It’s no revelation that growth is challenging. With a small team, it’s easier to see any problems and have the necessary conversations to ensure people are motivated, engaged and performing their best. However, as businesses scale, engagement tends to change from an everyday consideration into a biannual event — a retrospective snapshot of how effective the people and culture strategy has been in driving business outcomes.
Smart leaders don’t fall into the trap of waiting two years to discover the need for change. They embrace proactive engagement measures to drive performance during growth.
Engagement drives business performance
In 2016, Gallup released their Q12 Meta-Analysis, a comprehensive study examining the impact of employee engagement on business performance. As well as discovering a strong correlation between high engagement and better business outcomes including profitability productivity and shareholder returns, the study detailed two methods of measuring engagement.
The first were reflective measures. These include ‘pride’, ‘loyalty’, ‘intent to stay with company’, and most importantly, ‘discretionary effort’. All important insights, but like any reflective measure, by the time they’re reviewed it’s too late to do anything about them.
The second way of assessing engagement were the formative measures. These include: ‘I know what is expected of me at work’, ‘in the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work’, ‘my supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person’, ‘there is someone at work who encourages my development’, ‘the mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important’ and ‘I have a best friend at work’.
The results of these measures are driven by the connection between leaders and their people. A connection built on the foundations of human communication.
Watch the language
Not in the foul-mouthed sense, but in the way language changes with scale. In a small business, people tend to communicate just as they would in any other situation. Yet as companies become larger and more complex, language can become convoluted. Large organisations are frequently plagued by jargon and acronyms; an unnecessary, stilted professional tone seeps into the messaging, eroding meaning, comprehension and connection.
Choose any heavyweight through history and consider what makes them memorable. Whether it was Winston Churchill rallying England through war, Martin Luther King Jr. taking a stand for civil rights, or Steve Jobs making Apple relevant again — these leaders understood the power of language to inspire and unite people with a common sense of purpose, and how to use words and narratives to evoke emotions and compel them to act.
Cut through the noise
Attention is everything. Without it, leaders risk wasting time and money developing well-intentioned, potentially brilliant strategies, programs and initiatives that fail before they ever get off the ground. Not because they weren’t good or necessary, but simply because no-one paid them any attention.
The challenge is that life is busy and work is busier. It’s an increasingly connected world, with a barrage of priorities constantly competing for eyes, ears and minds. Emails, meetings, memos, posters, phone calls, messages and all kinds of asynchronous communications: Yammer, Slack, various message platforms — and the socials.
To survive amidst the noise, people have become skilled at sifting irrelevant or uninspiring information. This makes attention an incredibly valuable resource — a finite one at that. And, like any other business resource, be it money, machinery, time or space, attention should be wisely invested in, carefully managed and never, ever squandered.
The bigger the company becomes, the more leaders need to take an active role in earning attention. Human communication tactics help draw people in by making them curious, making them laugh, surprising them, captivating them with stories, and visualising content to make it easier to consume.
No matter how large an organisation becomes, people’s need for connection and strong relationships are crucial to building an engaged and high-performing workforce. While this happens quite naturally in a small business, it’s often neglected as the company grows.
Human communication is fundamental to maintaining this connection. By considering the way people connect, considering language, and bringing narratives, imagery, humour and delight into their messaging, leaders can keep people engaged during growth, and drive better business outcomes as a result.