Tips for Taking Action
To begin turning insight into action, check out the best practices and recommendations below. Click on any engagement topic for suggestions based on role.
The demands of our jobs (e.g., deadlines, emotional labor, workload, role conflict) are often what leads to burnout. Having resources, on the other hand, is essential for feeling motivated and engaged, and even help combat burnout during the most demanding and stressful times at work. When people have the resources they need to be successful, feel supported, and perform at their best, the difficult parts of their jobs don’t seem so taxing.
When asked about resources, everyone may think of something slightly different and may have differing needs. For example, when you think resources are you thinking equipment, staff, money, time, support, or something else altogether? Check that what comes to mind for you is aligned with what your team has in mind. Don’t overlook something important that may seem small to you, but can make a large difference in someone else’s work.
Ensure employees know that it is acceptable to speak up when adequate resources are not available and the proper channels to do so.
When you have to make tough decisions or are unable to meet all employees’ requests, get your team involved in conversations, set expectations for when needs can be met, and talk others through your decision process. Explain the rationale behind decisions and emphasize how allocated resources support team goals and priorities.
No one knows your work better than you. Others may not understand what is needed to get your job done in a quality way, so make sure to speak up when you don’t have what you need to be successful. And, don’t forget to show appreciation when someone helps get you what you need; this will reinforce the support and the importance of that resource.
Sometimes we can’t do more with less, but sometimes we can. See if you can find creative ways to stretch the resources you have. Look for ways to be more efficient. If your attempts don’t work, you’ve built a strong case to advocate to your manager and team that additional resources are necessary.
From a system perspective, ensure that resources are allocated in ways that align with your mission and strategic priorities. Draw these connections for others too by explaining why and how decisions about resources are made.
Don’t forget that your time and attention is a valuable resource. Find ways to carve out 15 or 20 minutes for groups to share their work with you, explain how they’re contributing to the organization’s goals, and check-in about necessary resources. Where are there needs and where might there be surplus resources?
Having autonomy is a fundamental human need, so it’s no surprise that it is a key to being engaged at work. People are more likely to be motivated when they have discretion in how they do their work, ownership in what they do, involvement in decisions, and opportunities to voice suggestions or feedback.
Only solicit input for decisions for which you are willing and able to incorporate the feedback. Your employees are smart; they know when you’ve created a false sense of input. Rather than create the illusion of opportunity for “voice” when you know the input will not be considered, find genuine ways to give employees autonomy and control over their work.
Create a culture of empowerment by setting parameters for performance. Then, get out of the way and let employees accomplish their work how they best see fit.
Review decisions that are made on a regular basis. Who makes those decisions? Is there an opportunity to shift the decision-making as close as possible to where the work happens?
Identify who needs to be involved in what kind of decisions and then give as much autonomy to employees for all other topics.
Begin building decision-making skills by presenting scenarios to employees and ask them how they would respond. What factors would the employee consider? Use the dialog as an opportunity to provide coaching.
When making key decisions, it is important to include employees with a variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and skills if possible. Consider who you could include in the conversation that you aren’t currently and ensure input comes from diverse viewpoints.
Don’t take it personally when your supervisor or team decides to go a different route than you suggested. What’s important is that your ideas and concerns were heard and considered. Find opportunities to voice your opinions and also keep an open mind to others’ viewpoints.
When you offer a suggestion or idea, make sure to explain your rationale. Let your manager and team in on your thinking — why is your idea a good one; what has been successful and/or failed in the past; how does this idea benefit everyone involved?
Sometimes we’re ready to take on more than our supervisor/manager may think we are ready for. Start small and ask to take on increasingly larger responsibilities or decisions. Build credibility by demonstrating follow-through and that your ideas can be successful. As you build trust with your manager and teammates, they’ll happily enable you to take on more.
Companies often solicit employee feedback, but then employees don’t get to witness the decision process so they don’t understand what happens with their input. Communicate with employees to assure people that suggestions were received, describe what options you considered, and explain why you went with the final decision.
Many companies struggle to make decisions at the right level of the organization. Decisions should be made as close to the work as possible. Even for strategic, system-wide decisions, consider who you can talk with to gather information, learn about key pain points, and understand perspectives of those actually involved in the work.
Take a look at how you’re spending your time and energy. Are you micromanaging in places where someone else is equipped and ready to take on the work? Are there projects, tasks, or initiatives that you can empower others to own?
Feeling connected to others at work is one of the most powerful predictors of employee engagement. Those who feel isolated physically, emotionally, and/or professionally are much more likely to leave than those who feel included. Research also suggests that those who feel a sense of belonging also have higher performance develop and advance their careers more quickly, and even take fewer sick days.
Many instances of workplace exclusion are not intentional, but that doesn't make them any less painful or difficult for employees. Consider your own interactions with employees. Do you pay attention to the "little things" and make time to check in on a personal level? Do you address people by name? How do you respond to employee ideas--even if the idea can't be implemented, do you respond with appreciation for their contribution?
Consider if you are creating the opportunity for everyone to contribute equitably. If not, how can you invite more voices to the conversation?
Mentorship and professional relationships can make or break a career. Help someone by sharing your own journey and listening to theirs. You’ll get a chance to share your successes and failures and you’ll hear another person’s diversity of experience.
Initiate short check-in conversations with your employees. In hybrid workplaces, employees and leaders are less likely to have spontaneous moments of connection by the water cooler or in the elevator. Set a goal for how many employees you want to connect with 1:1 each week, even just for 10 minutes and start making those calls happen. An individual outreach from a leader can go a long way for feeling valued.
Belonging stems from an employee feeling their whole self is valued at work, so seek to celebrate more than career accomplishments. A culture of celebration is crucial to fostering belonging, but it needs to extend past promotions and work-wins. Make a habit out of recognizing life milestones and personal achievements – family milestones, recreational hobbies, personal growth and more.
Seek out mentorship. Mentorship can be invaluable to your career and relationships at work, but rarely lands in your lap. Identify what you are looking for and who might be a good fit for your professional goals and communication style. Reach out to them and request to set up a time to chat about it. Not sure where to start? Consider reaching out to your HR department for advice.
Be an ambassador for the culture you want to see with new hires. Finding your fit in a new workplace can be challenging. Foster stronger belonging in yourself and others through modeling the behaviors and communication you wish you had when you started out.
Setting expectations is pretty straightforward, but also easily overlooked. We make assumptions. Others make assumptions. And before you know it, expectations are misaligned and conflict or poor performance bubbles to the surface. This item is an easy one to cross off the list, so take the time, make it a priority, and create a norm where others help you establish good expectations too.
Setting clear expectations is not a one-time deal. Because change is ongoing, revisit expectations on a regular basis. Every time the team grows or shrinks, individuals alter their goals, systems and processes shift, or organizational priorities change, be sure to check in to reestablish and/or align expectations.
After discussing an employee’s roles or responsibilities (i.e., with new hires or for ongoing work tasks), try asking, “”Based on what we’ve talked about, what’s your understanding of what you’ll be taking care of, and what you can count on me to do?”” Check for understanding about timing, resources, etc. Having someone verbalize expectations back to you ensures you’re all on the same page.
Be sure to document rules, policies, and norms that span across your team, department, or company and ensure employees know how to access that document. Revisit these documents periodically so people remember where to find them and keep them updated.
When an employee fails to meet your expectations, give him/her the benefit of the doubt and explore whether your expectations matched his/hers. Maybe there was a misunderstanding about the task, timing, or roles. Use the situation as a learning opportunity to clarify expectations going forward and encourage the employee to solicit feedback.
Check-in as priorities shift to make sure expectations are clear.
When talking with your manager or peers, check that your understanding of roles and responsibilities is the same as theirs. For example, sometimes big-picture expectations are verbalized by your supervisor, but he/she may forget to discuss the smaller, more informal parts of the job. Try using phrases like, “”When a situation like _____ arises, my understanding is that I should ______,”” or, “”Given _______, I would expect to do _______ and can count on you to do _______.””
Our managers are very busy people, which doesn’t make your questions or needs unimportant, but may make it difficult to get quick or thorough answers. Try prioritizing your requests of leaders; before going to your supervisor or other leaders, see if you can find an answer to your question elsewhere. Is the information already available in online or shared resources/materials? Can a peer help you? Once you know you need your manager’s input, make sure to ask, “”Is now is a good time for a question?”” so you have undivided attention.
Create SMART goals to document and ensure clear understanding of expectations (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-framed).
Ensure that strategic priorities are clear, focused, and well-communicated. Encourage mid-level leaders to align their goals with the goals of the organization.
For rules, policies, and norms that span across your organization, make sure to have a documented resource that employees can reference. Revisit these documents periodically so people remember where to find them and to assess when revisions/updates are necessary.
Require that positions have clear job descriptions. Successful companies also use competency models to demonstrate how knowledge, skills, and expectations are similar and different across various roles in the organization. Hire and develop your talent based on the outlined expectations.
Develop systems, practices, and procedures that align rewards with expectations. What evidence do you have that your practices are rewarding the right kinds of behaviors and are not rewarding wrong or unintended behaviors?
If employees don't understand their blind spots, it is very difficult for them to improve. Additionally, feeling like your manager is actively invested in your growth and performance is highly motivating.
Begin building decision-making skills by presenting scenarios to employees and ask them how they would respond. What factors would the employee consider? Use the dialog as an opportunity to provide coaching
While you don’t want to overwhelm employees, motivating your team to get out of their comfort zone can help them grow and perform at their highest potential. Giving employees "stretch assignments" and coaching them through the more difficult aspects builds empowerment and fuels growth.
It’s no secret that dealing with change is difficult. But, by thoughtfully managing change initiatives your chances of success improve tremendously. To help employees navigate change be sure to: 1) help people understand the reason for the change – what’s in it for them? 2) involve people in decision making to earn their buy-in 3) communicate, communicate, communicate, and 4) ensure processes and procedures support the change so it actually sticks.
Just because a message is communicated doesn’t mean it has been heard. Managers are often employees’ best link to understanding what’s going on in the organization. When there is a breakdown in communication from manager to employee, it can rapidly produce feelings of uncertainty, skepticism, and confusion for employees. It is critical that managers build trust, communicate frequently, draw connections between change and employees’ specific work, and what outstanding questions are weighing on people’s minds.
Spend time explaining the reason behind why decisions are made. Help employees understand how the changes support the broader goals of the organization.
Help employees understand that changes are happening not because the way things were done before was inferior, but because the business is evolving and changes are necessary to keep up with the new environment.
Fostering a collaborative climate with open communication is especially important when going through change. Set aside extra time to answer questions or concerns.
If you don’t know the answer or a decision has not been made, say so. Communicate when you expect to know more and then be sure to follow-up.
Keep an open mind and actively think through change in terms of the positive and negative: 1) how might this change improve your work or benefit you, and 2) what challenges may the change cause for you? Outlining both views can help you deal with the change, plan for potential challenges, and keep a positive mindset as you integrate changes in your work.
When you feel uncertain about change, ask for some time with your manager to talk through it. Get a feel for the short and long-term effects of the change. Brainstorm what you need to effectively deal with the change and what your team may need from you.
When talking with your manager or peers, check that your understanding of roles and responsibilities is the same as theirs. For example, sometimes big-picture expectations are verbalized by your supervisor, but he/she can forget to discuss the smaller details that impact your work.
Be proactive in communicating changes from multiple channels (e.g., blogs, newsletters, team meetings, town halls). Within your message, communicate “what’s in it for employees” and other key stakeholders (customers, etc.).
Ensure that important messages are delivered consistently to all members of the organization (rather than a select few). Check-in with your direct reports and their employees to make sure they heard the message and heard it accurately.
Help employees understand that changes are happening not because the way things were done before was inferior, but because the business is evolving and changes are necessary to keep up with the new environment.
When people feel a sense of purpose, belonging, and part of something greater than themselves, they derive a sense of meaning from work. Meaningfulness is related to a host of positive outcomes, like motivation, commitment, helping behaviors on the job, lower turnover intentions, and personal well-being. Having an inspiring vision helps people create meaningfulness in their work.
Having a vision or mission statement isn’t enough. To be inspired, people need to know what the vision is and hear about it on a regular basis. Beyond knowing the vision, people at all levels need opportunities to live values in their daily work. They also need to see managers and senior leaders acting in ways that uphold and embody the values. Inconsistent policies, systems, and actions deteriorate commitment to the organization’s purpose. Communicating an inspiring vision is through not only words but more importantly, through action.
Get intimately familiar with your mission and values and use the language consistent with your team. During team meetings, in email communications, during planning and strategy sessions, and when goal-setting with individual team members, connect ideas and priorities back to the company mission and values.
Ensure you have a solid understanding of where the company is headed and how your team contributes to that vision so that you can effectively create meaning and purpose for your employees.
When communicating vision, help employees understand “what’s in it for them” so they can find personal meaning in working hard to achieve strategic goals.
Check-in with your team on a regular basis to communicate the vision for the future of the organization and how your team plays a role in this vision. Invite your team to ask questions, brainstorm how each team member directly or indirectly supports the overall mission, and identify ways to correct any misalignment with the mission.
Ask yourself, do you know the organization’s vision? Do you understand the vision and values, and why they are important? Do you understand how the work you do connects to that vision?
When developing your goals, tie them specifically to the vision and/or values. Identify how your personal priorities also help move the organization closer to accomplishing its mission.
Check that leaders are on the same page about the vision and values. Do leaders across groups/departments share consistent messages? Invite leaders to share examples of how and when the vision has motivated their groups.
Bring leaders together to explore each group’s role in accomplishing the vision. Discuss how are groups working together to achieve the vision. Brainstorm examples of when collaboration was critical for accomplishing the vision and ask leaders to share out with their teams.
Exhaust all possibility to weave the vision and values into regular communication channels. Look for opportunities to share stories of the values in action.
Employees definitely won’t achieve their career goals unless 1) employees know what their goals are, and 2) managers are aware of employees’ goals. Everyone wants something different — some want to climb the ladder, some are focused on learning, some want stability, others are relationship-focused – it’s a matter of knowing an individual, creating the right environment and opportunities, and empowering them to do the hard work to progress.
Employees don’t always draw connections between learning or growth opportunities and career progression. Career advancement is not only via formal promotions, pay increases, or title changes, but also by gaining new skills, taking on larger responsibilities, and collaborating with different functions. You may need to help employees see how experiences like these are critical for their career progression and achieving personal career goals.
Identify and communicate clear career paths and open positions.
Establish clear and consistent promotion policies and procedures including when internal jobs will be posted and when they will not be posted.
Meet with employees one-on-one to discuss career goals/interests, developmental opportunities, and opportunities for growth within the organization.
Be proactive in providing learning opportunities, especially for high potential employees.
Look for less formal opportunities for career growth, like expanding responsibilities, increasing variety in one’s work, or having the opportunity to teach others.
Do some self-reflection — do you know what your career goals are? Once you identify a few short-term and longer-term goals, strategize ways to work towards them with your manager.
It can be scary to talk about career goals, for fear of conveying disinterest in your current role. Even so, it’s best to be honest with your manager. Express commitment to your current role, while also emphasizing that you want to grow in ways that fit your and the organization’s needs.
We don’t always know where we want to go. Rather than position, promotion, or compensation goals, think of your career more broadly. Develop some goals based on new experiences, mastering skills, utilizing strengths, or pursuing interests.
Work on building your network both within the organization and via professional organizations. Having strong relationships can ensure that people think of you when opportunities arise.
Dedicate a week to reflecting on the work you do. Write down the things that you love about your work and things you don’t like. Look for trends and patterns to help crystallize the things that you enjoy the most and consider how you can do more of those things as you develop in your career.
Spread a mindset that career goals aren’t just about promotions and pay increases. Share your own goals to learn, develop new skills, form new relationships, or expand your understanding of particular areas of the business.
Support training and professional development initiatives. Opportunities to grow knowledge, master new technologies, or explore new processes/systems allow employees to simultaneously improve their effectiveness and build personal capabilities.
Successful leadership succession doesn’t just happen, it requires purposeful effort. Evaluate the methods for succession planning in your organization, including at lower levels. Without a qualified person to fill their shoes, you cannot promote someone into an executive position. Prioritize career planning throughout the organization.
Remember that you’re giving feedback to a person and the message that is heard is more important than the message that is given. People are more likely to hear feedback when it is specific, focused on behaviors rather than the person, a combination of positive and constructive, and when there is an opportunity to voice their own observations as part of the process. When feedback is actually heard, you’re more likely to elicit the behaviors you’re looking for.
“Sandwiching” feedback — where you sandwich negative feedback between two pieces of positive feedback — is not as effective as some may claim. When feedback feels insincere people are less receptive and may overlook the constructive information you’re sharing. Rather than hide critical feedback, be upfront with employees and set the expectation that all feedback conversations should include discussion around positive performance and potential growth opportunities.
Consider short, yet frequent check-ins with each direct report (e.g., 20 minutes, once a week) and focus on: 1) what’s going well? 2) where are you having challenges? 3) how can I help?
Focus on providing real-time feedback and use questions to help employees process their own performance. Ask questions like: how do you think that went? What do you think you could do differently next time?
In conversations with direct reports, focus on the behavior rather than the person. For example, rather than saying, “You are confrontational,” consider describing a specific behavior such as, “yesterday, when you raised your voice….”
We often avoid providing feedback because we don’t want to upset others. However, it is important to remember that being direct and honest is the kind thing to do. Feeling frustrated and not saying anything leads to resentment, conflict and confusion.
Be proactive about asking your supervisor for feedback, especially after major events or milestones. Ask your supervisor: what do you think went well? What could I do better/or differently that would help me be more successful?
Feedback conversations don’t have to be scary or formal. Rather than wait for a full debrief about a project, find opportunities to informally ask your supervisor for feedback about specific topics. Questions such as, “How do you think that went?” or “Is there anything I could do differently next time?” can be very insightful.
Be prepared going into a feedback conversation with your manager. Think back on a specific timeframe and make concrete notes about your performance. Try to describe examples using STAR: situation, task, action, results. If your manager doesn’t solicit your input, ask if you can offer a few examples that demonstrate what’s going well and where you’d like to improve. Coming into a performance conversation with your own ideas demonstrates that you take ownership in your development.
Role model the behaviors of asking for feedback to encourage others to do the same. For example, after a project or meeting, check-in peers or direct reports and ask: How do you think that went? Do you have any feedback on things I could have done better/differently?
It’s all too easy to give critical feedback or point out what needs more work, especially when you’re short on time. Don’t fall into this trap. Positive feedback is actually more effective and is highly motivating. Make a point to call out the positive.
Be careful of creating a culture that is too “nice” in the sense that people do not give each other feedback. Make continuous learning and improvement a regular part of your day-to-day conversations.
You aren’t able to share the goals of the organization if they haven’t actually been set or defined. It is essential that all members of the leadership team use organizational goals to set priorities (too many goals and everything becomes a priority) that help to align activity across the organization. At the business unit/department level, leaders should align their goals with the organization and help employees understand their role in success.
Some leaders hesitate to discuss organizational goals, vision or mission because it feels too lofty or warm-and-fuzzy. Find a way to communicate an inspiring vision that feels right given your culture and leadership style. Having a purpose and feeling part of something greater than yourself has shown to be incredibly motivating and fulfilling, so don’t deprive your employees of knowing how they fit into the big picture.
Meet one-on-one with employees regularly to discuss priorities and discuss how they connect to what the organization is working to accomplish.
Give employees permission to place projects that are not directly related to organizational goals on the back burner.
Structure shift/staff meetings so that discussions focus on key organizational/department goals and how the work of each person is (or is not) lined up with these goals.
Identify processes/work that used to be valuable but no longer contribute to organizational goals. Remove that work where possible.
If you don’t understand how your work fits in with the big picture ask your supervisor.
Identify one or two important stakeholders who rely on the work you do (e.g., customers, leaders, frontline service providers). Ask these stakeholders what they think is going well and what could be improved. You’ll likely learn that your contributions are more impactful than you thought, and you may get some good feedback in the process.
Take a minute and remind yourself of the organization’s goals. Then identify 3-5 responsibilities that take up most of your time. If they don’t align with the organization’s priorities, brainstorm ways you can dedicate more energy to tasks that you see as connected with company goals while also minimizing tasks that don’t relate to these goals.
As best as possible, try to limit the number of goals for the organization to a critical few. Too many priorities cause lack of alignment and conflict for resources.
Ensure that performance management, incentives, rewards, and recognition programs are aligned with organizational goals. Are you rewarding and motivating employees in the right ways (i.e., in ways that move you closer to achieving organizational goals)? Prompt your leadership teams to demonstrate that system-wide programs are motivating desired behaviors in your workforce.
Find ways to celebrate successes. Do your employees know how far you’ve come? On a regular basis, find ways to share success stories, give a shout-out to work well-done, and communicate progress towards goals using specific metrics.
Lack of collaboration across groups may seem like a team or supervisor issue, but this may not be the case. The culture and tone set for collaboration by senior leaders is critically important. Senior leaders are responsible for creating an environment that is conducive to cross-departmental collaboration, open communication, and cohesion.
We are wired to believe that the work we do is unique – our work is more challenging and difficult compared to the work of other groups. When we become aware of this bias and realize we all have challenges and obstacles to overcome, we can become better collaborators. Take the time to ask other groups about some of the challenges they face and how you can help.
Encourage leaders to discuss their goals/priorities and seek alignment. Leaders should focus their approach to leadership from an “organizational” view vs. a “department or team” view.
Encourage shared ownership and a commitment to the success of the collaboration by asking team members to agree to the objectives (or better yet, help define the objectives) and discuss the benefits to the organization.
It is important for members of the collaboration to understand their role and responsibilities at each stage of the collaboration.
Ask your manager for opportunities to shadow people in other groups. Find opportunities to observe others doing their work, or arrange a lunch/coffee meeting to ask them about their day-to-day.
When resolving conflict, focus on the “what” rather than the “who.” By focusing on tasks/actions rather than intentions or personality differences, you can learn from mistakes and make a plan for better collaboration going forward.
Ensure that each department is clear on how they support the vision. Check for alignment (and misalignment) across departments in accomplishing common goals.
Identify what policies, procedures, etc. are working well and where are there opportunities for improvement. Check with department leaders to learn how work can be transferred and shared seamlessly across groups. Seek input from key stakeholders at all levels and from across the organization.
Reflect on the collaboration among your leadership team. Are senior leaders modeling good collaboration, open communication, care and concern for others, and positive relationship building?
In our busy, technology-driven, and dispersed work world, it is difficult to find regular opportunities to interact and communicate with other groups. Get creative. It is critical to stay informed about other groups’ work, their challenges, successes, and opportunities to make life easier on one another.
Email is often our go-to communication. Email is great for many purposes, especially sharing information and giving updates across a large number of people. Email is not as effective, however, for brainstorming ideas or problem-solving. Cater your method of communication to best serve your purpose, particularly when it involves many people and groups. When in doubt, pick up the phone or talk in-person.
Keep lines of communication open for individuals to voice frustrations, concerns, needs, and suggestions for improvement.
Facilitate a conversation with another department and ask: 1) How is our customer service? 2) How do we make your lives easier/more difficult? 3) What would you like our department to know about how we work together?
When asking for help/support from another department, be sure to communicate the reason for the request and the impact it will have. When people understand how their contribution will have an impact, they are more often more likely to be open to help.
Put yourself in others’ shoes. What can you expect them to know about your role and what might be difficult to know? Find opportunities to share information about the parts of your work that others may not understand.
Start by asking questions. Rather than jump to conclusions or assumptions about others, engage in some “appreciative inquiry.” Learn about where others are coming from before saying what’s on your mind.
What are you curious to know about other groups you work with (or that you don’t work directly with)? Brainstorm a few questions and ask your manager to connect you with someone on the other team to learn more about them.
As an Executive Team, agree what specific messages need to be shared and by when so information is disseminated thoroughly and consistently across all groups. Ensure others leaders also feel comfortable sharing key messages with their teams.
Facilitate conversations between department leaders to encourage open and frequent communication. Ask groups to share current priorities, recent successes/milestones, and challenges that are top-of-mind.
Coach managers to have difficult conversations and effectively resolve conflict. Help leaders identify different kinds of conflict — task, interpersonal, and process conflict, so they can direct conversations to the root of the challenges they’re facing.
Demonstrating respect is all about the little things. Saying, “please,” “thank you,” and “how are you?” can go a long way. Listening and valuing the ideas of others is key to demonstrating that you appreciate the thoughts and perspectives of all.
Respect isn’t just about being nice and courteous. It’s also about valuing people enough to tell them what they need to hear to thrive and be successful. We often avoid difficult conversations because we don’t want to hurt feelings, yet the respectful thing to do would be to communicate honestly, directly, and with kindness.
Often times simple behaviors make all the difference when it comes to ensuring others feel respected. Take time for simple greetings, ask how people are doing and use common courtesy.
Demonstrate positive communications by utilizing effective listening skills, thinking through how words and actions will impact others, and being aware of body language, tone of voice, and demeanor in all interactions.
Encourage employees to share ideas, opinions, and concerns (even those who may be less likely to volunteer to share their thoughts). Utilize some of these ideas and be sure to recognize the employee who shared them.
Look for ways to have diversity in meetings and committees, especially when important decisions will be made that impact the larger group.
Implement policies and procedures consistently so employees feel they are being treated fairly. Provide equal opportunities for employees to participate in professional development, committees, and task forces.
Take time to get to know others on a personal level. Ask others (your peers, manager) about their hobbies, loved ones, or what they are focused on at work. Getting to know people in terms of their interests and motivations can go a long way to reduce misunderstandings.
When a misunderstanding or frustration with another employee arises, remind yourself to assume best intentions. Ask questions for understanding before jumping to conclusions.
Demonstrate positive communications by utilizing effective listening skills, thinking through how words and actions will impact others, and being aware of body language, tone of voice, and demeanor in all interactions.
As much as possible, address people by their names. Try to remember and talk about details from previous interactions with people (or ask them questions to prompt your memory). This may seem like a small gesture, but it makes people feel known and recognized by you.
Tackling difficult conversations head on is key to staying on top of problems and building a learning culture. Team members should feel safe to bring up any topic of conversation without negative consequences - regardless of the difficulty. When issues get swept under the rug, they can become bigger problems later. Tough talks are difficult, but necessary for a strong business and successful team.
Do you role model strong communication by bringing up difficult topics or do you wait until the last minute? Do you champion others speaking up by thanking them for their contribution? Do you create a space that is psychologically safe for others to speak? Do you develop a plan to have a difficult conversation before you have it?
Start creating opportunities for communication surrounding difficult topics. Practice makes perfect! Be the one to break the ice and encourage conversations.
People will hesitate to bring up difficult conversations when they feel nothing will be done about it. Ensure difficult conversations receive follow-up. Closing the loop will help your team feel like their voice matters and they were heard.
Schedule time to discuss hard topics. If people need the space and time to voice concerns or other difficult topics, it can be useful to add it to the agenda in team meetings. Do you have a weekly or monthly team meeting? Add time for employees to bring up these points of conversation.
Consider barriers to psychological safety for your team. Is there a particular individual who shoots down ideas? Are people punished for bringing up uncomfortable topics? Do people make jokes when someone speaks up about a hard topic? Work to create an environment where these barriers are removed for people to give feedback or provide a system to report concerns so they can make it to the team agenda with anonymity.
DEI is an important dimension to measure and manage and one that requires a thorough understanding. DEI is often measured on an engagement survey, but many organizations also choose to focus on the topic in a separate format.
For DEI best practices, click here.
Employees who are closest to the work are often the ones who have the best ideas for changes, improvements and problem-solving. Asking employees for their input on a regular basis is empowering and sends the message that employee expertise is valued and leveraged.
Change is necessary, but reinventing the wheel isn’t. Before jumping into a big change or deciding to move forward with a new idea, challenge yourself and others to think through the pros and cons. Consider the anticipated and unanticipated impact. Identify who else the change may affect and invite them into the conversation. Welcome and encourage all new ideas and be thoughtful about taking action.
Publicly recognize and reward new ideas, even if they are small incremental changes.
It is important to create an environment where new ideas are welcome, personal risk taking is encouraged, and creativity is valued. Stress the importance of creativity and set aside time for brainstorming in meetings.
When new ideas are being generated, practice giving the additive feedback of “yes, and…” in response to an idea rather than “no, but…” This can unleash positive energy that builds a collaborative climate.
Having fun with colleagues and trying new activities together can help us to look at things in a new way. One great way to spur new ideas is to create a competition for the most innovative approach to solve a particular problem.
Provide the resources needed to implement the ideas worth acting upon and recognize those responsible for generating the idea.
Sometimes we propose new ideas that are great but not aligned with the priorities of the organization. Other times, the team may not have the bandwidth to take on something new. Check with your manager or team to see where your efforts will be most appreciated – where do others see the greatest need for change? Are there initiatives on the backburner that you can take charge of and own?
You have great ideas and others do too. When you come up with a suggestion, run it by others to see if you can tweak and refine the idea before bringing it to your manager and/or other teams.
Confusion, slow processes, lack of information, or interpersonal conflict may be red flags that you can improve the workflow. When you feel frustrated or stuck, ask others for their ideas. See if you can put your heads together to come up with new or modified approaches.
Set the tone for what employees should be innovating around. Is it the customer experience, products, process improvement?
Share stories of not only successful innovations, but also situations where employees may have taken a risk that failed. Employees are more likely to try out new ideas when they feel comfortable that it is ok to try something and potentially fail.
Use social media as a way of posing questions and ask for solutions. Ask employees to vote on the best idea.
Provide the resources needed to implement the ideas worth acting upon and recognize those responsible for generating the idea.
As a manager it is critical to encourage and foster an environment where employees feel safe to voice their ideas and opinions. Teams where employees feel comfortable voicing opinions are likely to experience increased creativity, productivity, and performance.
As a leader/manager you must lead by example. Use your own actions to show your employees the types of open, transparent communication you want to implement. How supportive are your current team interactions in supporting employees to speak freely? How often do you recognize honest dialogue?
Give specific feedback on how to progress employee ideas. Start reinforcing your employees for simply providing their ideas - each time they bring an idea, provide them with actionable feedback on how they can further develop those ideas.
Always highlight good ideas that have come to you via a team member to the rest of the team
Make it as easy as possible for employees to share ideas through multiple platforms that accommodate different styles. Different ways to share ideas could be through team or one-on-one meetings, email, or shared documents.
You've asked your employees to take the time to share their open and honest feedback. Doing this and responding with inaction or inadequate communication is often worse than never asking in the first place and can be demoralizing to employees who want to see change and improvement.
When you receive feedback, do you spend significant time ruminating on what was shared? Do you get defensive or dismissive? Or do you take a breath, digest it, and think of a small actionable way to improve? As a leader, it's important to respond with intention and clarity when you receive organizational feedback, instead of getting caught in "analysis paralysis" or letting the emotion of what was shared get the better of you.
Communicate what you learned and where you'll focus. Tell your employees what you’re going to do. There may be some quick wins and changes that can be made immediately, and there may be some that require a longer time. There may also be some feedback that you are unable to act upon. Demonstrate that you have really considered the feedback and explain why you cannot act on that request, or provide an alternative, to show your employees that you are actively listening.
Once you have identified the primary focus of your employee engagement program, it’s time to develop specific objectives. To be meaningful these objectives have to be smart: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. You will have overarching organizational goals that in turn are translated into team and departmental ones. Try to steer away from vague platitudes, and instead create plans with specific goal outcomes and clearly outlined milestones.
The manager relationship is one of the most important relationships we have at work. When employees feel that they are seen as people and not just a cog in the machine, they are much more likely to show up with confidence, authenticity, and commitment at work.
Do you treat all employees with courtesy and politeness? Do you check in about their personal lives while maintaining professionalism? How do you respond to employees who share struggles, difficulties, or crises they may be dealing with, both at and outside of work?
Understand what makes each employee unique
Over the next month or two, spend quality time with each of your employees.
Consider doing a personality or strengths assessment with your team and celebrate and explore differences.
Listening to and valuing the ideas and concerns of others is key to demonstrating that you appreciate the thoughts and perspectives of all.
Consider the environment you foster on your team. How often do you ask for the opinion of your employees? How often do you use employee ideas to implement change? In what ways to you demonstrate the employees’ ideas are valued? Are you dismissive of employee concerns, or do you practice active listening even if it is not within your direct control to act on those ideas?
Keep lines of communication open for individuals to voice frustrations, concerns, needs, and suggestions for improvement. Think through how your behavior, words, and actions will impact others, and be aware of body language, tone of voice, and demeanor in all interactions. Also, focus on listening before responding.
When making decisions that impact your team, work with those affected to ask for input/recommendations and try to incorporate at least one suggestion. Then, follow up with those who have provided input.
Consider committing to a regular five-minute check-in with each teammate, which helps individuals feel valued and leaders learn more about the organization. This can be a daily call, individual email, or virtual meeting to see how they are doing.
Recognizing people in a meaningful way depends on the individual. Rather than trying one-size fits all approach, be sure to customize how you recognize employees based on their personal preferences.
We often associate recognition with monetary rewards, but there are many ways to recognize great work in cost-effective ways. In fact, when we ask employees, they most often tell us they are simply looking for a “thank you” from managers, peers, or leadership for the small wins that happen on a day-to-day basis. Skill development opportunities or time off are also great ways of offering rewards.
Offer just-in-time, on the spot recognition. Recognition that is unexpected or outside of “formal” channels can be even more meaningful.
Identify ways for peers to recognize peers and give them the tools to do so on an ongoing basis.
Never underestimate the value of sharing time and building a relationship with your employees. Make time for the employee to run ideas by you, talk about concerns, and just to get to know each other. Doing so will make it more authentic when you provide recognition and more effective when you need to provide constructive feedback.
Thank someone when they recognize your hard efforts! This reinforces your supervisor or peers to continue recognizing you in the ways that are most meaningful.
Avoid comparing yourself to others. Good managers know we are all motivated by different things, so may recognize you differently than your team members. If your manager is missing the mark with how you like to be appreciated (i.e., you hate public attention but would love a personal pat on the back), think of ways you can gently request different forms of recognition.
If you’re aiming for a particular reward or benefit (e.g., promotion, award, bonus), have a conversation with your manager to explore what specific performance or results will lead to what potential benefits. This helps clarify expectations and is a great way to set effective goals.
Never underestimate the value of sharing time and building a relationship with your employees. Make time to be accessible — ask employees to share what they like about their work and what could be going better for them.
Model the importance of recognition by finding meaningful ways to recognize and celebrate the people who report to you. Modeling this practice will encourage your teams to also recognize, appreciate, and celebrate their own direct reports.
As hard as we try to provide information, people aren’t going to consume it if it isn’t easy, accessible, or to the point. If you feel like communication at your organization or within your team is good, but employees are telling you otherwise, it may be time to consider new methods for sharing key information. It’s important to find ways of communicating that really work for your people and your environment.
People in today’s world are flooded with information, so it may be less about having enough information, and more about having enough of the right information. Especially when your plan is to cascade information down the organization, it is important to confirm who will be sharing the information and how to ensure it gets to all intended people.
People have different preferences for methods of communication. Consider using more than one form of communication (e.g., email, newsletter, town hall meetings, shift/team meetings, video communication, social media).
Employees can handle “bad” news but struggle with no news. In the absence of information, we fill in the missing pieces, which can lead to inaccurate messages or rumors. Consider this when crafting communications. If you don’t know, say so.
Often, communicating the process and reasoning that led to a particular decision is as important as conveying the decision itself. These details foster employee buy-in and understanding for what to expect next. Let your team in on your thinking so people can ask questions, feel in-the-know, and can even help anticipate challenges you didn’t identify. Because processing and decision-making happens in our own heads, and because we’re often in a hurry, it’s easy to forget to let people in on our thinking.
Your manager or teammates may not know what information is most critical for you. Make a point to share what information you need and in what timeframe.
Other people don’t have the deep insights into your work like you do. Consider what information about your roles and responsibilities would be helpful to share with others. When you offer information, this will open the door for others to communicate more frequently/thoroughly with you too.
Sometimes it’s tempting to keep information to yourself because it feels good to be in-the-know. However, this mindset can be toxic and doesn’t contribute to a collaborative or open culture. Do your part in offering and sharing information when you can.
Often messages get lost as they are repeated throughout the organization: for critical messages, consider using short and concise written communication or providing talking points to leaders as a reference for when they talk to their teams.
People become frustrated or feel devalued when they get word that other people received information or updates before they did. To hedge this, agree what specific messages need to be shared and by when so information is disseminated thoroughly and consistently.
Growth and development opportunity is often a main driver of employee engagement. In today’s workforce, people tend to stay with an organization longer when there are development opportunities; on the other hand, people are likely to look for employment elsewhere when these opportunities are lacking. Rich development opportunities attract strong talent, keep them motivated and equipped to perform well on the job, and build a culture of continuous improvement.
It is easy to assume that employees know about the full range of training, learning, and development opportunities at your organization and that they feel encouraged to take advantage of them. Unfortunately, this often is not the case. Employees may be unaware of programs. People may be unsure how to apply, get funding, or meet the needed requirements. They may receive mixed messages about being encouraged to “grow as a professional” but job demands do not allow time for doing so. It takes a certain culture to offer and encourage employee growth opportunities.
Emphasize ways to develop that are less formal — opportunities to work on innovative projects, peer-to-peer teaching/mentoring, increase in the variety of work, opportunities to share ideas.
Provide a clear avenue for employees to share their developmental needs and explore ways in which this training can be provided. Determine whether this is an individual need or training that could be provided at the group level.
Have regular one-on-one conversations with employees. What is going well? Where are you having challenges? How can I help?
When you come across something that peaks your own interest – a blog, a podcast, a good book – share it with your team. And encourage that they do the same.
Ensure that everyone on your team has at least one goal they are actively working towards. Additionally, empower your employees to select a formal or informal development activity that will help move them closer to meeting their goals.
Be proactive about your own development. Look for cost-effective training opportunities such as webinars, free training or networking events, book clubs, lunch-and-learns, podcasts, etc. Talk with your supervisor about carving out time to pursue these opportunities.
Your manager may be more willing to support training or learning if he/she knows how it will help you in your current role. Advocate for your own development and be ready to explain how a specific opportunity you’re interested in will benefit you and your team.
When you come across something that peaks your own interest – a blog, a podcast, a good book — share it with your team. And encourage that they do the same.
On a regular basis, ask members of your team to share what they are currently doing to develop themselves. Emphasizing the importance of continual learning will encourage your leaders to make time for their own development and nurture growth in their teams.
Trust doesn’t just feel good or make people like each other, it is foundational to the way team members show up for each other. When someone trusts us, we don’t want to let them down. Trust allows people to assume the best in others rather than the worst. With trust, team members are more helpful and supportive, higher performing, and more likely to take risks. Teams with high trust are less likely to tolerate poor performance and they naturally build a culture of collaboration.
As you probably expect, conflict can hurt trust among team members, but certain types of conflict may be more damaging than others. Conflict about tasks is less harmful than conflict that arises from relationships or team processes. Set teams up for success by addressing norms of behavior before issues arise. Talk through positive ways to deal with interpersonal differences and differing opinions. Establish clear processes and ways to suggest new ideas.
Set clear “norms” for behavior that are agreed upon by the team. For example, how do we communicate critical information? What is our response time? How do we address conflict? How do we share feedback? Set expectations for how work will get done and call on the team to hold one another accountable.
Work on creating an environment that fosters relationships and makes it ok to speak up and hold each other accountable. As the leader, demonstrate this value by openly admitting mistakes, sharing that you don’t know something or acknowledging that results are better when you work together.
Trust on a team is a two-way street. Pause and take a hard look at yourself — are you a teammate that others can trust to do good work and deliver on time? When you run into a roadblock, have an unexpected challenge, or need more time to work on something, make sure you keep others in the loop. Communicate frequently, update others on your progress, and be open about what you and others need to be successful.
Assume the best in others. Avoid micromanaging others and assume that others will deliver what they promise until they give you a reason to think otherwise. If someone does miss a deadline or completes subpar work, strategize with your manager about how to have a productive conversation to set better expectations next time.
Check in with your teammates frequently and take notice when they may need support. Show that you’re willing to step in and help. Others will likely do the same for you when you need support.
Coach managers to set good operating standards for their teams. Check-in with leaders about ways to set expectations for communication, decision-making, conflict, and sharing feedback.
Model and practice empathy. No one understands our work and responsibilities quite like we do, especially when we’re under time pressure and high demands. Rather than jump to conclusions about how others are spending their time, inspire your employees to first ask questions, check for understanding and confirm expectations.
Encourage others to hold you accountable. Ask people to check-in for progress updates, offer feedback, and communicate how your work/process impacts their responsibilities.
Communication from Senior Leadership is more than just the information shared directly from those at the top of the organization — people can easily attribute poor communication from their managers as lack of communication from the top. Be sure that all levels of leadership understand their role in communicating key messages, what information needs to be conveyed and a time frame for doing so.
Employees can handle bad news but struggle with no news. In the absence of information, we fill in the gaps with assumptions and stories. Proactive communication keeps the rumor mill at bay.
Communicating the process that led to a decision is as important as conveying the decision itself. These details foster employee buy-in and understanding for what to expect next. Let employees in on Senior Leaders’ thinking so people can ask questions, feel in-the-know, and help anticipate challenges.
Be upfront with employees that while they may be raising a great idea, it’s just not possible to tackle everything at once. Help the employee understand how ideas are prioritized and responded to.
Pay attention to employees’ questions and frustrations around communication. Clear up rumors or misconceptions early. Commit to soliciting more information when you can and deliver on this promise by sharing current events, updates from Senior Leaders, or anticipated timing for more information.
Assume best intentions. If you don’t know, ask.
Information is often available, we just have to know where to find it. Ask your manager where to find the best updated and current information. When information is not available, reach out and see if your manager has other details to share.
There may be a disconnect between what Senior Leaders communicate and what you would like to know. Understand that not all information can be shared exactly when we want it, but also let your manager know what specific information would be most helpful for your role. See if he/she can solicit this information. Or, let you know if the information isn’t yet available.
Be intentional about explaining the reasons behind the change. Ensure that other leaders are able to explain reasons to their staff.
Review communication practices. Are they consistent and transparent? Does information cascade to all levels of the organization? Use a variety of communication channels and repeat, repeat, repeat. Keep others informed about big picture goals and the plan for success.
100 calls, 100 days. The executives of one of our clients pledged to each call 100 employees in 100 days. Five-minute casual conversations to check in and see how things were going contributed to the employee feeling valued and leaders learned a tremendous amount about the organization.
Stress is inevitable. Suffering is not. We cannot prevent all the hard things from happening in life, but we can change how we prepare for them and respond to them to minimize suffering. That is what well-being is about.
Fostering well-being is important for employees and employers. Employees with positive well-being enjoy positive emotional states and consider themselves more engaged, productive, and more able to face challenges.
Lead by example: Model the best practice of taking care of yourself first. Be in tune with what helps you feel “centered” and prioritize those things even during busy times. For example, regular physical activity, eating well, family time or a hobby can help us be our best selves at work and sets the example for others.
Invest in your own development: Having conversations with employees about well-being, mental health, conflict and work struggles can be really tough. Give yourself the resources to navigating these conversations by working on skills in communication, interpersonal effectiveness, and conflict management.
Mind your message: Well-being is both globally applicable and deeply personal. Because of this, it is important for managers and leaders to be mindful that their intentions translate positively. What may come from a place of problem solving and caring, could come across as judgmental. For example, message like “Maybe you should get up earlier before work” or “have you tried working out more?” are unlikely to be perceived with kindness. In comparison, “Tell me about ‘what taking car of yourself’ looks like for you” invites your employee to take agency in their well-being and drive the conversation.
If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, reach out. When you are feeling low on energy and stressed, turn to other people. Reach out to your loved ones to let them know how you are feeling. talk to a coworker or your manager. Often the act of sharing out loud can make your struggles feel less burdensome and isolating.
Align with your values: write down your top three values. If you are not sure what is most important, use a free online values sort activity to help you identify your top priorities. Once you have those, evaluate how your time use and decisions align with your values. Pick one area to focus on better aligning your time and decisions with that value.
Prioritize your time. You may have created a to-do list to try and manage your time which has ended up having 40 items on it. Try prioritizing the items into 4 categories; urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, neither urgent nor important. Focus your time on completing the urgent and important tasks.
Reinforce that being well is part of the job, not something that happens “after hours.” Communicate clearly and often that well-being is a shared responsibility. No one person can own it all. Employers and employees are both responsible for fostering a culture of well-being.
Revisit your benefits and policies to identify what barriers there are to employees actually utilizing the PTO, sick leave, healthcare, or wellness programs you have set up. Programs have to be visible and accessible to be utilized. For example, it is common for employees to put off taking PTO if they perceive it will negatively impact a colleague or that they will be perceived as less committed to the job.
Small steps can go a long way. Most employees report they value good air quality, access to natural light, and the ability to personalize their work space far above and beyond on-site gyms, catered lunches, and digital mental health subscriptions. Fancy office spaces and on-site amenities can be a valuable recruitment tool, but are not as impactful on employee well-being as you might think. So, keep it simple by picking one or two “easy wins” to focus on first that you have the resources to execute quickly.
It is very common for employees to feel like there is more work to be done than can be accomplished in a day. However, if work-life balance is an engagement driver for your team, it could be a sign that your employees are approaching burnout.
It can be tempting to conclude that more head count is needed to improve work-life balance, and sometimes that is the answer, however often the solution lies in areas like clearly defining priorities, ensuring people have the resources they need to do their best work, or proactively managing change. Check in with employees to understand pain points that get in the way of efficiency.
Encourage the team to review and eliminate items that no longer add value. For example, there may be a report you run that is no longer used. Can we stop doing that work?
Assume best intentions of employees and offer flexibility when possible. Generally, when leaders offer flexibility to their employee, they are more likely to reciprocate when work is needed outside of typical hours.
Model the best practice of taking care of yourself first. Be in tune with what helps you feel “centered” and prioritize those things even during busy times. For example, regular exercise, eating well, family time or a hobby can help us be our best selves at work and sets the example for others.
Review workloads/projects with employees regularly and be open to putting lower priority projects on the back burner or eliminating them altogether. Ensure employees know it is ok to say, “yes, at a later time” or “yes, and that means something else needs to come off my priority list” in reference to requests.
Have a conversation with your manager about what work-life balance means to you. How can you balance your home life and meet the requirements of the job in a way that works for everyone?
Picture your life as a bucket. Ideally, the bucket is full but not overflowing. Now, make a list of your work and home priorities — daily tasks, professional development, time with kids, working out, etc. Write down what percent of your bucket each of the priorities would ideally comprise; next, write down how much they actually comprise in your life and note other things that are causing your bucket to overflow. Is your bucket ideally 50% home items and 50% work priorities, or a different breakdown? Remember to be realistic. What can you do to balance your bucket to its ideal state?
Help identify clear priorities (meaning 2-3 key areas of focus). Avoid the trap of everything is a priority, so nothing is a priority.
Acknowledge expectations regarding work hours. For example, you may explain, “I send emails on nights or weekends because that works for my schedule, but I do not expect you to respond immediately.”
Implementing flexible work arrangements can greatly increase employee satisfaction and retention by fostering better work-life balance. Flexible work schedules can take many forms (flextime, compressed workweek, job-sharing, telecommuting, and permanent part-time arrangements).
Action Planning Tools & Guides
Prompt action by equipping HR professionals, leaders, managers and employees with best practices pertaining to key engagement topics.
Team members at various levels of the organization can impact change by focusing on 'what they can do' to move the needle. The Action Planning Guides below provide tailored suggestions for each group. Additionally, use the Facilitation Guide to hold internal workshops and discussions.