There’s no disputing how vital worker input is to your organization. This is why it’s so important to invest in your employee engagement strategy. Unless workers are actively able to make a difference to your operations, your company is underutilizing its most valuable resource.
This doesn’t mean you need to simply find ways for your employees to work harder. Indeed, too many businesses think engagement is just about improving productivity and retention. While these things are important, they’re not the be-all and end-all. Among the workforce characteristics you should be seeking to embrace and optimize is employee involvement.
We’re going to take a moment to do a deeper dive on the subject. What exactly is employee involvement and how can you best utilize it to improve your business?
What is Employee Involvement?
Put simply, employee involvement is about how your business adopts practical measures to ensure your workers have meaningful input into how the company functions. In many ways, this is the opposite of the dictatorial leadership style. While executives and management have final say over the details of operations, there should be a commitment to making many elements as democratized as possible. As such, companies that embrace employee involvement strive to establish protocols, structures, and tools that don’t just make employee input possible, but actively encouraged.
There are clear advantages to this way of working. Firstly, it helps workers to feel more actively connected to the organization. This in itself can boost employee engagement and job satisfaction. It also means that your company benefits from the potential for greater innovation. After all, you’re inviting input from a more diverse range of perspectives. The efforts members of leadership make to establish employee involvement tends to mean that everyone is empowered to thrive.
How Can You Utilize Involvement?
Effective employee involvement doesn’t occur passively. Business leaders must take consistent steps to make sure it is practical for workers to engage. In essence, to embrace employee involvement, your company must make it easy for workers to get involved.
Some effective approaches here include:
Maintain Open Communication Channels
In order for your workers to offer suggestions, ideas, and concerns about company operations, they need practical methods of communication. This can’t just be a vague open-door policy in which leadership might take meetings with staff occasionally. Rather, it must involve providing multiple open channels for employees to provide input on their terms.
These methods must first be convenient for workers. They are busy people and won’t always be able to fit into the schedules of executives. The tools you use should also prioritize accessibility. You can’t expect employee involvement if the methods aren’t easily usable. There should be options for anonymity, too. This is because there will be some areas of improvement or concern that employees might be less comfortable attaching their names to.
As such, your channel choices could include a dedicated email inbox, anonymous feedback platforms, regular team meetings, and dedicated representatives of all levels that workers can approach to make suggestions.
One of the most effective ways to enable employee involvement is to formalize it through projects. This can remove a lot of uncertainty around the concept by inviting input focused toward specific goals. For instance, your company might initiate a project to improve efficiency across the organization or to develop protocols for sustainability.
It’s important to treat these projects with the same commitment as you would any other within your company. Assign a budget, time, and resources to it. Make sure that employees from all departments and all levels of seniority are involved, but also ensure that the opinions of higher level staff aren’t prioritized over those of entry-level workers. In these projects, all ideas hold equal importance. This approach can not only solve targeted problems, it also shows workers that their involvement is genuinely valued by the company.
Adopt Flatter Leadership Structures
While the methods already explored can be effective, they also share a hurdle to true employee involvement. They still require a certain amount of permission from various levels of leadership. Often, the most meaningful forms of employee involvement are enabled by autonomy. Workers must be given some freedom to directly affect change in both day-to-day and overarching ways. Therefore, one of the most powerful tools for employee involvement is to adopt a flatter leadership structure.
This involves consolidating middle management roles and raising the amount of authority and responsibility workers have over the operations of the company and their own duties. This isn’t always easy for many companies, as it requires a lot of trust and confidence in workers alongside putting safeguards in place to mitigate issues. Nevertheless, it empowers employees to regularly have a meaningful impact on the company and make decisions that can result in faster forms of innovation.
How Can You Optimize Involvement?
Alongside finding methods to enable employee involvement, you need to make sure your workers are willing to actually utilize them. As such, it’s important to take steps to optimize the way in which employees engage with the process.
Your focus here could include:
Visibly Acting on Suggestions
Employees aren’t likely to be keen to be meaningfully involved in your business if there is no result from their input. As such, one of the most impactful ways to optimize involvement is for leadership to visibly act on suggestions. This is especially true when employee surveys are used wisely and with intention.
This doesn’t mean that all suggestions should be adopted in the way that workers request them to be. This is more about demonstrating that leadership respects the viewpoints of employees and that there are direct actions as a result.
This should include responding in the first instance directly to relevant employees with information on the next steps following their input. There should also be company-wide communications addressing the suggestions, concerns, or ideas raised. This not only invites further input on improvements from other staff, it also builds positive equity with employees and strengthens trusts when they see visible action in the business. It’s important to have regular follow-ups throughout, keeping all workers abreast of progress and reiterating invitations to get involved.
To some extent, the greatest incentive for employee involvement is a better business for everybody. Indeed, it’s important to communicate this in employee handbooks and onboarding processes. Nevertheless, tangible rewards as a direct result of involvement that improves operations can be a significant motivating factor.
However, for this to genuinely optimize involvement, incentives can’t just be based on general gifts. The incentive offered needs to reflect the type of involvement. For instance, if a worker’s suggestions result in more efficient operational practices, this should be met with consideration for promotion or a pay rise. Where the input reveals unexplored markets or innovative products, they should directly benefit from the profits of this. Incentivizing involvement means acting fairly and proportionately.
Assessing Engagement with Involvement
To optimize employee involvement effectively, your company needs to understand your workers’ viewpoints on the matter. You need to be able to establish what the hurdles to real engagement are and what best motivates employees to overcome these. As such, it is important to regularly assess this, even after you’ve begun implementing other tools, structures, and optimization practices.
Often, the best way to approach this is through utilizing a variety of surveys designed to gain engagement intelligence. This could include incorporating questions about involvement into your regular employee engagement or employee experience surveys. You could also issue short pulse surveys that seek data on specific aspects of or challenges in employee involvement. Whichever approach you choose, it’s important to communicate to your workers what the intention and value of these assessments are. This not only reassures them that the time they dedicate won’t be misplaced, but it can also prompt further involvement efforts.
Employee involvement is about your workers’ inclination to have a meaningful impact on how your business operates. This can have positive outcomes for all stakeholders. But you also need to develop tools, structures, and a culture in which employee involvement is both practical and actively encouraged. This involves using practices like open communication platforms and flatter leadership structures. It also means your company has to commit to optimizing the process through visible actions and regular assessments. With some dedicated effort and by seeking employee input, there are opportunities for your business to genuinely thrive.