five leaves in hand, symbolizing the changes of the seasons
PHOTO: Providence Doucet

Engaged employees make a tremendous difference in the workplace. This is evident qualitatively — all of us have felt the difference in company culture when people legitimately want to be there — and quantitatively. The Conference Board estimates disengaged employees cost organizations (registration required) anywhere between $450 and $550 billion annually, while Gallup reports highly engaged teams deliver 21 percent greater profitability (registration required). Clearly this is an area that human resources and management teams simply can’t afford to overlook.

Achieving results, however, is easier said than done. Employee engagement strategies often lack the rigor of other initiatives, without standardized processes, strategic technology tools or KPIs. With something so “fuzzy,” what’s the best way to foster employee engagement in your organization and measure its success?

Start by thinking of engagement in the context of the employee lifecycle. Define your touchpoints at each stage, from onboarding to the exit interview, then use the combination of people, process and technology to evaluate and improve employees’ sense of pride and purpose.

1. Set the Right Impression and Expectations With Effective Onboarding

This stage is when new hires form some of their first impressions about their jobs. Your onboarding program should be consistent, personal and inviting, with a focus on setting clear expectations through strategic content and interactions. In addition to standard administrative tasks, this process should center around relationship building, company culture, strategic alignment and communication.

For instance, it’s helpful to set up new employees with a buddy to show them the ropes. But think beyond just their immediate team when choosing this buddy. One-on-ones with inspiring cross-functional colleagues can help recent hires network across the organization as well. In addition, ensure your company culture is articulated strongly and succinctly. This should include education on your core cultural attributes, as well as examples of what they look like in practice and how employees are rewarded for practicing them. 

All new hires should also understand the company’s strategic vision and objectives. A welcome video from your CEO can be a great tool here if it covers the organization’s priorities for the year, how each team’s work will contribute to those priorities, and how individuals and teams will be measured against them.

Finally, introduce all relevant communication channels during employee onboarding. These may range from safe feedback loops, to support channels for those with special needs, to the best ways to collaborate with colleagues. Digital enterprise communities can give new and long-time employees alike a forum where they can voice their opinions through discussions, surveys and focus groups, and connect with teammates and leaders, as well as interest- or location-based groups. 

Your enterprise community not only provides the tactical means to gather employee input, it also allows you to measure engagement. During onboarding, for instance, you can centralize all related materials, then evaluate the sentiment and impact of every interaction with your onboarding content. These metrics will quickly identify whether your onboarding experience is resonating with people and where you can improve.

Related Article: Employee Experience Isn't About Mapping Journeys, It's About Bridging Organizational Tribes

2. Create a Sense of Purpose With Top-Down Strategic Messaging

Emphasizing strategic alignment during onboarding is just the beginning. To create a sense of purpose within your workforce, it’s critical to define clear priorities and goals for each business, product and initiative, and then repeat them over and over across various internal channels. While at times it may feel redundant, consistent top-down messaging drives inclusiveness and cohesion at all ranks of the organization.

How do you measure the sense of purpose this alignment creates? An enterprise community can help here as well. Encourage executives to articulate key objectives and strategic initiatives through discussions, blog posts and videos, then measure the sentiment and impact of those communications. Train your middle management with a framework that helps them reinforce these messages during their one-on-one meetings with direct reports, and encourage them to discuss strategic priorities in ways that are relevant to employees’ day-to-day jobs. When managers navigate these in-person conversations effectively, employee comments often provide insightful engagement data that can ultimately be measured across functions.

Related Article: What Successful Employee Engagement Looks Like

3. Create a Sense of Belonging via a Bottoms-Up Feedback Loop

For optimal engagement, be careful not to focus exclusively on getting employees aligned with corporate priorities. You also need to complete the feedback loop by gathering and escalating valuable input about a range of issues from people across the organization. To be successful, you’ll need safe and effective ways for your employees to connect with each other and with higher rungs of the corporate ladder. It’s important to assign a function within the company (usually human resources or corporate communications) to identify key success indicators for things like inclusion and retention, and bring those results back to the c-suite. Progress reports should acknowledge any concerns raised in all-company forums, surveys or interactions in the enterprise community.

One strategy for creating a sense of belonging amongst coworkers is to establish a way for employees and managers to celebrate their peers, and ensure the recognition is visible across the organization. Bonus points if your peer recognition program helps you measure demonstrated cultural attributes and support of company goals. Some minority groups can benefit from dedicated spaces to share their unique needs and requirements. The key to the success of these employee resource groups is finding champions to secure resources and sponsorship by framing the demographic’s initiatives in the context of your company’s culture and strategies.

Related Article: Corporate Culture, Employee Engagement and That Whole Breakfast Thing

4. Mine Your Employee Sentiment Through Thoughtful Offboarding

Every employee eventually moves on, and their exit interviews can offer valuable insights for managing retention. By capturing people’s sentiment and reasoning at this stage, you’ll better understand whether your company’s cultural values are truly reflected across the organization and find out where you need to improve. Surveys come into play here, too. When you ask the same questions of all departing employees, you’ll begin to spot key trends in your workforce as a whole.

At the end of the day, it’s clear that employee engagement should be treated like any other important company initiative — with concrete goals, processes and metrics. By structuring your engagement strategy around the full employee lifecycle, you’ll more effectively see what’s working and what’s not so you can drive continuous improvement to the company’s culture and its bottom line.

Related Article: The Forgotten Employee Experience: When People Quit