Welcome to Part III in our three-part series on the “employee engagement” journey. So far, we’ve discussed two important facets of employee engagement: Trust and Communication. Our last (but certainly not least important) topic is Participation. While I doubt anybody needs to hear how important employee participation in projects, innovation, etc., is to creating an engaged workforce, I think it is useful to review some ideas for how to increase the level of employee participation in your organization. So, without further ado—the envelope…err, I mean the ideas, please …

Establish an atmosphere of acceptance and encouragement

A work environment that is accepting and open to new ideas and innovation is a critical first step for every manager wanting to increase participation from his or her work team. Such an atmosphere is one of the most powerful drivers for encouraging participation. Many team members can be timid or unsure about sharing their ideas. This is particularly true for new or younger employees, who don’t want to risk being made to “feel stupid.” On the flipside, a lot of veterans are comfortable where they are … sometimes a little too comfortable. These old timers might not be as inclined to participate or share new and innovative ideas. For them, it’s overcoming the “I told you that before” or “We tried that before and it didn’t work” syndrome.

So, how does a manager create this utopian workplace where everyone is suddenly willing to participate and collaborate? Easy. Buy a few black lights, lava lamps, and incense; crank some Ravi Shankar and blast it throughout the office; and, of course, establish a “shower and shoes optional” policy. Everyone will be holding hands and participating in no time (or spending their time online looking for another job). In all seriousness, there’s plenty of stuff you can do to create an atmosphere that encourages participation. For example, think about how you have your offices and conference rooms laid out. Is everything organized in such a way that encourages collaboration and participation, or are there dividers and barriers that make team members have to shout at one another? Also, scheduling casual, ad hoc meetings or brainstorming sessions for projects that involve multiple teams is a great way to create such an environment, particularly if those teams don’t normally work together. After the recent bout of reductions in force (commonly referred to as RIF), everyone in your organization is probably working at full capacity these days. So when planning these kinds of sessions, you should be sensitive to the team member’s workload and other pending deliverables. That said, it could be immensely valuable to your organization to take an hour here or there and let everyone put their heads together. In addition to fostering participation, you might just find that you get some real work done during these meetings! Imagine that!

Listen, Learn, and Act … Re-Mix!

If you’ve read a few of our previous blogs, you know about the Listen-Learn-Act (LLA) process. It comes up time and again because it is applicable to so many different scenarios. In a nutshell, LLA refers to the manager’s need to “listen” to his or her employees, “learn” from what’s been said, and then “act” based on what was learned. So how does LLA relate to participation? For starters, consider the value a team member survey would have in increasing employee participation. By following the LLA process as you develop and implement your team member surveys, you’re inviting them to participate in the betterment of your organization. Team members will feel a sense of empowerment because they are part of the decision-making process. Of course, you must develop and deliver a quality survey in order to ensure its success, and you must demonstrate to your team members that their feedback and participation in the survey was valuable to you by acting on the results.

Remember, too, that LLA doesn’t just apply to a team member survey context. Every interaction with a team member is a chance to Listen, Learn, and Act! As a manager, you should keep that process in the back of your mind, so that even in your daily interactions  with team members you are encouraging their participation by showing them that you truly value their input!,/span>

Incentivize It!

A wise person once said, “You get more of anything you subsidize.” I think it was the Tea Party, but I digress. Management has the power to turn employee participation into a game, to make it a challenge for those über-competitive team members. You can incentivize participation by giving your team members a “piece of the action” through bonuses tied to percentages of what they save or make for the business. Directly linking participation to your rewards and recognition strategies is a great way to “put your money where your mouth is” as it relates to improving participation in the workplace.

Of course, not all incentives must come in the form of a bonus check. Praise and accolades can be just as powerful in encouraging employee participation. This is particularly true during today’s wobbly economic climate. During their recovery efforts, many organizations aren’t exactly flush with cash that they can hand out to employees just for speaking up in a meeting. Likewise, many employees are still in “Geez, I’m just thankful to even HAVE a job!” mode. It is in these instances where praise and accolades are worth their weight in gold. Wait, that doesn’t make sense. Praise and accolades don’t actually weigh anything. But hopefully you see my point. For an employee to hear “that’s a great idea!”, or “You did a super job today!” gives them a level of assurance and confidence that will hopefully inspire them to continue to exceed expectations.


Well, here we are – the end of the Employee Engagement series. I don’t know about you, but I’m kinda sad to see it end. We’ve taken a comprehensive look at Trust, Communication, and now, Participation…three cornerstones to building a more engaged workforce in your organization. I hope you find the ideas and tips we’ve shared to be helpful as you work to keep your employees motivated and engaged. If you have any ideas or tips you’d like to share – drop me an email – I’d love to Listen to them, Learn from you, and the
Act on what I learn. Until next time, remember to take care of your customers, take care of each other, and take care of yourself!

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