Webinar Recap – Ignite Employee Engagement: A New Framework for Bringing Out the Best in Your People

November 16, 2020 Aaron Kinne

8-minute read

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“People are more than just your employees,” observed Chary Krout, co-owner and partner at Cultivate, in her opening remarks during “Ignite Employee Engagement” – a webinar hosted by Workhuman® and WorldatWork. “Understanding their full lives is key. How often are we connecting employees to our mission’s vision and values? How are we helping them understand that they are doing meaningful work?”

Co-presenter Derek Irvine, SVP of strategy and consulting at Workhuman, echoed those same sentiments as he noted “It’s from true human connection that everything flows. If we get human connection right, then we can get employee engagement right. If we get human connection right, we get trust right. And if we get those two things right – trust and engagement – it becomes a doorway that opens to all the other good things that organizations want.”

Key takeaways

That set the stage for a lively and engaging exploration of what Derek described as “a new framework for igniting or reigniting employee engagement” based on the three foundational words: Thank, Talk, Celebrate. Here are some of the compelling themes they discussed during the program:

  • Employee engagement cannot be commanded – People become engaged because the organization inspires their commitment. Therefore, the need to build a positive, inclusive, more human workplace – one where people feel a sense of belonging – has never been more important. 
  • “Thank” is a rich, deep expression of appreciation – True recognition goes beyond a simple “thank you.” It’s seeing the skills and connections a person brings. As Derek noted, “It says ‘I saw you, and I appreciate you for what you did.’” It makes people “understand how they fit in and that they matter,” added Chary. 
  • Givers matter – We often talk about recognition from the perspective of the receiver. But someone who has given recognition in the past two months is more likely to love their job, recommend your company, identify as highly engaged, and have a positive work experience.
  • Giving recognition drives business results – As Chary observed: “Giving recognition and thanks is the right thing to do; building connections is the right thing to do. But it’s also driving business results. The data shows that frequent recognition moments continue to boost people’s productivity, their output, their engagement.”
  • “Talk” is the key to growing and encouraging each other toward common goals – Frequent check-ins are key. As Chary noted, “If culture is owned by all, then we should be recognizing that in every interaction that we’re having – even in one-on-one conversations.”
  • “Celebrate” is about sharing our humanity and common purpose – To build a culture of togetherness, we need to celebrate milestones, life events, and the community. “These are golden moments to create connection between each other that reinforce trust, and reinforce a sense of engagement with each other,” noted Derek. 
  • The data says it all – Capturing human moments reveals turnover risks, uncovers hidden talent, and delivers insights into diversity awareness. The data can also reveal how work gets done, who are high performers, communities of people that work together, and the impact recognition has had across different business units.

And now, on to your questions

Following the presentation, the panelists answered questions submitted by the audience during the event. While they couldn’t answer them all, here is a representative sampling:

Q: What are your recommendations for keeping a pulse on how employees are feeling, especially for those transitioning back to work?

Chary: I think it’s making sure your managers are connecting. You can do that a couple different ways. A poll survey can be key. You can also just ask the questions of how they’re feeling, how can you support them. And then, engage employees and find solutions. I think we are often surprised that even in problem solving, we don’t always engage our people as much as we should to help find the outcome that’s going to be good for the overall organization.

Derek: I fully agree with that and it’s something I probably should have mentioned on the outset. At the beginning of COVID-19, we launched a completely free survey tool called Moodtracker™, because we agree with that point – that we need to be listening to our employees. So we offer a tool anybody can download and use right now. And it’s going be completely free, forever.

Q: What are your recommendations for giving constructive feedback – while keeping employees engaged in a remote environment?

Chary: It’s about building trust first. When you do that, constructive feedback comes with the appropriate intention behind it. I don’t know how many times in my career I’ve had a conversation with a leader who has ‘saved up’ feedback that they feel their employee needs – and is then uncomfortable having the dialogue. I think if you’re having regular check-ins, you’re building trust. You’re listening as much as you’re talking, which is really hard for most leaders. 

They think they’re supposed to lead the one-on-one conversation, when actually they should be facilitating it. Then, giving constructive feedback just becomes part of those dialogues. When I think about the times I’ve had an annual review and I haven’t gotten any feedback, I feel disappointed.

I think high achievers want to hear ways they can do better. But we have to build trust so that those messages can be heard and acted upon.

Derek: I would just reiterate that with the word, “thanks.” It doesn’t have to be complicated. Managers are struggling with, ‘What’s the framework? What are the questions?’ Thanking somebody genuinely can be the golden key that leads to a positive conversation – one that builds trust and allows the relationship to grow.

Q: It is all about wanting to be vulnerable, and I don’t see a lot of the leaders who want to take that path of vulnerability. What would you say to that?

Derek: I think there’s a fundamental shift in terms of management styles. We’re now in an era where we need to be able to bring our whole selves to work, because our human emotions, our empathy – they’re what drive creativity. They’re what drive innovation. They’re what drive relationships between your company and your customers. 

So we need to be able to bring our whole selves to work. It’s imperative in this era that we live in. Companies that fail to do that will themselves fail.

I absolutely accept and understand managers who have grown up and are comfortable in the old management style. But they need to make the shift. I think it’s about opening up. It’s about authenticity. Nobody has all of the solutions. But the shift is required and that’s where these three really powerful words come in. It doesn’t have to be any more difficult or scientific than just thanking people more. Try to have more authentic chats, talks, and celebrations. There’s a ton of these moments happening all the time. If you focus on those three things, it can be the secret key that opens up the door.

Q: The activities you shared are all easy to do and have been shown to be effective. Why do you think so few companies do them? Why aren’t they seen as priorities?

Derek: That’s been my mission for the last 20 years – making sure we capture these stories of companies that are doing this successfully. Because there are a surprising amount of companies that are succeeding and in the book, “Making Work Human,” we’ve case studied them. 

We’re talking about LinkedInProcter & Gamble, UnitedHealthcare, Intuit, Symantec – both large international companies and smaller companies. Companies in the healthcare sector – Baystate Health – that are succeeding and doing these things. 

And in the book, you’ll find data that proves these initiatives really do work. I think what we have successfully done is taken something that seems ’soft’ and created hard business evidence that shows it works. And we should all be doing it much more, for exactly that reason.

Q: In 2021, what would you start, stop, and continue in the context of making work more human?

Derek: I’ll give you some very quick ones. If you think about thanking, I would stop the annual award ceremony that just thanks the top 5% of your people, and I would start a continuous program that is recognizing 80%, 90% of your people throughout the year. I would stop the annual performance review and start more of a continuous performance development conversation. Those would be two top-of-mind things.

Chary: Absolutely. Annual events are done. I mean, we can’t even do goal setting at beginning of the year and have it be relevant by the end of first quarter. So I totally concur with that. What I would continue doing is find the times that you can connect your people, connect your managers to their people, connect your people to people. And I would put those front and center more times than not.


Working Human: Autonomy Leads to Employee Engagement

Back to Basics: What Is Employee Experience?

About the Author

Aaron Kinne

Aaron Kinne is a senior writer at Workhuman.