November 6, 2012

Employee Engagement Tips with Deirdre Maloney

Deirdre MaloneyYour success or your failure rests in your employees, a statement Deirdre Maloney makes confidently. As a speaker, author and nonprofit business consultant, Maloney knows the true key to a company’s success, and, for the past 11 years, she has witnessed the power of leadership and engaging employees.

Maloney is the president of Momentum, a consulting firm that helps nonprofits with business strategy, board/staff relationships and better fundraising. She also wrote a nonprofit leadership guide called The Mission Myth, detailing the seven years she ran a multi-million dollar nonprofit organization, and Tough Truths, a mini book on what makes a great leader.

Maloney sat down with to discuss one of the most important aspects in company management: employee engagement.

What are some best practices for engaging employees?

I think what you want to have is a healthy mix of professional development, team building, and getting to know your staff on a deeper level. The first thing you want to do is think about who you are as an organization, what kind of culture you want and is appropriate for the organization you currently have, and how you might want to change that.

Talk to your employees about how they like to be engaged, about how they want to work with their bosses, what their goals are around professional development, and around a team environment so that, as managers, you can come up with good a engagement program.

What is an engagement program?

When we talk about an engagement program, we’re talking about professional development and team building and moral. I believe the job of the supervisor is really fourfold: to set expectations, to support the staff in reaching them, to reward the staff when they meet expectations and to hold staff accountable when they don’t. Doing all of those as we need to is what will make a business successful.

When it comes to engaging employees around that, hiring people that we trust to have good dialogue, asking for feedback about what they’re looking for (as far as team building and professional development), and, as a management team, coming up with very consistent policies all around as to how you’re going to engage your staff. Try to keep it as consistent as you can knowing different employees and different roles have different needs.

Also how you’re going to work through moral issues and provide professional development. It’s important to have a healthy, safe vehicle for staff to go to when they have concerns. It’s really important for supervisors to build a strong relationship of trust.

How important is employee engagement?

I think it’s everything. You’re success or your failure rests in your employees. When we manage, we mostly aren’t doing the work ourselves. We’re doing pieces of it, but the actual productivity, outcomes, products and services that we’re creating happen on a staff level. And if those staff aren’t engaged —not feeling good about the company, not supported or held accountable —then the organization will simply not be successful or as successful.

What are the benefits of employee engagement?

Better outcomes for company. If an employee is excited about their work and feel like they’re a part of a team, they’re going to produce better. They’re going to show up; they’re going to have more energy and they’re going to make more outcomes happen in that way.

Ambassadorship is really important for all employers to be thinking about. When they’re (employees) are excited about a company, they go out and talk about the company.

You just want good moral in your company. No one wants to come into work in a toxic environment. Doing your job by engaging employees all around makes for better moral.

What should employers and HR professionals avoid when trying to engage employees?

You want to engage employees around being a strong, healthy, productive team. Yet, be careful of the word “family.” When employers get closer to staff on a personal level, it’s much harder to hold employees accountable. Find a healthy balance of engagement, appropriately so, knowing that there’s lots of dialogue, but there’s also a power differential.

Don’t create too much of a family mentality because that’s when things get very personal and management can become harder. I think people need to find their family and friends circles elsewhere and really look at their work circle as their team.

In what ways does Momentum engage employees?

I give a lot of time to staff and I think it’s really important. We talked a lot about the role and job. I talked to my VP about why he was my choice and set aside a whole day for orientation and planning. We meet once a week to check in and see how things are going.

The result is there’s always energy and a feeling of trust. It’s all about finding that healthy balance of constant engagement, delegation, and knowing that I’m the boss. I chose that, so I have to be that.

How can employers tell if their employees are fully engaged?

Moral says a lot. If energy is low, if production is down, engagement can be low. Certainly ask questions of staff about how they feel about dialogue, meetings and support. I think employers know and will hear buzzes from managers; they’re going to know if moral is down or up.

The trick is to not take it offensively or personally. If moral is down, look at the reasons behind it and discuss what adjustments you’ll need to make.

Should employee engagement tactics vary from level to level? Department to department?

You want to keep your policies and your messages consistent. Talk about what the value of employees is to the company and why that matters. Certain positions need more supervisory time than others; certain people need different levels of engagement. You still want to have policies that are visionary for the entire organization. Remembering to make it consistent and appropriate is important.

Is an employee engagement practice better implemented by the entire company or by specific departments and managers?

It’s important for the vision and the overall messaging to come from the top, Managers should be clear about what those are and keep them consistent, but then determine some of those tactics on their own.

Last words of advice?

The hard thing is we want to all be liked.  I think the thing for managers is just because you know a certain part of your company and how it works and you’re promoted into a supervisor or management-level position doesn’t mean you know how to manage people; that’s a whole different skill set.

Look into your own professional development on supervision and employee engagement. Know it’s important to both support and to hold accountable. Supervision is not an easy job. Having your own level of support and training around that is key.

Read more in Employee Engagement

Marks’ stories have also been published in a variety of newspaper, magazine and online formats including The Arizona Republic, The Daily Herald, Arizona Foothills Magazine and various classroom magazines of Scholastic Inc. Service is her passion, writing is her platform and uplifting and inspiring the community is her purpose. Marks received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication from Arizona State University.
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