The Best Offense is a Good Defense - Retaining Your Best People By Fostering a Culture of Engagement

Like many pieces of industry jargon, people have been throwing “engagement” around at management meetings for a while now. It was the great new buzzword a few years ago and now it has become part of the corporate lexicon. But what does it really mean? Here’s one definition from the Conference Board's 2008 review of employee engagement:

"Employee engagement is a heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization and that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work."

It's the personal connection that you feel towards your work and the organization that supports it. The level to which your people feel strongly connected to the success of your company is a great indicator of their happiness with their jobs. Engaged employees communicate openly, help willingly, and have the best interests of the organization in mind.

Sounds great, right? So how do we get to this magic state of mind? Towers Perrin listed the top 10 drivers of employee engagement from their 2007/2008 survey:

  1. Senior management sincerely interested in employee well-being
  2. Ability to improve skills and capabilities
  3. Organization’s reputation for social responsibility
  4. Employees inputs into decision making
  5. Quick resolution of customer concerns
  6. Setting of high personal standards
  7. Excellent career advancement opportunities
  8. Challenging work assignments that broaden skills
  9. Good relationships with supervisors
  10. Organization encourages innovative thinking

This is a great starting point for developing a longer term strategy to retain your best people. Fostering an
engaging work environment means focusing on these 10 factors, and the good news is that many of them are inexpensive or even free.

First let’s recognize that the factors above can be grouped into a few broad categories:

  • Bottom-up Feedback – Engaged employees know that their voices are heard and valued. Although not every suggestion will be implemented, great employers solicit input from all levels of the organization.
  • Professional Development – Whether it’s formal training or a buddy system for mentoring, organizations that value their employees are always looking for opportunities to grow talent internally. Managers should work directly with their direct reports to create customized personal development programs.
  • Organizational Values – No one wants to work for a company that takes advantage of people, wastes resources or destroys the environment. Publishing a strong mission statement that focuses on the customer and the values of the company helps people feel like they are part of something that adds value and benefits others.

So building on these drivers of engagement, your focus should be on developing programs to solicit feedback, foster and encourage personal and professional development, and communicate organizational values through the use of mission statements and internal publicity. Here are some concrete actions you can implement at

any organization to foster these goals.

  • Quarterly Feedback Meeting or Survey
  • Build a Buddy System for Mentoring
  • Create a Newsletter to Keep Employees Up To Date on Corporate Decisions
  • Solicit Bottom-Up Feedback
  • Develop a Customer Focuses Mission Statement
  • Create an Employee Recognition Program Voted by Peers
  • Consider Flexible Hours or Telecommuting

Employee turnover costs an average of 30-45% of salary. Recruiting a new team member, losing efficiency during the ramp up period and re-establishing relationships with customers, vendors and team members
are all part of the fallout of high turnover. Fostering engagement as a retention strategy can help you substantially lower both the hard and soft costs of this challenge. For more tips and strategies on retaining
high performers, please join me on April 28th for a free webinar!

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