The Power of Attention: What Employee Engagement Really Means

What Employee Engagement Really Means

If you’re here, you have probably already asked yourself this question: What does employee engagement really mean?

To be brutally honest, we find ourselves asking the same question every day.

Every year, the HCI Employee Engagement conference invites leading engagement and HR thinkers to spin yarns and Powerpoint along with surprising walk-on music. It’s a chance to network and exchange ideas. It’s a chance for HR tech and service providers to get direct feedback from the people our solutions would impact the most.

It’s a chance to eat a lot of good food, actually.

Attuned at the 2019 HCI Employee Engagement Conference

 

Last week, Attuned was proud to be a 2nd-time sponsor of the event. We were humbled by the positive feedback of the attendees and our peers in the engagement space. We listened closely to the keynotes. The most personally resonant presentation came on day three:

A presentation by Amy Leschke-Kahle.

The Power of Attention

ALK’s presentation detailed a long process of trial and error in the quest for improved engagement stats, which in later years was expedited with the sophistication of data.

She says that in the process, she stumbled upon the secret sauce of engagement: attention. It’s that simple.

ALK’s company’s data showed that engagement improved in proportion to the amount of quality individual attention bestowed on each employee. Focusing on your people, one at a time, and giving them your full attention, will increase engagement.

Her data showed managers that took the time to do weekly one-on-ones had a significantly higher percentage of “fully-engaged” direct reports. In the chart, “High Attention” points to staff that had weekly one-on-ones. “Medium” was once every two weeks and “Low” was once a month.

It sounds too simple, like things that all managers do. But perhaps not.

Common Employee Engagement Initiatives

Why do we see lukewarm engagement numbers in the US (34% at a peak) and downright dismal numbers in Japan (6% in 2017, according to Gallup)?

The road to disengaged employees and poor retention is paved with good intentions.

Let’s evaluate a couple of widely used methods for their actual individual attention quality.

One-on-ones

These are now fairly common practice in the US and relatively new to the management landscape in Japan. What seems like a no-brainer in terms of quality individual attention is actually pretty easy to get wrong.

Many managers open one-on-ones with KPIs (standardized, dictated by the company), the business on the whole (not the person in the room), what was on TV (maybe fun, but irrelevant to your team member’s success and fulfillment) or themselves. None of these are focused on quality listening to your peeps. There is not much attention being paid here.

Large scale, company-wide engagement surveys

These have become commonplace, too. And while they do have value, they bring value only to the very top of the organization. Culling amazing data for management to monitor for the longer term, their standardized format and lack of immediate actionability do very little to provide the individual attention that truly drives engagement.

Focus on the person in front of you

ALK admitted to trying multiple complex initiatives to low degrees of success. What she now recommends is frequent conversations about near term future work. In her words, “What are your priorities this week? What can I do to help?”

We would argue for the same. With an additional splash of individual attention. Attuned recommends frequent, intrinsic motivator-focused conversations about near-term future work.

Knowing each individual’s unique mash-up of intrinsic motivators is one way to help you focus your attention completely on the person in front of you. Knowing their motivators is knowing deeply why they work. Framing your one-on-ones in their terms will keep your attention focused on the individual, and will keep them working for themselves, as well as for you.

It also helps you listen to them, to hear what they are saying, and to read between the lines.

So what would this look like in practice?

Intrinsic Motivator-Based One-on-Ones

Let’s say I am going into a one-on-one with Sam.

This is Sam’s motivator profile:

Sam's Motivator Profile

 

Glancing at this reminds us that getting Feedback is the number one priority, as for Sam, it leads to Progress, which is number four on the needs list.

We should also make sure we make Sam feel safe (Security) in their position, while also emphasizing the contribution that they are making to the larger good of the team (Altruism).

Step 1: Ask about the week’s priorities and projects and the status of them.

Step 2: Listen intently. (Don’t skip this. Turn your phone off, please.)

Step 3: Provide both positive and constructive Feedback (Sam’s #1) about the week’s activities. Ask how you can help.

Step 4: Addressing Security, take a moment to confirm that Sam has a clear understanding of what a successful outcome looks like. If applicable, also discuss the methods that could be used to achieve the desired result.

Step 5: Ask Sam if there is anyone on the team who has been helping them or whom they can help. Describe how the week’s prioritized tasks contribute to the health of the team, the organization and so on. Again, ask if there is some way you could assist Sam.

Step 6: Ask if there is anything else Sam would like to go over.

And there you have it.

We have a fancy tool to measure intrinsic motivation, but engaging your employees is not rocket science. Following a similar pattern will take you about 30 minutes, but these 30 minutes are likely to be the most important 30 minutes of your employee’s work week.

Paying attention to each individual’s intrinsic motivators is treating them like the unique, talented and valued employees that they are.

You got this.