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Leadership Challenge: Engaging the Workforce

Often executives don’t believe the need to engage the workforce is one of their tasks. That usually falls, in their opinion, with the human resources department. However, it is a key responsibility of all executives in the organization to engage the workforce.

This doesn’t have to be an onerous task. But does require leadership to get to know their employees. Let’s start with getting to know employees. If, as a leader, you have stayed in your corner office and rarely mingle with your employees, you will need to spend a bit of time getting to know them prior to trying to undertake ways to engage them.

Getting to know employees

If you haven’t yet spent time talking with employees on an informal basis, consider sending an email that one of the leadership’s goals is to spend more time understanding the challenges that employees are facing as well as where they have been successful in order to enable for improvements in the workplace. You need to take this initial step in order to gain their confidence. In addition, ask the management team to reach out and reiterate to their staff why the leadership is interested in engaging employees. Otherwise, employees begin to get suspicious and wonder why all of a sudden leadership is interested in what they are doing.

Consider these options (in smaller to mid-size organizations) to get to know your employees:

  • Attend a department or workgroup meeting to understand the challenges they are having on the job as well as their successes
  • Ask your management team who they would suggest you meet with one-on-one to understand how things are going in the organization
  • Take time to have lunch in the cafeteria or grab coffee in the breakroom to informally “chat up” employees
  • Stop by employees’ workspace/desks/cubicles to “check in” with them.

For larger organizations or organizations where employees are mainly virtual, hold a number of virtual town hall meetings.

Engaging the workforce

Once leadership has spent time to get to know their workforce and specifically their challenges as well as where they have been successful; use this information to launch projects to improve how the work gets done. The goal of engaging the workforce is to utilize their knowledge of how they are serving the customer (since they are closest to the customer) to:

  • Make improvements in processes
  • Ensure the right products and services are being offered to the customer
  • Better serve the customer and their particular needs
  • Implement new and/or improvements in technology to improve how the work gets accomplished

I have one client who successfully achieves 2 – 3 key objectives the leadership defines each year to improve the business with the support of the workforce. The projects are all led by supervisory and individual contributor staff. The projects are selected to keep objectives that are determined to be of high priority based on his, and his leadership teams’, regular interactions with the workforce. In the past, the leadership team would talk with their management but soon realized that they got better information from the individuals who were actually doing the day-to-day work and were closest to the customer. Once they took this approach, they found that within 3 years’ time they had accomplished projects that helped to move them much closer to their strategic goals and increased revenue as well as profitability within the organization. Additionally, they increased the retention rate of top talent in the organization.

Consider the most successful organizations you know of. I guarantee you that the leadership team is engaged in the day-to-day work of the organization through their relationships and regular, informal as well as formal, conversations with their workforce.

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