shares the work burden fairly.
  • Offer an alternative
    If Chris continues to be uncooperative, it is time to come up with an option that will give you some leverage. Is there another role Chris can play on the project team? Would Chris be happier and more productive working elsewhere in the company? The point is that you want to urge Chris toward compliance with the timetable you need to set for the project. You may find that Chris will choose to leave the team. If so, you have lost a difficult member who jeopardized the team’s morale and success. If not, by addressing the situation directly and without being unnecessarily aggressive, you have built a more collaborative relationship.

Chris may have been a tough customer. But there are strategies as a new manager to bring this type of employee into the fold, onboard with the team’s goals, and a fully productive team member.

To learn more, download 6 Ways New Managers Foster Better Team Collaboration

 

So much more is being asked of solution sellers these days. We know from decades of designing and delivering customized solution selling training that it is no longer enough to be a product expert or a skilled persuader.

With today’s technology, customers are able to do research on their own and compare products before the salesperson even knows there is a need. To succeed, sales teams need to think less about their own sales process and products and more about their customer’s buying process and most pressing challenges. They need to be thoroughly trained in proven solution selling techniques, versed in their customer’s business, and need to act as customer-centric problem solvers. In short, they need to be really good at consultative and value-added selling.

  1. Knowing the Customer’s Buying Process
    The internet allows customers to find sellers before sellers find customers. This requires a major change in the way salespeople operate. Rather than the sellers driving the sale through identifying new customers, discovering their needs and then proposing a solution, customers now drive the process.To be successful, solution sellers need to adapt to the way customers want to buy. Today’s successful salespeople know how to qualify their customers in terms of if, how and when they will buy. They have established themselves, in anticipation of a sale, as trusted resources to be contacted for expert advice. They know how to add value to each interaction and how to link what they have to sell to the customer’s need and overall business strategy. And then they follow up and stay connected to the customer so they are ready for the next buying cycle. This should be a foundation of any solutions selling training program.
  2. Playing a Dual Role
    The successful solution seller today knows how to work with customers as both a consultant who is a “customer-matter” expert and as a strategic planner who is able to integrate and align the business needs of both the selling and buying companies. Top sellers are able to work at multiple levels within the customer organization to satisfy the needs of the buying team from the technology guru to the senior executive. Effective consultative sellers have a special kind of finesse that persuades their customers that they are truly dedicated to solving their problems…and this is not fake…it is genuine. They are able to prioritize opportunities and manage accounts to the benefit of both parties. This is their competitive edge.
  3. Managing the Team for Success
    To have a truly effective sales team, you need a truly effective sales manager. This should be someone with both sales and management skills. They need to understand what it takes to build long-term, mutually profitable relationships with customers. And they need to know how to manage a team for peak performance. Establishing a sales process that team members follow is only one piece of the puzzle. Effective sales managers need to be able to coach throughout the process as they aim for continuous improvement. It is their job to see that the sales teams have both the training and the resources they need to succeed.

If you are looking to transform your solution selling organization into one that can succeed in today’s competitive marketplace, you need to transform your sellers from ordinary vendors into the high performing, customer-oriented, value-added sellers who will win strong-arm contests every time.

To learn more about creating a high performance sales team, download How Much Pressure Should a Sales Leader Apply to Get Higher Performance

The statistics on the high dissatisfaction rate of new employees should capture the attention of every HR department and leader looking to engage, develop and retain high performing talent.

Studies by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology show that 50% of all hourly employees leave their new jobs within 120 days and that 50% of senior level outside employees fail before they reach Year 3 on the job. Pretty dismal. When you have invested significant time and money to hire new talent, you look for a payoff…productive employees who are engaged and stay. What is going wrong?

It is not a matter of incompetence…we find that new hires are mostly able to handle their roles. But, after analyzing surveys and following up on exit interviews at clients, it seems that many do not understand how to really get work done day-to-day, how to build effective relationships within the unique cultural parameters, and how to effectively use the company’s business systems and processes. All three of these issues should be covered in the first weeks of new employee onboarding.

Here are four tips on how to onboard new talent better so that new hires feel a part of the corporate culture, understand how to work the systems and become productive, engaged members of the workforce sooner.

  1. Train on systems
    Beyond the typical intro to the company’s mission and values and filling in the necessary documents for HR, new employee onboarding should provide training on the organization’s specific systems and processes required to get work done. Experienced employees “get it” and know what to do and when to do it. But new employees are often at a loss. Sure, they are smart and eager; but they are probably not familiar with the nomenclature and shortcuts of your proprietary systems, processes and practices. Make sure you provide new employees with a simple, easy-to-use manual or a patient instructor so the systems they need to do their job become enablers, not obstacles.
  2. Assign a coach
    Just as having a “big brother” or “big sister” when you went off to school made the adjustment easier, so having a coach at work to show you the ropes can be a huge boon to the newbie. Assign a friendly expert who can help answer the little questions like “what is the password to access the online company directory” to big questions like “in this culture, is it better to go directly to the VP or to my manager to share what I’ve learned about …. “
  3. Provide career opportunities to grow
    Once new hires get their feet on the ground and are feeling more confident on the job, they should have opportunities to branch out. Make sure they are introduced to employees outside of their team and can see how many paths their career could take. The more exposure they have to employees at large, the better they will understand the organization’s strategy and workplace culture; and the better they will be able to understand how they directly contribute to the overall success of the business.
  4. Monitor results
    Overseeing the new hire onboarding process should include specific success metrics. Find out if your new approach is having an effect. Are your new hires ramping up faster? Are they staying on longer? Are they more happily engaged sooner? And when you don’t have the time or inclination for targeted pulse surveys, simply ask them. If you have built sufficient trust, they should be able to fill you in on what has worked well for them and what was missing in the program. Then it’s your job to make suggested changes.

Do make your onboarding process more effective and don’t make your new employees feel like the awkward “new guy” any longer than necessary.

To learn more, download 7 New Employee Orientation and Onboarding Best Practices to Increase Speed to Productivity

A clear, believable and implementable business strategy is the bedrock of a high performing organization.

Without it, your employees lack direction, are confused about where they are headed and why, and spend far too much time in unproductive or misguided efforts.

The best leaders begin by creating a business strategy that outlines clear and compelling choices about what actions to take and where to “play.” The planners’ goal is to create a strategy that is understood, agreed to, perceived to be up to the challenge by all stakeholders, and supported by sufficient resources to truly succeed. This is neither simple nor easy.

Here are some key questions to ask as you begin…

  1. What are the critical few business goals of your organization?
    Make sure you are specific. Just wanting “to be the best in the industry” is too generic and not very inspiring. A statement like “to be the market share leader for outdoor camping equipment in Northern California” is far more compelling and uses language that is results-oriented.
  2. What are the specific outcomes of your strategy?
    To get where you want to go, you need to plan and execute specific actions that will get you there. Create a concrete roadmap outlining the purpose, the picture of success, the plan and the part each stakeholder will play. Agree upon how you will prioritize resources. Perhaps you need to invest in a marketing campaign, or a broader product portfolio, or an online sales fulfillment process. Whatever path you choose, it should measurably impact your overarching goal.
  3. How will you know you’re on the right track?
    You need to track your progress and make smart adjustments along the way. You may want to monitor the success of your marketing campaign in terms of the number of new customers generated; or evaluate the success of your new products by how much revenue they are producing; or determine the desirability of online sales by a survey on how your target customers prefer to shop…in a bricks-and-mortar store or on the internet.

Once you have designed and communicated your strategy, are you satisfied that you have all key constituents on board and pointed in the same direction? Test the effectiveness of your strategic plan by asking the following questions:

  1. Do employees regularly ask for more clarifying information before they act?
  2. Do key stakeholders continue to disagree on major priorities, resources, funding or timing?
  3. Do employees doubt that the strategy is equal to the challenge of the business goal?
  4. Is the strategy being executed inconsistently throughout the organization?
  5. Do employees lack the right mindset to effectively execute the plan?

If you answer “yes” to any of these last 5 questions, you have more strategic clarity work to do before you can effectively cascade and implement your strategic plan.

To learn more, download Is Your Strategy Clear Enough to Act?

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