CEOs and managers regularly spout the benefits of increased employee engagement. They cite the benefits of lower turnover rates, increased productivity, a safer workplace, higher profits, and less wasted expenditure as their top reasons for wanting a more involved team. However, while a lot of managers can tell you the benefits of employee engagement, very few can tell you how to achieve it.
Employee engagement is not something that just happens because you want it to happen. It’s the result of a long-term and strategic process of getting to know your employees, not just by what they do but by who they are.
Gallup reporter Robyn Reilly put it best: “Employees don’t check their personalities at the door when they come to work. Knowing that they are respected as individuals at work can have a significant impact on how employees view their overall lives.” She then goes on to explain that each employee’s potential goes well beyond what his or her job description says, and that learning to recognize and tap into that potential can have a significant impact on the way they approach their work.
One of the best ways to let employees know that their potential does not go unnoticed and that their talents are appreciated is to encourage employees to bring their insights to the table.
The Link Between Engagement and Innovation
Researchers have been studying the link between employee engagement and innovation for quite some time. Turns out, the opportunity to be innovative drives engagement – and vice versa. The more engaged employees are, the more creative they become, too.
- A 2007 study by Krueger & Killham found that 59% of engaged employees say that their job “brings out their most creative ideas,” compared to just 3% of employees who were disengaged;
- A 2009 McLeod report stated that “engaged employees freely and willingly give discretionary effort, not as an ‘add on’, but as an integral part of their daily activity at work.” The report then went on to reinforce that idea with case studies that highlight companies who placed an emphasis on values-driven engagement that ultimately resulted in greater innovation, amongst a number of other benefits;
- A 2007 study by the Chartered Management Institute found that companies that encouraged innovation experienced lower sickness and absence rates. Another study by the institute found “a significant association and influence between employee engagement and innovation”;
- A 2015 report by Bailey, Madden, Alfes and Fletcher consolidated the results of 214 academic studies, the combined findings of which revealed a significant link between engagement and innovative work behavior.
It’s clear: engaged employees can provide much needed innovative ideas for your enterprise. However, before you open the floor for just any ideas, you need to lay the groundwork. Some things you will want to do before hosting your first innovation session are:
- Define the criteria for good ideas
- Empower employees with data
- Provide training and encourage development
- Host brainstorming seminars
- Create dashboards to track KPIs
Criteria for Million Dollar Ideas
Hootsuite founder-turned-investor Ryan Holmes published an article on LinkedIn that essentially defines the criteria for any worthy idea. In his article, The 3 Word-Test to Tell if You’ve Got a Million-Dollar Business Idea, he explains that ideas that meet his three-word test are more likely to succeed than those that meet only one, two, or none of the criteria. Those three words are Talent, Technology, and Traction. In his brief article, he succinctly explains that in order for an idea to thrive, it must:
- Be backed by the right talent;
- Have the existing technology (or at least the ability to build that technology); and
- Already have a wait-list of potential users.
Of course, you should never discourage brilliant ideas that don’t meet all of these criteria, but bearing these criteria in mind can steer you towards smart investments and viable ideas.
Empower Employees With the Right Data
As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times,” which essentially means that many of the best ideas have their roots in other ideas. He then goes on to say, “but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, until they take root in our personal experience.” Part of thinking an idea over is evaluating those ideas that were never brought to fruition, and determining what has worked before and what hasn’t.
Your organization likely has dozens, if not hundreds, of buried ideas, whether because there were never the resources to bring them to life, there was not the forum to share them, or their champion had left for other pastures. If an employee presents an idea that has already been tried, don’t discourage them from trying it again! Instead, provide them with data they can learn from. Maybe the idea will take root this time around, without having to start from square one.
Provide Training and Encourage Development
Employees who receive proper job training are more likely to excel in their careers than those that don’t. This is because training ensures that an employee completes their job accurately, which in turn leads to increased confidence and higher levels of motivation. When an employee is motivated, they are more likely to get involved and share their visions for the company and, more importantly, to share in the company’s vision.
However, it’s not enough to make sure that your employees are skilled at their current roles. You should also provide plenty of opportunities for growth and development, as these are the key drivers of employee engagement. Employees who are given the opportunity to hone their skills and develop new ones on a consistent basis are more likely to stay with a company and do whatever they can to see that company succeed.
Read next: How to Promote Data Literacy
Don’t Forget to Brainstorm!
All of the above steps will have been for naught if you don’t give your employees a forum in which they can express their ideas. However, sharing ideas can be scary for a lot of people, especially if they’re not sure how well their ideas will be received. Some ways you can help facilitate a productive brainstorming session include:
- Make sure employees feel supported by upper-level management, and that they aren’t afraid that they’re giving up their competitive edge by sharing what they know;
- Give your employees the tools they need to succeed in a brainstorming session, such as document templates or relevant data points;
- Make knowledge sharing optional – don’t force employees to come up with ideas on top of their existing workload;
- Allow employees to share ideas at any time and not just during a brainstorming session. Let them share ideas via email, company forums, and company social media platforms; and
- Provide incentives to departments that produce the most amount of viable ideas, improve upon existing ideas, and contribute the most to brainstorming discussions. Incentives don’t have to be monetary – recognition might be just as valuable.
Put Dashboards to Use
Does anything ever even happen if you can’t prove it with data? Sure, dozens of other reports show that innovation and employee engagement go hand in hand, but when it comes to tracking the progress within your own organization and the departments within it, you cannot rely on outside data. Once you put the wheels of the innovation train in motion, create separate KPIs to track the productivity levels of each department and of the organization as a whole. It’s crucial that you track the right KPIs, as the point of these dashboards is to determine the success of your “innovation initiative,” and you don’t want to overwhelm the right people with the wrong type of information. (For tips on how to choose the right KPIs, click here.)
However, picking the right data is not enough. You also need to determine which people need access to what data. You may want to send the good news (because it’s likely to be good!) to everyone within the organization, but doing so many only serve to generate needless competition, feelings of pressure, and even confusion. If you’re using a dashboard platform, make sure it’s one that allows you to set specific user permissions, so that the right dashboards show up for the right people.
The data proves that there is a definitive link between employee engagement and innovation, but knowledge is only as powerful as what you make of it. By encouraging idea sharing within your organization—and, more importantly, laying the proper groundwork for doing so—you can harness innovative ideas and keep your company moving forward.