Autumn Manning, CEO, YouEarnedIt
Employee engagement. Workplace positivity. Corporate culture. Fostering natural leaders. All of these and more are at the top of the wish list of CEOs and HR and recruitment leaders who are working to engineer great companies in an era of changing employee expectations.
The tech-enabled, fast-paced, "get-stuff-done-my-way" members of today's talent pool want more than just a job and a paycheck. You can call them millennials or simply refer to them as smart talent that knows what it wants-either way, the line between work and personal life for this group is more blurred than for previous generations, which explains the demand for both stronger work connections and a purposeful job that's aligned with their personal values. Should employers fail to address this, these people are likely to seek other jobs, and quick. In the 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey, six out of 10 respondents said "sense of purpose" was a key factor in their choice of employers.
Survey Says: Connectivity Rules
We recently polled a large sampling of new hires and tenured employees from across industries such as entertainment/media, tech start-ups, advertising/public relations and financial services. The data revealed this generation of workers consists of sentimental, hyper-connected individuals who crave communication, collaboration and real-time connectivity in order to feel engaged and motivated within a company.
Identifying authentic opportunities and tactics to support office connectivity is a feat in itself and, to that point, we've broken down the data and identified specific tactics below for fostering employee engagement through better connections across your team.
Feedback: Quickly, and From Everyone
Nearly 97 percent of our survey respondents said real-time feedback from peers and throughout the company was equal to, and in some cases more important than, bi-annual performance reviews. While there's still room for the traditional performance review, the data shows it does little to increase the personal ownership and accountability employees want in order to have a more meaningful purpose and impact at work. And it's not simply the nimble start-up culture injecting fresh methods into review procedures; as General Electric's head of human resources, Susan Peters, stated in a 2015 Quartz article, employees in this new generation are used to getting feedback that's frequent, fast and mobile-enabled. These factors were key drivers in GE's decision to ditch its annual performance reviews in favor of mobile-driven, collaborative review processes.
Younger, more technology-dependent employees want feedback in the same fashion they want their news-nearly instantaneously. Real-time feedback gives employees the context and data they need to improve in real-time, seeing the impact their work is having on those around them and the business. It's time for companies to evaluate how often managers are providing feedback to individuals on teams, and in what form: is it formal, top-down and outdated? Will the feedback be given in a format that's immediately applicable for the employee? Is the feedback top-down only or is it provided peer-to-peer as well?
Consider laying the foundation for real-time feedback with a simple weekly survey tool, a real-time recognition approach, or a mandate that teams conduct weekly or project post-mortems to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly so everyone can improve.
The experiences of two different companies, Rockfish Digital and The Motley Fool, are illuminating.
In collaboration with Rockfish Digital (a full-service advertising agency) and YouEarnedIt, San Francisco State University conducted a two-year study of data comparing traditional manager-led performance reviews to peer-to-peer recognition. Rockfish was able to combine a real-time feedback and points-based reward program with traditional manager-driven performance evaluations, giving employees both praise and input based on immediate objectives. Giving its employees access to management and peer-driven feedback reduced Rockfish Digital's turnover rates by 29 percent in two years, increased overall management performance ratings by 25 percent, and helped 77 percent of its lowest-performing employees increase their individual performance ratings. The data showed a statistical correlation between employee-to-employee recognition and overall manager performance ratings; as real-time recognition goes up, performance ratings in the formal process go up.
It's no surprise that the feedback alone, given in the right context, was a huge motivator and driver of engagement. So what else is motivating to employees? Rockfish Digital supplements face-to-face feedback with accurate, real-time recognition that is sent all day, across the company and in a public format. This enables managers and executives to have more meaningful conversations with employees, focusing on their strengths and how the employees can continue to impact the business, while allowing them to see who and what is driving success. Forty-two percent of our survey respondents stated that both manager and peer feedback was important to their performance and engagement, but for different reasons.
Consistently recognized as a "Best Place To Work," financial-services company The Motley Fool created a custom recognition program with a real-time, public feed after discovering employees felt recognition was too tied to top management and was not giving them a ground-level emphasis or immediate delivery.
The Motley Fool's recognition-and-reward program is open to everyone and, in one year it collected 13,000 pieces of feedback from across management hierarchy, with the majority of these recognitions tagged to a core company value such as "Collaborate-Do great things together." That's nearly 35 per day, all visible on a real-time feed. The data associated with this recognition is priceless, and its real-time nature fuels a high-performance, highly engaged culture.
No More "Us vs. Them"
The strongest factors that lead to a deeper sense of engagement at work include co-worker connections and team collaboration on projects, according to 67 percent of our survey respondents. However, many barriers stand in the way of these types of connections and collaborations, ranging from a lack of widely-adopted digital communication tools to silos between locations or departments to management-restricted project direction, i.e., managers who won't allow much room for employees to collaborate creatively or challenge how work gets done.
So, what do you do? Communication is power, so consider tools and forums that provide employees with actionable information, explain how core values link to the work and the roles, and facilitate team celebrations in which employees can publicly celebrate the accomplishments of others. These minor adjustments will go a long way toward keeping employees engaged and connected to the bigger picture and purpose they desire.
Interestingly, our survey found that when it comes to the strongest factors that lead to personal engagement at work, the least-motivating incentive was paid-time-off, followed closely by a pay raise. That data shows that while people still value the almighty dollar, it is not the primary factor in retention or engagement. Rather than competing on salary and PTO, consider more desired ways to engage and motivate.
By being intentional about driving deeper engagement and connection across your workforce, you will see a direct impact in return-on-investment, retention and overall company health. Real-time feedback and recognition tools supplement the more formal methods already in place, and serve to connect today's digital, mobile workforce.
Autumn Manning has served as the CEO of YouEarnedIt since 2013 and previously served as its executive vice president and general manager. She has worked with Fortune 500 companies to create tools and systems to measure the ROI for people and organizational development initiatives.