3 Reasons Your Employee Engagement Program Isn't Working

In conference rooms all over the world, well-meaning HR types are sitting down with well-meaning managers and possibly a well-meaning consultant or two to talk about how to fix employee engagement.

  • “How do we get these millennials to be deeply committed to their work?”
  • “The staff is so tenured, it’s hard to get them excited about something new. We need something fun to make it fresh again.”
  • “The changes are hard, and everyone’s tired. We need to have a program that will give every one a shot in the arm.”
  • “We’re all working so hard, we’ve just got to find a way to make the work more fun.”

And before you know it, they’ve talked themselves into a well-intentioned program. They come up with a cute program name, glossy posters, and a roll-out strategy.

Cue the HR VP or perhaps the Sales Director who reminds everyone,  “We’ve got to be sure they understand this is NOT the flavor of the month. THIS program is different, this is real culture change.” All heads nod. They’ve all seen programs like this come and go. Everyone truly hopes this one will be different. Trust me, if you have to tell your team it’s not the flavor of the month, it is.

Programs don’t motivate people.

People don’t motivate people.

People are inspired in conditions where they can best motivate themselves.

Reasons Employee Engagement Programs Don’t Work

1. They Come from Outside the Team

Many such programs have the sense of being imposed on the team from HR or headquarters. They’re necessarily generic so they fit across departments. They need to be “communicated” and possibly “trained” as part of a “roll-out.” All of which makes the frontline leaders and teams feel like something is being done TO them more than FOR them or even better WITH them.

Tip 1: Employees know best what their teams need to feel more connected to, and inspired by, their mission and their work. Use the budget instead to give people the latitude to create something that will fit for their team and their work at hand.

2.They Create More Work for the Frontline Leader

Many such programs involve meetings, action plans, tracking spreadsheets, and other additional work for the Frontline Leader. Without proper support and perspective, this all just feels like more work taking the leader away from their biggest priority, supporting the team.

Tip 2: Ensure any programs and tools are directly tied into the core mission and goals of the team. You can’t inspire engagement as an overlay.

3. They Don’t Address the Root Cause

The number one predictor of job satisfaction is the relationship with the manager. Another key factor is the extent to which employees see real meaning in the work that they do and feel connected to a bigger vision. It’s difficult to box that into a step-by-step guide.

Tip 3:  For a more engaged workforce, invest deeply in the leadership skills of your frontline leaders. Give them tools that they can use to create deeper connection with the team and the work that they do. Help them to be better communicators.

A strong front-line team will do more for employee engagement than any program or broad-reaching employee engagement strategy.

7 Ways to Build Trust When Your New Team is Skeptical

You’ve got a long track record of leading well. You just wish your new team would talk to your last team. That would save a heck of a lot of precious time. If they would just trust you, you could get on to making your usual magic. But it’s never as simple as that. If you’re good, at this stage of the game you may feel you deserve a better reception from your new team. You may, but they’re still skeptical. The last guy was a jerk and the scars are still oozing.

7 Ways to Build Trust with a Skeptical Team

1.  Don’t Trash the Last Guy

The more you listen, the worse the stories will sound. It’s tempting to react and trash the guy before. It may feel cathartic, and it may even feel like you’re part of the solution. Don’t go there. Build your credibility on your own merits. No good ever comes from tearing other people down. Besides, you never know the whole story. Tell the stories at dinner to your spouse and (if they’re not too dirty) to your kids. Then let it go.

2.  Listen, and then Listen Some More

Hear the frustration and understand the root cause. Get to know the team as human beings. But be careful. Watch your facial expressions. See #1.  Seek to understand, but resist the urge to judge.

3.  Break it Down

The best way to get to know a new team is one person at a time. Invest deeply one-on-one. Learn about what they need, want, and yearn most to give. Here’s a tool that can help.

4. Share Stories

The team is yearning for signs that you are credible and competent. Share a bit about your leadership track record of results–framing it in the context of stories of what your previous teams were able to achieve (not what YOU achieved).

5. Find some Early Wins

Pick some important low-hanging fruit, and help the team achieve an early win. Nothing builds credibility faster than success.

6. Let them in

Tell the truth. Be a bit vulnerable. Let them know who you are and what scares you. Show up human.  This post can help.

7. Prove They Matter

Show them you’ve got their backs. Take a bullet or two. Give them the credit. The team needs to know you care about them and their careers at least as much as you care about your own. First impressions matter, for you and for them. Don’t judge their early skeptical behavior, or assume they’re disengaged or don’t care. If they sense your frustration, that will only increase their defensive stance. Investing deeply at the beginning will create the strong foundation you need for long-term, breakthrough results.

LGL Labor Day: Be A Better Boss Challenge

It’s Labor Day in America, no better time for the LGL “Be A Better Boss Challenge.” Don’t worry, no ice buckets or donations necessary (although our porch was filled with buckets on Sunday).  I’m just advocating for a bit of focused effort on taking your relationship with your team (and with your boss) to the next level.

Of course, if you can’t imagine anything more fulfilling than dumping a bucket of icewater on the head of your boss, you best read on. If you think your team would love that opportunity, you better go all in and buy the book (for your team). Just saying 😉

Strained Boss Relationships are Everywhere

A few statistics from recent research.

Just like any other relationship, the best way to improve such relationships is to open the lines of communication. Even strong manager/employee relationships can be made stronger by taking the time to connect.

Who’s in the Best Position to Start the Conversation?

I recently shared the survey from my book with a group of about 50 managers representing a variety of organizations and industries in the public and private sectors. When I encouraged them to take the survey back and share it with their boss, my request was met with a universal chorus of shaking heads, uneasy laughter, and a resounding “no way.” On the other hand, when I asked them if they would be willing to use the survey with their own teams, they were much more receptive. It makes sense. It’s much easier if the person with the power is the one who initiates the, “Let’s make our relationship the best we can” conversation.

And so this Labor Day, I leave you with this Be a Better Boss Challenge. Have your team take the  Real Boss Survey (available free with this link) and then meet with them one-on-one to discuss how you can take your relationship to the next level.

Or, if you don’t like that game, use this week to do something specific to improve the relationship with at least one or two people on your team.

And of course, I encourage you to take the challenge to the next level and do something specific to enhance your relationship with your own boss as well.

For now, please share your stories and ideas of other specific ways you’ve worked to identify and improve your relationship with your team or with your boss in the comments below. Our community needs your insights.

Game on.

Another tool that can help is 8 Questions You Should Ask Your Boss.