While some people may call it the newest buzz word in the world of Human Capital, employee engagement is a real opportunity and reality in your firm today. It is helpful to have a common definition of what is meant by "engagement”. In reference to how we will be discussing engagement of employee’s in this article, the meaning is the eagerness employees have for achieving company goals. Firm leaders would agree that if everyone in their firm had this mindset, their team would be more productive, team members would work together more collaboratively and shareholders would be more satisfied with bottom line results, so the question is, how do we make this happen in our firms?
At a recent game plan (evaluation) meeting, Sue Thiemann, Director of First Impressions at Boomer, said, "If it’s to be…. It’s up to me. When a folder or project leaves my desk it needs to be correct. If there was an error that I created, or was created by someone else, I now own it and have the responsibility to fix it.” Wow, now that is engagement! Engagement can be adopted throughout any firm, if you adopt the following 5 strategies:
1. Set the expectations: There is a gap today between owner expectations and what the staff think owner expectations are. The most effective way to fix this challenge is to implement a firm wide strategic plan that will be used as the map to all expectations for all people. When someone is questioning what their priorities are, and if a project has a high priority they should first look to the overall firm plan to identify if it is a strategy the firm is invested in. Once the strategic plan is complete, it is imperative that the firm implement consistent and strategic evaluations. The evaluations should be performed at least 3 times per year and the meetings should be focused on individual goals and how they connect to the success of the overall firm. Connecting the dots is highly important when narrowing the expectation gap. The final link to setting expectations is to put emphasis on the results that are desired, not the hours that it takes. If the team concentrates on the results, expectations will be met, and those expectations include increased productivity and revenue.
2. Build the knowledge: Developing a culture of engagement requires intelligence. The accounting industry is full of intellectuals who somehow believe that once they got their CPA credential that they can stop going to school. The development of a team of people who are curious and hungry to increase their knowledge is imperative to engagement. Great people are always learning. Great people are curious. The best thing we can do is hire them and set the expectations of continual knowledge building from the day they walk through the doors of the firm. However, it is not too late to start this today. Development of learning plans, hiring of learning coordinators and an ongoing program to pass knowledge from one generation to the next by way of a mentoring program is the ticket to success. It is disturbing that the economic struggles that some firms are experiencing today have been used as the excuse to cut this important function. This is the time to build knowledge in the firm – not destroy it.
3. Solidify trust: No firm can truly build engagement by employees unless they build trust. If your employees do not believe in the leaders of the firm, they will never become fully engaged. The most effective way to build trust is to tell and then act the truth. Sincerity and honesty from the leadership group – particularly the Managing Partner of the firm is the best way to begin the trust walk in your firm. As news, announcements, policies and changes are communicated from the ownership group to the rest of the firm, another important strategy is to talk with your employees not "at them”. Remember what was said earlier in the article, these are smart, motivated people; they want to be treated with respect, not like children who do not understand what is going on in their business. Another strategy that can be applied that will help to build trust is to give important work to everyone, and share with them why the tasks and duties that they have are important. Important work fosters engagement at a foundational level. And last, make sure that trust is developed by showing the human side of people in the firm by having a little fun! It is interesting that when a survey is conducted in firms, and the question is asked about what was a memorable or important event that happened at the firm that year the stories that are told are almost always about a fun or happy time the individual had with team members at the firm. Fun is a good thing to promote as you build trust within the firm.
4. Know your unique team: Building a unique and collaborative team is not easy. Firms must begin thinking like they are putting together a puzzle. The pieces are all uniquely different, but if they are placed together with thought and care, they can work together effectively. Leaders have a tendency to hire and promote people that are just like them. They have the same educational background, are similar in how they fit the culture, have a personality that matches and often even work the same way in details, vision or organization. The problem is that if there are lots of "clones” running around the firm you are sure to miss some of the pieces of the puzzle that you need to make a complete synergistic team. If you have a firm full of very detail oriented team members, you may miss the vision needed to identify new opportunities, if the firm is full of visionaries, you may miss the processes that will lead to a productive firm that can do more with less. The great firms have diversity, and diversity comes with conscious thought.
5. Complete the "Stay Interview”: Firms have adopted the practice of an exit interview when someone leaves the firm. They want to identify what the problems were and how they can prevent them from happening in the future. A more positive practice would be the "stay interview” that is completed while the employee is still employed in the firm, and then make adjustments and changes in order to have them stay at the firm. A challenge in this practice is that many times the employees will not tell the truth – as they see it – to someone that is in the firm for fear of retribution if they say something that is not met positively at the leader level. Using an outside facilitator to conduct the survey or manage the town hall meetings is imperative to gathering the information that will truly help employees engage in the firm. This survey should be completed by everyone in the firm at all levels and then should be analyzed for areas that can be acted upon by the firm. This interview process should never be done if the firm is not willing to implement some of the ideas that are extracted. Employee engagement will be worse if the team does not believe you are listening to their concerns. The stay interview is a very important step in the employee engagement process.
Employee engagement can be accomplished in your firm. Set the expectations, increase the knowledge, solidify the trust, get to know your team, and invest in the stay interview are all ways to lay the foundation for a new team culture of employee engagement. Just remember, If it is to be… it is up to me”!