A team of workers celebrating a completed project
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Engaged employees produce better business outcomes. That’s the conclusion of Gallup’s latest State of the Global Workplace report. In addition, notes the study, highly engaged business units experience 59 percent lower turnover and 21 percent more profits than those with employees who are less engaged. And while these stats on the value of employee engagement are encouraging, the reality is, most employees aren’t engaged at work. According to the report, only 15 percent of employees worldwide are.

As teams become more dispersed across time zones, languages, cultures and generations, achieving and sustaining that engagement becomes even more difficult. In addition, employees in the modern workplace are looking for more than just a job. They want to be part of a company that encourages creativity, makes their lives more fulfilling, and makes them feel connected to their colleagues, as well as to the larger purpose and mission of the organization.

Executives also understand how important it is for employees to feel engaged at work. A Harvard Business Review study (Registration Required) found that 71 percent of senior executives say employee engagement is very important to achieving overall organizational success. As a leader, you can positively impact employee engagement by making lasting connections with each of your employees, whether they’re all in one building, or scattered across the world. Here’s how.

How to Create and Sustain Connections with Employees
PHOTO: Microsoft/CMSWire

1. Align Employees Around Your Vision

Employees want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. That’s why it’s so important to align your employees around the organization’s shared purpose and goals. By helping employees understand how their daily work contributes to the overall company vision, work can become a more meaningful part of their lives rather than a place they have to show up to every single day. In addition, keeping everyone aligned can help you better attract and retain an engaged workforce.

“We believe culture is absolutely important to engage employees and to attract and retain exceptional talent,” said Kathleen Hogan, Chief People Officer at Redmond-based Microsoft, speaking at the company’s Employee Engagement Summit.

“In fact, we sometimes say that culture is the new currency. If you can have this amazing culture and service to a mission that people really care about and they find deep meaning in, that can be really powerful in terms of engagement.”

2. Create a Two-Way Connection

If you have a global workforce, meeting face-to-face on a regular basis isn’t practical. However, with technologies like enterprise social networks, and the ability to communicate across multiple channels, you can update employees on major initiatives, gather real-time employee feedback and address concerns that might be keeping employees from doing their best work.

For example, in order to communicate their vision of a growth mindset to 110,000 global employees, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and his leadership hold a monthly live Q&A session which includes a company update to all employees via the organization’s enterprise social network. Questions are collected before the monthly meeting so they can be addressed during the discussion, and live questions are also answered.

“It’s been really powerful for us to have that two-way dialogue and for people to hear from Satya and the leadership team in a consistent way, where they feel like they’re part of that dialogue,” said Hogan.

Part of developing two-way communication in the workplace is meeting employees where they are. So, while some employees prefer to attend town hall meetings and other events in person, others might want the option to attend virtually, view a recording or listen to audio after the meeting occurs — either at their desk, or on their commute home from work. That’s why it’s important to know which channels your employees use, and then make sure you communicate using those channels.

3. Spark Innovation and Ideas

One of the biggest challenges for leaders is keeping the dialogue going long after the excitement of a live event such as a town meeting, or a real-time text-based discussion. Keep enthusiasm high by providing your employees with a central place to exchange ideas and expertise across the different functions of the organization, ideally in the same platform in which you shared your event.

Giving people an open space to collaborate and share best practices can help break down silos and keep everyone working toward common goals. It also gives leaders a chance to connect with employees on a global scale, crowdsource knowledge, provide learning and development opportunities, and collect employee feedback. By conducting polls and surveys, you can find out which messages resonate with employees, and understand whether or not employees are feeling good about where the company is headed.

Hogan says that, using the built-in analytics in their enterprise social network, leaders can review dashboards and scorecards on a regular basis, look at engagement levels and make decisions about what to do to sustain engagement, including what they should cover in upcoming Q&A events.

“We can assess sentiment, what resonated and what didn’t, and that feeds back into the next Q&A session,” she said.

4. Empower a Responsive Leadership Team

To keep engagement high, leaders need to spend more time listening and responding to employees, and less time delivering linear broadcasts. Here are a few ways you can be more responsive:

  • Engage with employees concerns, feedback and suggestions
  • Use mobile apps to post real-time photos, videos and messages about your travels and customer visits to all employees
  • Give employees access to documents, policies and crisis communications so everyone’s up to date on the latest company happenings

Employee engagement begins with engaged leaders. By aligning employees around your vision, encouraging two-way dialogue, communicating consistently and responding to employees, you can reduce turnover, while keeping engagement and profits high.