How to Launch an Effective Engagement Program: 5 Tips to Get Going

Linda Dulye's picture

From spring employee survey campaigns come fall engagement programs. Unfortunately, many companies rush to create engagement initiatives without fully understanding what they are doing.

As a facilitator of engagement programs in major companies, my first counsel is to be clear and unified around what engagement is and what you expect it to accomplish.

Define, review and refine. What is your definition of engagement? What is your objective? You can’t successfully start an engagement program or expect lasting results, if you don’t have a clear goal that ties directly to the business plan.

So, how do you do this?

1)     Create a truly diverse steering committee. Draft talent from the front-line workforce, middle management and executive rug row. Talent differences will deliver high performance as long as the team is guided by process disciplines for meeting, making decisions and moving ahead on schedule. Identify new voices from the field who have earned 360-degree respect. Assign this team the initial task of defining engagement.

2)     Make that engagement definition simple and succinct.  This sounds easy and matter of fact. Believe me, it’s not. And it’s rarely done well. I’ve seen shallow definitions crush start-up programs within months. One company, for example, defined engagement as “creating world-class people practices” and started rallying the troops by plastering posters on facility walls and online portals.  Even the best honed graphics couldn’t quell the confused looks of employees trying to find meaning in rah-rah corporate speak.

3)     Test, test and test some more. Once you draft a practical, grounded, two-sentence definition of engagement, test market it. Ask point blank, “what does this mean to you?” Ask everyone up and down the food chain, from hourly associates to third-shift supervisors to high profile execs.  If rank-and-file doesn’t get it, it won’t work. You don’t need a long-winded, focus group program for this step. Task your steering committee to do it fast and informally.

4)     Don’t fly solo.  Learn how to partner within the organization and with external experts. No one department should be in charge of engagement. It cannot be seen as a functional initiative. If you make the mistake of putting this in the HR department, its tie to business success will not be readily seen by the organization. Engagement progress should be monitored and discussed with rigor during regular operational business reviews. Your steering committee should lead these debriefs—but not own them exclusively. Every line leader must be involved—in talking about and taking actions that fuel the cultural revolution that engagement brings.

5)     Temper the impatience of your team.  Here is a question I hear far too often: “When are we going to be finished?” Well, I hate to break this to you: you’re never going to be finished. Engagement is like a quality initiative. Are you ever done with quality? Of course not. You don’t get done with improving quality. It’s always there. It never goes away. Informing and involving the workforce to think and act in new ways is a constant need given the pace of change and the breadth of competition in the marketplace. Winning companies are made by many, not just a few in highly placed offices.



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