Most people would agree that engaging employees is an important ingredient in the success of any business. It is often talked about but not well practiced. A good engaging organisation is an inclusive one, one where transparency and open dialogue is encouraged. Engaging employees should not be considered the same as attendance, the difference being involvement, participating and influencing the points in an equitable and constructive way. Over the years I have come to the conclusion there are three key reasons why engaging with workers fails:
- They are not a two-way learning experience;
- They do not build on trust and integrity and
- Communication is not well planned.
Engagement as a two-way learning experience
Worker involvement is increasingly becoming a social skill in relations (in addition to the traditional consultation) requiring active listening and interpersonal skills for the benefit of supervisors, line managers and senior managers. You can’t understand workplace practices, risks and issues from sitting behind a desk! Engaging with workers that work closest to the hazards have the knowledge and experience to support management understanding, what is working well, what needs improving and how improvements will be implemented. Engagement should therefore be a two-way learning experience.
Building on trust and integrity
My experience has taught me that it is not enough to to be correct. Successful implementation requires more than this. Trust and integrity is built up over time starting with – mean what you say and say what you mean with a shared belief in achieving what is required. Personal thoughts should be close to public ones. Engaging provides self checking through perception gap analysis and helps in this regard. Remember, perceived risk is as important as absolute risk.
Plan your engagement strategy
Communication is not communicating. Method is not content and delivery. There is as much attention if not more on the way something is said than what is being said. Communicating means key messages are enabling, unambiguous, precise and concise, and understood. Targeting a message to the right level for a target group, adjusting approach and methods accordingly, and having a full understanding of what is being conveyed means careful planning. For large projects (multiple worker sites or worker groups) a Communications Plan is recommended involving both the communicators and those receiving the communication.
In any engagement there needs to be mutual respect which can only be earned through understanding the person(s) you are engaging with. Your workers then know who they are engaging with. It may be useful to consider engagement objectives and where possible, plan them to be converging rather than diverging. Company objectives may not be the same as personal objectives, but a performance / appraisal review can help integrate both. Remember, each time you engage, mutual respect is being tested. Harmony and conflicts are part of life. Harmony should indicate what you are doing right if the objectives are being met, conflicts where you need to close the perception gap in an agreeable way. Conflicts, like risk, are part of life. Try to understand them rather than eliminating them, they are after all an indicative reminder of what needs to be worked on.
About the Author
Paul Thompson is the principal Consultant at HaRMUCK. HaRMUK provides a national independent consultancy service in health, safety and risk management in the UK. Provision includes for hazard and risk management projects, legal compliance and best practices, management systems and implementation, capability and technical support, and information and assurance services.