With 2016 almost here, many business leaders are looking ahead and asking how they can energize and engage their employees in the New Year. Rockland Trust’s “Talking Business Advice Series” asked Lisa DeAngelis, director of the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts Boston, to answer that question. She offers some very concrete advice to jumpstart businesses when the calendar turns to January.
Q: How can we energize and engage our employees to hit the ground running in 2016, regardless of whether we are building on a strong 2015 or powering up for a stronger push to leave behind a less than successful year?
A: This is a question often posed by CEOs at this time of the year. To find the answer, we’ll start by asking three more questions: How do we acknowledge and learn from 2015? How do we encourage our employees to get the rest and rejuvenation needed? And, how do we help employees to understand how they contribute to the success of the organization?
Whether your organization has excelled or fallen short, a smart business practice is to reflect on what went well. How did we hit our year-end budget targets after a slow first half? What did it take for HR to bring in the talent that enabled us to grow? What made that Q4 product launch so successful?
This exercise helps the company to focus on the behaviors and practices it would like to continue, and those that it would like to replicate across the organization. The military has established a strong debrief practice that can easily be adopted in organizations. For simplicity sake, I’ll summarize it as:
Q: What about those efforts or innovations that did not work out as planned?
A: The way that your organization addresses failures can be a competitive advantage. Encouraging employees to think like entrepreneurs will lead to breakthroughs. This means your organization must be comfortable taking more risks and accepting failures—both within the prudent range, of course. Think of it as creating a culture where failures are viewed as prototypes, honored for their role in moving the organization towards success. Along the way it is important to acknowledge the learning and encourage continued progress.
Q: You mentioned rest and rejuvenation for employees. How is that best approached, since it’s a lot easier said than done?
A: Innovation rarely comes from employees who are tired and stressed. Research has shown that employees are more productive with breaks and yet, culturally, the U.S. has a terrible penchant of priding itself for being “on” 24/7. Leverage this “holiday lull” to encourage your employees to disconnect. One suggestion is to give them permission to not check email during non-standard hours. If this is too radical for your environment, you might start by letting them know that if there is something urgent where you need their response, you’ll text or call them. This frees them from feeling obligated to check their devices endlessly when out of the office.
Also, ensure that employees take all their allotted vacation time and encourage managers to monitor their teams for excess workload, hours, and stress. Everyone understands that in today’s business world, there will be periods of additional work required and most employees willingly rise to those occasions. But unrelenting demands sap employee endurance, creativity, productivity, and engagement. Encouraging your employees to use their earned time benefits everyone.
Q: So how do company leaders get started in 2016?
A: As employees return from the holiday break feeling more rested and refreshed, there is an opportunity to reset alignment and generate renewed excitement toward accomplishing the organization’s goals. There are four components to doing this effectively: (1) a clearly articulated mission, (2) defined organizational goals that support the mission, (3) action steps to reach those goals, and (4) an understanding of employees’ strengths that power their actions.
1.) Take the time to thoughtfully read and consider your organization’s mission statement. Does it still resonate? Is it concise, clear, and easy to understand at all levels of the organization? Do you have buy-in from your board and senior leaders?
If these questions raise doubts, consider a determined effort to reexamine the mission statement and redraft it. Bring together a broad group of stakeholders—board members, employees, partners, vendors, and customers—to engage in this process. A clear and compelling mission or organizational purpose is critical to achieving alignment of your other components.
If the mission statement continues to reflect your organization’s principles, clearly restating it may be as simple as reviewing and discussing it during the first meeting of the senior staff in the new year and then sharing it with all employees to renew their sense of purpose.
2.) Apply the same steps to organizational goals. If you are concerned that they may not be clear, have changed since they were drafted, or do not directly support your mission, invest the time at the start of 2016 to reexamine and reset them. If they remain valid, strongly and clearly restate them.
One method for gaining alignment throughout the organization is to use a strategic dashboard where metrics for achieving organizational goals are cascaded throughout the company. One tactic for this is to take the benchmarks the CEO is being held accountable to and determine how the work of his or her direct reports contributes to achieving these goals. Then, employ that method down to subsequent levels of the organization, aligning level-appropriate goals. This gives each employee a clear line of sight as to how his or her individual goals link to the achievement of the organization’s mission.
3.) Managers throughout the organization should sit with each of their direct reports at the beginning of the year and lay out the employee’s goals and explain how they support the goals of the organization. Clearly state the tasks, projects, and responsibilities the employee will be asked to accomplish or contribute to, explain the specific deliverables, and outline how he or she will be judged. Put it in writing. Schedule check-ins during the year to evaluate goals vs. achievements. This clarity eliminates confusion or uncertainty and increases the likelihood of individual productivity and success, as well as company success. It will also help during formal annual employee evaluations.
4.) Help employees understand how their unique strengths can help to accomplish goals. While reviewing responsibilities, make an effort to explore and define how an employee’s specific skills can be applied to reach each goal. Tapping into each employee’s strengths and motivations energizes that person to bring his or her best self to the role. These discussions can build confidence and also find areas where professional development can improve the skillset of employees worth investing in.