Growing a business or agency requires an entirely different skillset than simply working one-on-one with clients. It’s tough to hear, but it’s the truth – you can be a great developer, a great salesperson, and a rockstar when it comes to working with clients. Unfortunately, none of that counts towards being a great manager – and that’s where the problems begin.
If you’re working as a solo freelancer, you don’t really need to worry about being a good manager. On the other hand, if your business is growing and you are relying on employees to keep your clients happy and their projects moving along, then good management skills are vital.
Because, as a skilled manager, you’ll be able to keep employees engaged, motivated and feeling positive about the work they do and about your company. That translates directly to happy clients, repeat business and more referrals.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at some of the ways you can keep your employees more engaged. Some of them are obvious but often overlooked, while some of them you probably haven’t even considered implementing.
Engaged Employees Are Vital to Your Business
The larger your business becomes, the more important it is to have employees who are highly engaged. But you might be wondering, how exactly does an engaged employee act? How can you tell which employees are engaged and which aren’t?
Loosely translated from a variety of sources, engaged employees could be described as the following:
An engaged employee is one who demonstrates a positive and enthusiastic outlook in regards to their work and the company they are working for. They have an overall feeling of alignment between their values and objectives and the values and objectives of the company they are working for.
As you can imagine, employees who demonstrate the above qualities are more likely to make decisions that are in the best interest of your business and your clients. It’s the difference between looking at your organisation as a team versus a group of individuals. When you have employees who are engaged, you’ll be able to sleep at night. You’ll know that any decisions that are being made are done so with the best interest of the whole team in mind.
The Secret to Making Employees Feel Engaged
If you’re running an agency, let’s be honest, things can get hectic from time to time. Clients can be demanding, deadlines are often looming and there is usually at least one person on the team who doesn’t carry their own weight (don’t be that person). As your business grows, small, seemingly insignificant problems often become big ones.
While it’s easy to blame poor employee engagement on external factors, the truth of the matter is that it usually comes down to poor management skills. But don’t worry because you’re not alone and there is always a way to improve (we’ll get into some specific tactics in just a second).
If you want to take your business to the next level, one of the smartest things you can do is focus on becoming a better manager.
In 2014, the Harvard Business Review posted an article that discussed why good managers are so rare.
In the article, one of the most interesting revelations is the link between good management and engaged employees. This is not a typical study with a small sample size. Gallup has studied the performance of hundreds of organisations and 27 million employees over a period of 20 years. Here are two of the facts they discovered that are relevant to our discussion:
- 70% of the variance in employee engagement is attributable to management.
- In 2012, only 30% of US employees reported being engaged at work.
Their studies also indicated that only one in ten people possessed the traits that were most important to being a good manager. They are:
- Having the ability to motivate employees
- Being assertive enough to drive a team towards a particular outcome or objective
- They believe in accountability
- They build open and transparent relationships
- They put office politics aside and focus on what really matters – productivity
What’s most interesting is that all of these traits and skills can be practised and developed. If you develop these skills, who knows how far you can take your business.
9 Creative Ways to Keep Your Employees Engaged
Having the skills is one thing. Putting them into practice is something entirely different. That’s why we’re going to take a closer look at some specific and creative ways that you can keep your employees engaged and your business growing.
These ideas run a little deeper than what you might expect. We’re not going to talk about staff parties or team building events, although those things certainly hold some value.
Replace “I” With “We”
It goes without saying that if you want your employees to think and act as though they are part of a team, you should replace the word “I” with the word “We”. This can be a real challenge – especially if you’ve built your business from scratch.
As entrepreneurs, we become very attached to our businesses, often seeing them as an extension of ourselves. This attitude works just fine as a solo freelancer. But if you want to build a highly engaged team, your employees need to feel like you see them as a critical part of the big picture. There is no “I” in TEAM.
Encourage Open Communication
Working with clients has probably already taught you the importance of good communication. Nothing can bring the development of a new website to a grinding halt faster than a poorly communicating client, right? The same thing holds true for keeping employees engaged.
If you maintain a culture of open and honest communication, your employees are more likely to feel comfortable communicating themselves. Encourage your team members to share their thoughts and opinions, even if they end up being wrong.
Open communication can also be encouraged by creating an open office environment. Consider a cubicle-free layout, or maybe offices plus a collaborative space. If your team is virtual, then look at using tools like Slack, HipChat or Google Hangouts.
Finally, communication also means keeping employees up to date with what’s going on in your business. Are you targeting a specific new client or vertical market? What are your objectives or goals for the company over the next few months? How can employees contribute towards making those goals happen? The more open-book and communicative you are, the more employees will feel like they are part of a larger purpose.
Manage With Consistency
If you’ve ever worked for someone else as an employee, at some point in time you’ve probably found yourself in a situation where the expectations were not clear. Most of the time it’s the result of a manager who is inconsistent in their expectations. You never know exactly what’s expected from day to day or project to project. Success is always a moving target.
Inconsistent management creates employees who are unsure of themselves. They can never fully commit to their work or the vision of your company because they’re not exactly sure of what it is, or if it might change tomorrow. You can help you team to feel more committed by keeping your expectations consistent. If you make changes, communicate beforehand.
Lead by Example
Sometimes you might not feel like following your own rules. But if you make exceptions for yourself, the rest of your team will soon start to feel like they too can make exceptions. As difficult as it can be, you need to be the one who sets the bar and maintains the standard.
For example, if you are building a culture where clients are treated like part of an extended family and you want your employees to buy into that vision, you need to lead by example. If you talk poorly about a client or complain about them behind their back, you team members will be quick to do the same.
Make Their Opinion Matter
Engaged employees feel like they are part of a bigger vision. We’ve already discussed the importance of communication, but it doesn’t stop there. You also need to make sure that when an employee shares an idea or a concern, that it’s either investigated or acted upon. In order to keep employees engaged, they need to have an active and effective voice within your company.
Reward a “Think for Yourself” Mentality
Part of being a good manager means delegating tasks to the right people at the right time. But unless to want to be in a situation where your employees never take any initiative, you need to encourage them to take action on their own.
You should never discourage employees from taking a calculated risk or using their initiative if it’s in the best interest of the company or your client. Every entrepreneur’s dream is to have an employee with an entrepreneurial mindset. Someone who takes initiative thinks outside the box, and who is always thinking about the business as a whole. If you really want employees to feel engaged, give them the opportunity, and reward them for doing so.
Encourage Personal and Professional Growth
Your employees are more likely to be engaged in your business if they also feel like you’re engaged in their lives. One of the easiest ways to do that is by encouraging and helping them with their personal and professional growth. That might mean a paid trip to a WordCamp in an exotic location or giving them time off work so they can knock something off their lifetime bucket list. Encourage and help our employees to grow and they’ll be more likely to bring their “A Game” to work.
Respect Personal Time
It’s possible that one of the things that motivated you to hire employees in the first place was to win back some of your life outside of work. There are a lot of people in the space who live, eat, breathe and sleep. In a world where we are almost always connected to the internet, it’s an easy trap to fall into.
Work hard, play hard. We’ve all heard that motto at some point in time. What it’s really about is respecting your employees personal time. It’s perfectly fine to have high expectations at work and to promote a culture of excellence.
If you want your employees to give 100% when they’re at work, that’s perfectly fine. You also need to make sure they have an opportunity to give 100% to the things that are important to them. Family, sports, leisure and vacation time are all things that contribute towards a work-life balance and an employee who is more engaged.
If You Give Critique, Be Willing To Accept It
In the spirit of open communication, as a manager, you should also be open to the critique of your management skills. Keeping employees engaged means allowing them to have a degree of control and to share their opinions.
As much as you might feel like you’re the greatest manager in the world, some of your employees might have suggestions that could make you even better.
Open, honest, and most importantly constructive critique, can make everyone better at what they do. This benefits your entire team.
Most entrepreneurs will tell you that managing employees and keeping them engaged is one of the most challenging aspects of building a business. If your business has grown to the point where you’re hiring your first employee or are already juggling a small team, it might be time to get serious about developing your management skills.
Very few people are born managers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t become one. Developing great management skills and building a team of engaged employees just might allow you to grow your business faster than you ever imagined.
When most people think of creative ways to engage employees they’re thinking about exciting employee functions, team building exercises and even fancy benefits. In reality, building an engaged team comes down to how you treat your employees and the level of respect between the members of your team.