Few people argue with the importance of employee engagement but at the same time, there are also companies and managers who hope it will happen automatically. The truth of the matter is, engagement is not an accident and if a company's leaders don't actively invest in it, chances are it won't grow. An engaged workforce has many benefits from lower turnover to higher levels of productivity so boosting engagement stats should be a priority for every manager. But should you only start thinking about engagement after your new hire is in place? Or are there any tactics you can use right from the start of the hiring process to help you build a more engaged team?
Some realities about employee engagement
Did you know 46% of new hires fail within 18 months; only 19% are considered an unequivocal success? That ratio is higher than 2-to-1. Similarly, 23 percent of American workers look for a new job every single day -- and most start that process after they’ve only been at a job for 5.5 months. The threat of making a wrong hire is high. Now there are ways to increase your odds of finding the right candidate. Adding assessments into your hiring process or using behavioural based interview questions can help a lot. But there are a few other things you can do as well to address engagement right from the moment you hire.
Reduce the disconnect
The “disconnect” means there’s a way your company addresses and responds to customers, and there’s a way they address and respond to potential candidates. Usually, there’s a massive chasm between the two. Here’s former HR executive Liz Ryan on that topic:
I hope you don’t make your customers and prospects create their own records in Salesforce! You value your customers too much to make them do unpaid clerical help, and you need to value job applicants that much or more.
So that’s the first step towards hiring for engagement: start treating candidates like what they are -- people that might soon contribute to your culture and your bottom line.
Along these lines, here are some other suggestions:
- Manage the hiring experience like you would the customer experience: Keep applicants informed during the process. Far too many applicants to too many companies end up seeing themselves as a nuisance to the hiring manager or HR rep. Since the first word of “Human Resources” is “human,” we should aim to make the process more human (i.e. relationship-driven) in nature, just like we try to do with customers.
- Shorten the hiring process: From 2009 to 2013, average time to hire in the U.S. doubled (from 12 days to 24 days). There are some indications it might be over 40 days by now (put aside hiring freezes of the present moment in those averages). Long, dragged-out hiring processes are not good. While internally people may be arguing that a longer process is necessary to “get the best person,” it usually leads to analysis paralysis and it’s so many hoops to jump through for the candidate.
- Use ATSs carefully: Most companies would never take this advice because ATSs make their jobs easier and gives them the “data” they want on candidates, but sometimes ATSs can weed out great candidates before you even get to see their resumes. Think about the job you are hiring for and if it is more specific than a general entry-level role, consider what tools to use to improve your odds of finding the right person.
Be better about job descriptions
It’s true that job descriptions are a little bit of a relic -- people often enter a company on one description, and then business models shift, and eight months later they’re doing something entirely different.
But if you want to hire people who will like the job and be engaged in it, you need to at least attempt to accurately reflect the job right from the application stage.
A few quick primers on job descriptions:
- Avoid the “laundry list” approach: We’ve all seen this. It’s 15 qualifications you must have. If you only have 13, the ATS screens you out. This is ridiculous because it implies a person with 13 of 15 skills could never learn the other two.
- Dump the buzzwords: “Strategic, vision-oriented, goal-driven individual” might sound great when you write it. The words don’t actually mean that much when the job description is out there in the world.
- Think of them as an ad for your culture, and less an ad for your job: This is an invitation to begin a process with a company and learn about them, just as they learn about you. Job descriptions should be set up to highlight your company and what people there are like and strive for. It’s less about the actual job, in all honesty.
Feedback on the job at different levels
You need to involve different levels in your hiring process if you want engaged employees.
We heard a story recently from a client of someone who was hired into a company in Texas. His boss would be seated in Texas, but … most of the team he’d eventually work with was seated in Seattle. There had been internal politics whereby the Seattle manager didn’t get to “own” the hire, and you can imagine where this all was headed. The Texas hiring manager didn’t really understand the role, but she got to make the hire. The new hire came in under her, and realized within 2-3 days that almost all his work would be done with this Seattle team. He had never met them, he was 1,200 miles away from them, and their boss semi-resented him because it wasn’t “his hire.” Productivity was essentially drained away 48 hours into this new job.
The way we approach hiring, often, is that a specific HR person and a specific hiring manager work together on “getting an A-Player.” But once that hire is made, the manager may barely interact with them (managers are admittedly busy people). The takeaway here is that the candidate needs to know the team. They need to interview with the people they’ll be doing projects with every day. The hiring manager matters, of course, but if he/she is the only person vetting a hire, how would you possibly know if the hire will fit in with the whole team?
This becomes even more muddled with external recruiters. They are often hired by companies to spearhead hiring processes, sometimes even at executive levels. But because they don’t often know the company culture that well, or the team that the new hire will sit on, it gets murky rather fast.
Understand what your culture is
The whole notion of “engagement,” while a fluffy term to many, basically is a synonym for “fit.” You’re asking: Will this person fit in here?
To answer that question, you have to be aware of what your real internal culture is. Is it a very heads-down, get-your-stuff-done-and-leave place? Is it a financially-driven place where everyone yells about making the quarter? Is it a place with yoga balls as chairs? Is there a slide? Are the bosses into coaching, or into acquiring perks for themselves?
Now: it is true that most companies try to portray themselves in the best light possible. The flip side of that, of course, is that sites like Glassdoor have created a cottage industry for really being able to see what a place is like before you commit to working there.
Most people don’t look critically at their own culture, which is human nature. But if your culture is really a “make the quarter” place and you hire someone who wants real purpose and mission, there will not be any engagement there.
Don't forget about diversity
Art Markman of UT-Austin noted this about a year ago in Fast Company:
There is a real danger with working in a group made up of people who largely agree with each other. Research demonstrates that when you communicate with other people, you come to think more similarly to them, because in order to understand what they are saying, you have to think like they do. Even if you ultimately disagree with the conclusions they draw, you exit the conversation thinking more similarly to them than you did before.
Diversity means hiring from a variety of backgrounds and ideas -- which will ideally make your company more engaged, more productive, and more profitable.
Think about engagement right from the start
Employee engagement is hard to generate and something many companies struggle with. But savvy managers know they can start at an advantage if they hire with engagement in mind. As an added bonus, making some of the above changes designed to find great candidates also improves the overall candidate experience, which in turn increases your chances of that great hire accepting your offer. And once you have those new hires in place, make sure to continue supporting the idea of engagement throughout your onboarding program and their first few months at a minimum. Employee engagement should also be reinforced through the company culture and management approach to sustain it in the long term.
Finding the right people to hire can be tricky but when you think about and value employee engagement right from the start, you'll see what kind of impact it can have on your whole talent management strategy.