Topics:The Hiring Process Office Culture Interviews Employee Appreciation Employee Engagement Negotiation
Employee engagement has been a hot topic for nearly a decade. Studies conducted by Gallup indicate that companies with highly engaged employees report an 18 percent increase in productivity and a 23 percent increase in profitability, not to mention significant decreases in employee turnover, absenteeism, and product defects. With gains like these, it’s obvious why companies are keen to develop an engaged workforce. But that can be easier said than done. While there are several different definitions of employee engagement, they all relate to an individual employee’s opinion, attachment, and/or dedication to their job and employer. Many companies utilize employee recognition software and other ready-made solutions to help engage and validate their employees. However, employee engagement is an individual matter. While these solutions aid engagement, they will not work for everyone. If you notice one or more of your employees are not engaged with their work, it may be time for a new approach. Negotiation is a key element of business. However, it’s tactics are rarely discussed outside monetary situations (sales, contracts, salary, etc.). In his book, Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss states, "Life is a negotiation. The majority of interactions we have at work and at home are negotiations that boil down to the expression of a simple, animalistic urge: I want." With this mindset, the skills and tactics used to negotiate sales and salaries can be used to increase employee engagement. Your “I want” statement is simply, “I want my employee(s) to be fully engaged at work.” It’s not necessarily a selfish want. Engaged employees frequently report higher job satisfaction and increased well-being. But employees won’t become engaged in their work just because you tell them it’s good for them too. If you want to successfully negotiate engagement with your employees, you need to discover their Black Swan. Finding the black swan Black Swan theory was popularized by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, but it’s based on a saying from 17th-century London. It was common for Londoners to refer to impossible things as “black swans,” since only white swans inhabit Europe. But Dutch explorer Willem De Vlamingh discovered black swans do exist when he traveled to Australia in 1697. Today, most people use Black Swans as a metaphor to refer to unforeseen events that dramatically impact how things are done. The global COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of a Black Swan event. However, Black Swans can also be pieces of information that drastically change expectations. In negotiations, Black Swans are the unanticipated “I want” statements, the hidden motivation driving someone to act. If leveraged properly, Black Swans allow both parties to walk away with what they desire. Discovering your employee’s Black Swan is the key to helping them engage in their work. Maybe they're trying to gain experience for the next step in their career or simply saving up for a dream vacation. Whatever it may be, understanding their Black Swan will give you the insight you need to create a win-win situation. However, uncovering a Black Swan can be difficult. Many employees, especially unengaged employees, don’t know what’s really motivating them. If you try to just ask them outright, you’ll likely get very simple answers that don’t convey the whole story. If you want the truth, you’ll need to engage in what Voss refers to as tactical empathy. Tactical empathy is understanding the feeling and mindset of another in the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings so you increase your influence in all the moments that follow. It’s bringing our attention to both the emotional obstacles and the potential pathways to getting an agreement done. It’s emotional intelligence on steroids. — Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference Use tactical empathy We all fall victim to the fallacy that everyone else thinks and feels the same way we do. We balk when others are offended or upset by something we consider to be completely benign. Unfortunately, instead of trying to understand each other, we often just assume the other person is an anomaly and continue believing everyone else is on our side. As humans, we don’t like things that are different. It’s a primitive reflex leftover from our caveman days where anything that was different was likely going to hurt or kill us. However, you have to overcome this aversion to differences if you have any hope of discovering your employee’s Black Swan. The moments when your employees do or say something you don’t understand or think is “crazy” are some of the best moments to discover their Black Swan. Engage them in conversation. Ask them for more information until you start to understand how they think and feel, or what their “I want” statement is. The following tactics will help keep your conversation flowing: Mirroring — Repeat the last (or most important) 1–3 words the other person said in the form of a question. For example, if your employee said, “I’m going skydiving this weekend.” You would simply respond, “Skydiving?” This indicates you heard what they said and are interested in hearing more. Labeling — If you notice a pattern in the conversation, label it. People feel validated when you can describe what they are feeling or thinking. If you misinterpreted something, it gives them the opportunity to correct you. To continue the previous example: Employee: I’m going skydiving this weekend.You: Skydiving?Employee: Yeah, it’s kind of a tradition I have with my sister. You: It seems like you have a good relationship with her.Employee: I don’t know if I’d say that. Skydiving is really the only thing we have in common. You could then continue the conversation by mirroring again or asking a follow up question until you understand the motivation behind your employee’s actions. If your goal is to find your employee’s Black Swan, they should talk more than you. There will obviously be times in the natural flow of conversation where you say something about yourself or tell a related story. It can help form a connection between the two of you. But if you’re talking about you, you’re not learning about them. Keep the conversation focused on your employee. Engage in casual social interactions Black Swans rarely appear in formal meetings. Remember, Black Swans are unanticipated “I want” statements. They’re less likely to surface if you have a preset agenda. Make the time to talk to your employees outside of your office. Stop to talk when you see them in the hallway or breakroom. Take a few minutes before and/or after a one-on-one to talk about something not-work related. It’s the casual, unguarded conversations where Black Swans are easiest to spot. It’s important to note that many people become nervous around those in positions of authority. They feel like they are going to be reprimanded or get in trouble somehow. It may take time and effort before some of your employees feel comfortable enough to have a casual conversation with you. Don’t get discouraged. If you continue to show genuine interest in your employees and their personal interests, they will eventually become more comfortable. Once you discover your employee’s Black Swan, you can start to successfully negotiate their active engagement. Negotiating for engagement Discovering your employee’s unanticipated “I want” statement turns the situation from you wanting something from them (“I want you to be fully engaged in your work”), to a situation where you want something from each other. For example, one of your employees really enjoys competition. They regularly get involved in activities like March Madness brackets or ping-pong tournaments. Even if the only prize is bragging rights, they seem to enjoy the challenge of competition. This could be a hidden “I want” statement: “I want to participate in competitions,” or even, “I want to win.” You now have the opportunity to provide your employee with something they want in exchange for what you want. Talk to them about how you could create competitions out of their daily tasks to make work more rewarding for them. Depending on their interest, maybe even have them organize and track weekly, monthly, and/or quarterly goals for your team. If you negotiate properly, you should see an increase in your employee’s productivity and they should start to feel more fulfilled. Don’t make promises you can’t keep It is absolutely crucial that you can fulfill whatever deal you make with your employees as soon as possible. If you’re using phrases like “I’ll see what I can do,” or “Depending where we are next quarter,” you are not done negotiating. Keep discussing what can be done until you have something you can act on and deliver within days. Making grand promises might motivate an employee for a week, but they will become actively disengaged as soon as they realize you cannot fulfill it. Let’s say you discover an employee’s Black Swan is that they want to become a graphic designer. They’re even going to school for it, but their current position has nothing to do with design. Promising to get them a job in your design/marketing department is obviously not going to work. Neither will promising you’ll “talk to the manager” to see if your employee can help out on a few projects. More realistic options would be to help your employee set up networking opportunities within your company or associates. Schedule a meeting with the head designer so your employee can ask questions about career growth, education opportunities, etc. Find small projects within your team or department that give them an opportunity to practice their skills. Have them design meeting handouts or training materials. You are not always going to be able to deliver exactly what your employee wants. But that is the point of negotiation — to collaborate with each other until you find a solution that both parties can realistically deliver. Investing your time There is no “quick fix” when it comes to employee engagement. Even plug-and-play employee recognition programs and software won’t change company culture overnight. Talking to individual employees and discovering their Black Swans takes time and energy. Progress may be slow, but as employees become more engaged you should start to see the benefits positively impact your business. Step-by-step, you’ll get back to where you want to be.
Every HR professional knows the important role corporate holiday parties play in employee appreciation. For many companies, it's the event of the year and has the largest budget. It makes sense; employees have worked hard all year, and the holiday season provides an easy setting for companies to show gratitude and appreciation. Many professionals believe corporate holiday parties play an essential role in creating a healthy, thriving environment for employees. But the question on everyone’s mind is,“How do you throw a successful party during a pandemic?” 2020 has been challenging for everyone. This year more than most, employees need the morale boost holiday parties often provide. However, mask requirements, social distancing guidelines, and restrictions on the number of people allowed at an event severely limit the traditional corporate party structure. Despite all this, employees still need to know they are valued. You can cancel the party, but you cannot cancel employee appreciation. So, what do you do instead? Think outside the box Corporate holiday parties have been used for a long time to resolve many employee needs at once. They provide: An opportunity for employees to socialize outside the office environment, thereby enhancing company culture and increasing morale. Closure to the year and relevant goals. A venue to celebrate successes, as well as give and receive validation for hard work. Motivation to start the next year strong. These needs still need to be met, but since a large party is no longer an option, it’s time to get creative. While you’ll likely have to come up with multiple solutions to accomplish the same things a party does on its own, you may also discover something that works better than what you’ve done in the past. Schedule a brainstorming session with HR staff, company executives, and other stakeholders to see what you can do to fulfill these needs. Here are some ideas to get you started: Give out personalized company swag kits, using employee’s name where possible. Host parties for departments instead of the entire company (depending on state safety guidelines). Share an interactive video message, presentation, or webpage recapping the year and establishing goals for next year. Offer extra paid time-off for employees. Design award icons employees can use as profile pictures on company communication tools. Utilize (or implement) employee recognition software. Have managers present personalized gift cards to each employee based on their interests/hobbies. Don’t be afraid to ask for employee input either. Your goal is to show appreciation to your employees, so why not ask them how to do it? Send a poll to your employees asking for their opinions. You can do this before your brainstorming session to get more ideas, or you can use the poll to narrow down the ideas your team discussed. Use video conferencing sparingly Some businesses are looking into hosting virtual parties using video conferencing platforms. There are a couple problems with this. First, since remote work has become the norm, video conferencing is now the virtual equivalent of going into the office. Therefore, hosting a party via video is the same as having the holiday party at your office. No one wants that. Second, it’s difficult for large groups of people to interact over video conferencing. People are more likely to passively watch than actively engage. If employees are not able to interact freely with each other, it makes it hard to develop feelings of belonging or unity — which greatly improve company culture and morale. That’s not to say you can’t use video conferencing at all, but think carefully about what you choose to use it for. If your leadership team usually gives a speech or year-in-review presentation, video conferencing may be a useful tool. Or if your company gives annual awards, that can also be done over video. Be strategic in your use of video conferencing for employee appreciation. Watching a series of talking heads does not do a lot to boost morale. Don’t just tell your employees that you’re grateful for their work. Look for opportunities to show them. Give your best effort 2020 brought all of us into uncharted territory in so many ways. Your employees know that. Your efforts to show employee appreciation without the traditional holiday party may be wildly successful or they may fail epically. The results aren’t as important as long as employees see that you’re trying to make the best of a terrible situation. No matter what, COVID-19 restrictions and safety guidelines are forcing us to change. But necessity is the mother of invention. This is an opportunity for HR professionals and businesses to innovate the ways they show employee appreciation. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You may be surprised at the solutions you discover.
Guest Post by Emil Hajric Your organizational knowledge is your company's most valuable asset. Really, it's invaluable. The knowledge your organization possesses as a whole is the thing that makes your company unique and allows your brand to stand out from your competitors. More than just the tacit knowledge held by your individual employees, your organizational knowledge is the combined product of this individual knowledge applied in such a way as to further your company’s mission. To be valuable to your company, though, this knowledge must be able to flow freely throughout your organization — and should continually grow in quantity and quality as time goes on. To allow for this open flow of knowledge, your team will need to cultivate a culture of knowledge and continuous learning. Key Takeaway: Focusing on a knowledge-sharing culture will improve your company's ability to reach worthy goals. Enhance organizational alignment Empower and retain employees Improve knowledge acquisition Spearhead procedural improvements Drive revenue, profit, and growth 1. Knowledge sharing enhances organizational alignment A group of talented individuals working in isolation just cannot produce the same results as a similar group working cooperatively. And, a group of talented individuals all working toward different goals just isn’t going to be good for business. Case in point: Gartner found that organizational alignment can lead to a nine percent increase in revenues — while a lack of alignment can cause a 12 percent drop in employee performance. In other words, organizational alignment has a direct relationship with both employee and company performance. This organizational alignment cannot exist without cultivating a culture of knowledge sharing amongst your team. Or, perhaps more accurately: You can try to create alignment around your organizational mission and vision — but it’s not going to stick over the long-term without an ongoing focus on sharing knowledge. In terms of on-the-ground alignment, a team that isn’t constantly communicating and sharing information will easily become disjointed and unable to reach even its most immediate goals. But, a team that does understand the importance of continuously exchanging knowledge will stay on the same page when working toward both granular and big picture goals. This sets the stage for maximum team performance throughout your organization. 2. Knowledge sharing empowers your employees — and keeps them onboard Building a culture of knowledge sharing and ongoing learning communicates a clear message to your team members: Your knowledge and expertise matter to our organization. Without it, our organization would not exist as it does today — and would not be able to grow into what it will be tomorrow. The fact that you’re calling your team members to share the knowledge they bring to the table shows that their value to the company goes beyond the tasks they perform on the job. This recognition will go a long way in the eyes of your individual employees: 40% of U.S. employees say more recognition would motivate them to put more effort into their work Nearly 9 in 10 employees who feel recognized are more trusting of their organization and their bosses 63% of employees who feel recognized say they’re unlikely to be looking for a new job It’s in the open exchange of ideas, expertise, and experiences that your team’s — and your individual employee’s — purpose becomes truly apparent. In continuously sharing and gaining more knowledge, your employees will both become more valuable to your organization and feel more valued as a member of your team. This intrinsic motivation is key to optimizing employees’ performance and overall outlook on the job. 3. Knowledge sharing improves knowledge acquisition and retention Individual knowledge acquisition and organizational knowledge retention are two sides of the same coin. Of course, each side can benefit from the creation of a knowledge-sharing culture. In focusing on knowledge acquisition, think employee onboarding and ongoing professional development. Building your organization around the sharing of knowledge means you’ll always be able to get your team members up to speed with any need-to-know information regarding their professional duties. (As we said earlier, an individual employee’s knowledge will only get them so far. To be truly valuable to your company, they need to integrate their knowledge with that of your organization.) You’ll also be able to continuously improve your onboarding and training efforts as time goes on. For one thing, as your organization becomes more knowledgeable, you’ll be able to deliver even more comprehensive learning content and experiences to your team members. Moreover, you can make ongoing improvements to these experiences as you survey and gather feedback from your employees over time. Knowledge sharing also ensures that your organization retains important knowledge when employees retire or otherwise resign. With proper knowledge management processes in place, best practices, step-by-step instructions, and procedural demos will be documented and continually improved upon — and will continue to provide value to your organization long after an employee leaves. Successful knowledge sharing also leads to knowledge centralization — making it ultra-accessible to all who need it, when they need it. This not only makes onboarding and training a snap, but also enables your team to continue building on the knowledge that accumulates throughout your company’s lifespan. 4. Knowledge sharing leads to procedural improvements Your team should always be looking for ways to improve internal processes as well as overall productivity levels. And, it really does need to be a team effort. In addition to worrying about improving their own processes, team members should also be focused on helping improve their colleague’s productivity levels, as well. This goes back to creating alignment and helping your employees better understand your company’s vision. It’s not necessarily about any one team member’s performance, but about what the team can achieve together. As team members begin sharing their knowledge, expertise, and experiences more freely, it will become easier for the team as a whole to understand what works and what doesn’t regarding their current processes. In contrast, a lack of knowledge sharing means a lack of diversity in terms of insight, experiences, and ideas amongst your individual employees and your overall team. Without this diverse input, breakthroughs and a-ha moments will be few and far between. This leads to the effective creation and optimization of standard operating practices throughout your organization. Instead of developing SOP from the top down — without actually involving those responsible for completing said tasks — you’ll create them collaboratively, using any and all applicable knowledge possessed by your team to do so. The best part? Since your team members will be openly sharing best practices with one another, this development of SOP will happen almost organically. As you make these feedback-based improvements on the fly, you’ll then be able to easily document said processes to bring them into official use within your organization. 5. Knowledge sharing drives revenue, profit, and business growth So far, we’ve focused on the more intrinsic benefits of building a culture of knowledge sharing among your team. To be sure, these intrinsic gains will lead to tangible, monetary gains for your business. Unfortunately, the best way to illustrate this is to show what happens when organizations aren’t focused on sharing knowledge: According to a 2018 report from Panopto, ineffective knowledge sharing causes the average US business to lose $47 million in productivity. Panopto provides further context, explaining that “a business with 3,000 employees loses $8 million annually, a 10,000-employee business loses $26.5 million annually, and a 50,000-employee business loses $132.7 million annually.” This massive loss in productivity stems from much of what we’ve discussed thus far: An inability to quickly and easily locate, digest, and apply organizational knowledge Poor cross-team alignment and communication Loss of organizational knowledge Check out Best Company’s list of project management software available to find the best tools to help aid your company with knowledge sharing. Poor knowledge sharing capabilities also hinder an organization’s ability to make improvements. So, in addition to the actual losses sustained, poor knowledge sharing also leads to missed opportunities for growth over time. With that in mind, it’s accurate to say that the losses your business will incur due to poor knowledge sharing processes is incalculable. Conversely, cultivating a culture of knowledge sharing can lead to massive monetary growth for your business. Not only will you minimize operational costs and losses, but you’ll also unearth new, previously-unseen opportunities for growth just as a matter of doing business. For your knowledge sharing initiatives to go as planned, your team needs to have full control over your organization’s cumulative knowledge. Fortunately, there are a number of tools and services available to help your team better manage your customer-facing and internal data. Visit Our Business Services Page Our software reviews can show you which tools are right for your business’ current purposes — and which ones to keep an eye on as your company’s business intelligence needs grow. Learn More Emil Hajric, the founder and CEO of knowledge base software company Helpjuice, is an organizational learning expert and author of Knowledge Management: A Theoretical and Practical Guide for Knowledge Management in Your Organization.