Let us presume that your organization has a good onboarding process. The recruitment efforts are targeted, and the selection process is about finding the best candidate, not just for the opportunity at hand, but for the future growth of the organization, and always with an eye on the future.
On-the-job orientation and training programs are in place. Managers are held accountable for the success of their employees; policies and procedures are in place; and communication is always rated "positive" on employee surveys.
"But wait," you say. "Our current environment is all about the wreck we call the economy. Isn't it?"
Demographics don't lie. We are heading into the largest job shortage we have ever experienced. But despite rising unemployment figures and cries from the media that the sky is falling, it isn't. We know that good people will stay if they feel appreciated and if the work they're doing is meaningful. And in tough economic times, the assumption is that everyone will hunker down and wait out the recession, regardless of how they feel about their organizations or their work.
But how ridiculous is that? Have jobs gone away? Yes. Will jobs continue to go away? Yes. Will work shift to other sectors? Absolutely. It was Spinoza who said "Nature abhors a vacuum." So if there is constant communication during good times and bad, people will fabricate information (sometimes we call that gossip).
The question then becomes, what can be done to "take charge" of engagement? There is always the possibility that your organization may need to downsize, sweeping you and your colleagues along toward unemployment. If that is the case, use these tips to engage right away at the new employer when you land.
- Tune into and know the business your organization is in. Very few organizations are actually in the training or learning business. Your department or division may be, but you need to grasp the bigger picture. Knowing your organization's competitors, financial challenges, and strategic plan will give you a better framework for working toward the overall corporate goals and remaining a vital, contributing member of the team.
- Clarify expectations - theirs first, then yours. There may not be funds for that large project you were hoping to spearhead. Priorities will shift often while the economy seeks more secure footing. Be flexible. Be curious. Be adaptable.
- Bring forward solutions, not problems. Look for opportunities to make the organization a better one, whether it is doing more with less, streamlining systems, or suggesting a way to unclog a bottle neck. Be actively looking for ways to contribute. This follows along the lines of working smarter, not harder.
- What can you do for your boss? Is your workplace one that you want to get up and go to each day? If not, why not? How can you make a difference, starting today?
- Check your attitude of entitlement at the door. Sure you saw this as a stepping stone to your next great position. In the meantime, be fully engaged in what you are doing. That's what they are paying you for.
- Stay in alignment with the mission, vision, and values of the organization. Once out of alignment, engagement enthusiasm wanes.
- Focus on the future! Think like an entrepreneur. You are part of a business. Think about the total business and about the customers, and gear all of your actions toward making the business the best it can be, whether you are in the private or public sector. A smart business is always looking ahead six to 18 months; don't focus energies just on "treading water" or on whining about how it "used to be." Adopt a can-do attitude, and point your actions toward the future of the business.
- Read what some of the gurus have to say. Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans have two books that deal with engagement and retention - Kaye's Love 'Em or Lose 'Em is from the manager or leader side of the business and gives practical tips on how to keep the good ones. Jordan-Evans' Love It, Don't Leave It provides employee strategies for enhancing engagement. For assessment tools and training programs, Lynn Ware of Integral Talent Systems (www.itsinc.net) has a variety of offerings to enhance retention, from onboarding to climate surveys.
- Identify the skills you can polish to make yourself more valuable. Is there something in your long-range plan that you can work on now, while continuing to make a contribution to your current employer?
- Be authentic. Integrity, personality, sense of humor, and experience are what all parties bring to the workplace. Use everything you have to be genuine and engaged.
- Be accountable for your contributions and actions. Expect respect in return for your willingness to hold yourself accountable.
- Use SMART Goals. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-limited are key.
Employers provide opportunity; employees have the obligation to take action and not blame the employer if things don't work out. This is going to be the era of accountability. I recommend that you embrace that philosophy.