Want employee engagement? The key is companywide training
Tuesday, April 13, 2021
If companywide training feels like overkill, consider what happens when training is reserved only for the rank and file. I can give you a glimpse of what happens, based on my years as a university career counselor, and later getting hired by organizations to teach professionalism to their new-college hires.
As a career counselor, I saw a steady parade of lackluster job postings, often with typos. When was the last time an employer advanced a candidate with a lackluster resume? Or a cover letter with even one typo?
I am not saying employers should lower the bar — but the double standard here was on full display.
In a similar way, my heart broke for the student of mine who worked hard to land the (unpaid) internship of his dreams. He gave full effort, including nights and weekends — all for the privilege of gaining experience in his field.
When it came time for him to graduate and seek full-time employment, this same internship site interviewed him, led him to think he was the one, then proceeded to ghost him. Ghosting, too, was more common than you might think.
I could go on and on — about hiring managers and HR staff who insisted their candidates had 4.0 GPAs (why?) and established professionals who hired me to train their young team — all while modeling the exact opposite behaviors from what they expected from newcomers.
Here’s the point: As a leader, you cannot expect better conduct from your employees than you are willing to demonstrate yourself. In fact, whatever standard you expect from your team, hold yourself to a standard of conduct one level higher.
This is how you engage the minds and hearts of your team — by holding them (credibly) to a higher standard than they thought they could attain. Cue Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time.”
Which Skills and Attributes Make the Biggest Difference?
While the list looks different for every organization, here are seven areas that tend to transcend industry and location:
- Boundaries in the workplace
- Empathy (this includes self-awareness, as the two go hand in hand)
- Good judgment (thinking strategically, making sound decisions)
- Interpersonal skills
If you model all seven of these, you might not need training — or to the same extent as, say, a new-college hire. Yet if you don’t model these areas, sending your team to training without going yourself could easily turn into a source of resentment or rebellion.
I have seen this happen.
For example, in a focus group I conducted for a company in the Midwest, one participant blurted out, “The company says one of our values is respect. They need to respect our time with this training!”
See the disconnect?
Suppose you do set a good example. Shouldn’t that be enough to bring your team on board? Probably not.
Employees need to know the specific standards to which they’re held, and the reasons these things matter, i.e., the natural consequences when someone violates workplace boundaries. Or what it means to problem-solve in the moment and act decisively.
For your team to be able to model your expectations — with you and with each other — something more is needed; the mindset, yes, but also the skill set — and a safe place to develop that skill set.
Giving Training Its Due
When done well, employee training brings multiple benefits for an organization and for you as a leader:
- It communicates the standards to which all employees are held, which in turn builds engagement, productivity and accountability
- It makes your life easier as a leader, because you’re not having to manage or micromanage
- It defuses drama, because you’ve equipped your team with productive ways to handle difficult situations (or difficult people)
- It creates an environment where people look forward to coming to work and giving their best — this in turn raises the bar and has the potential to reduce employee turnover
Yet for all of these benefits, I must add a word of caution. Please don’t reduce employee training to employee entertainment, a checkbox, or something anyone on your team can supposedly do. Like anything else worthwhile, training that gets results requires caring, competence, and a specific skill set. Ask any parent who has struggled to teach their child at home.
Incidentally, the best employee training is entertaining – but not for its own sake. Likewise, if the goal of the training is simply to say, “We had a training session,” I would ask you to look at the wider benefits and think beyond the quick, one-hour, so-called solution.
Finally, the best employee training is built around behavioral objectives set by leadership and modeled at every turn.
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