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Building engagement is all about having the ‘right’ tools

Updated: Dec 19, 2020

Let me start out by saying that I am absolutely rubbish at throwing a ball. Always have been, and always will be! However, a friend of mine recently taught me how to use a ball launcher gadget that miraculously transformed me into a world-class ball thrower, and, at the same time reminded me of the importance of having the ‘right’ tools for employee engagement (and life!).

So back to the ball launcher. You may be thinking, what planet do I live on, as these gadgets, these tools, have been around for years. And you’d be right, for in fact I’d bought one years ago, and it had stood collecting dust right by my front door just waiting to be used.  

So why didn't I ever use it? It was partly down to the fear of the unknown – would I be able to use it and would my dogs enjoy it, and it was partly down to not understanding the power of the tool. As I write this I realize how insane this was, as it was actually quite easy to learn to use after only three failed attempts, and the smiles on my dog’s faces (yes, dogs do smile) as they chased after these far flung balls was fantastic!

This concept of the ‘right’ tool works not just with ball throwing, but with employee engagement as I’ve learned over the years and more recently when researching and writing our book ‘Build it: The rebel playbook for employee engagement’. By filling your engagement ‘toolkit’ with the ‘right’ tools you have a way better chance of achieving employee engagement, which as we all know is good for your employees and for your business.

But just like with my dusty ball launcher, so many of us are ignoring the ‘right’ tools, which we may either not know about or in fact, may be sitting right by our front ‘door’.

Here are a few tips on how to find these ‘right’ tools and to help you as you build employee engagement at your company:

1. Ask your employees Let me start out with the obvious, which is your secret weapon, your ball launcher, and that is your employees. Now I’m not talking about an annual employee engagement survey, but something more real-time, more focused, something that will help you really understand what’s important to them, and what tools will be right to engage with them.

For example, when I was doing a global benefits review I went right to my employees and did what I called ‘cake and chat session’ with my employees around the world. Had I not done this I would have most definitely ended up with the wrong benefits, ones that did little to meet their needs, and little to improve engagement.

2. Challenge what you’re doing already Next, it’s important when looking for new tools to challenge the tools and processes that you are already using. For example, in our book we tell of Gap’s approach to performance management, and how they ditched the annual performance appraisal and moved to something they call ‘GPS’, which stands for grow – perform – succeed.

A GPS in your car lets you set your destination, and if you make a wrong turn as you’re driving it recalculates in real time and gets you back on the right path. We wanted managers to be like a real GPS – course-correcting employee performance throughout the year. Rob Ollander-Krane, Director of Talent Planning and Performance

Here’s a link to a video interview where Rob shares more with me on the GPS program as well as the actual play from the book for you to read.

3. Be brave – give it a go And finally, I suggest that you be brave. What I mean by this is to not be afraid to try out a new tool. Give it a go, if it works great, then continue using it, and if it doesn’t, then try another tool. Had I done this with the ball launcher my dogs would have had about 3 years of more fun and exercise!

In HR we often believe that we need to be perfectionists, that we can’t do anything until it’s 100% right, because we say to ourselves that it’s what our employees deserve.

Wrong. Our employees deserve us to treat them with care and respect, and sometimes that means giving things a go even if it isn’t perfect. As long as you’re open and honest with them when you’re trying out the tool, they’ll respect and engage with you even if you end up changing your mind.

So get out there and find the ‘right’ tools to fill your employee engagement toolkit and start building a stronger, more resilient and more engaged workforce. Oh, and don’t forget the ball launcher gadget either, it’s a blast for you and the dogs!


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