8 Engagement Strategies to Keep Your People from Walking Out the Door

If you don’t want people quitting you, you’ve got to figure out how to make love stay.

That was the central idea of Tom Robbins’ book, Still Life With Woodpecker.

“One day you wake up and find that the magic is gone. You hustle to get it back, but by then it’s usually too late, you’ve used it up. What you have to do is work like hell at making additional magic right from the start.

To make love stay, wake love up in the middle of the night and tell it the world is on fire. Dash to the bedroom window and pee out of it. Casually return to bed and assure love that everything is going to be all right. Fall asleep. Love will be there in the morning.”

That’s all engagement is: Making love stay.

Here’s a list of daily practices to keep your people from walking out the door.1. Engagement is the new marketing. Brand perception hinges on the interactions between customers and employees. It’s got nothing to do with your logo. Or your clever direct mail campaign. Or your crummy commercial that aired during halftime of the Superbowl.

From human beings. From your people. Which means every interaction your employees have with the customer either adds to – or subtracts from – the overall perception of your brand. And since this principle colors every component of your organization’s engagement style, consider asking your team two questions:

*How do customers experience your people?
*How do customers experience themselves in relation to your people?

That’s the only thing the world can form an impression on: How interacting with your people makes them feel. That’s why engagement is so essential. Otherwise your engagement is a joke and your organization is the punch line. If your customers could give your company a hug, would they open their arms?

2. Know what emotion you’re selling. Because feelings determine actions, you’ve got to emotionally involve people. You’ve got to determine what experience you deliver, and how you can guarantee its consistent delivery.

One way to do so is by becoming an expert in memory creation. Practice planting moments in your daily interactions that give people something they’ll never forget. In fact: The smaller, the better. When you go out of your way to make the mundane memorable, you convert rare into remarkable. And that’s when you create a significant emotional event that tugs people by the heart.

Remember: Businesses that retain a strong emotional connection with their customers don’t go out of business. Leaving emotional memories to chance is too dangerous. How will you remind yourself to create a significant emotional event?

3. Consider people’s unique definitions of engagement. You don’t need to read another book on employee engagement – you need to get your ass out of the office and ask people what engagement feels like to them.

Not what they think engagement is – but what engagement feels like. Huge difference.

The secret is to use every listening post you can find. From offline to offline, from electronic to human, from walking the floors to monitoring tweet streams, whatever gives you insight into how your employees operate is a worthwhile endeavor.

Second, listen deeply. That means listening the facts along with what the facts point to. Third, listen for the right reasons. Not just enough to flip the answers for your own uses. Not just to boost your ego. And not just to confirm what you already think. Listen to learn how your people truly engage.

Remember: The longer you allow organizational fears to prevent you from pursuing the truth about the people who work there, the more shocked you’re going to be when they suddenly jet out the door. Are you listening to the sound of your own voice or the music of your employee’s voice?

4. Put a little blood into it. As a writer, I invest myself very personally in everything I publish. This is very risky – but that’s the whole point. The more naked my words are, the more engaged my readers become.

That’s the lesson: Self-disclosure earns trust. And people engage when they operate from a place of trust because they’re not wasting their energy protecting themselves. Your goal is to find a way to ship a small piece of who you are with everything that goes out the door, as my new crush Jeanne Bliss suggests.

That’s what earns you the right to be engaged with. That’s what earns your organization the right to have its story told. Because it’s not just how well you know your customer – it’s how well your customers know you.

It’s about how clear they are about what you’re committed to. Otherwise, hiding the true picture of who you are is a form of reputational risk you can’t afford to take. What are you using to make your identity more knowable?

5. Preserve freedom of mind. Nothing disengages a human being faster than the annihilation of independent thought. That’s how you activate someone’s built in pushback mechanism: By demanding homogeneity of beliefs.

Sadly, too many organizations turn mental settling into a silent epidemic. And as a result, their people become stripped of their humanness. Organizational consultant Dave Snowden addressed this issue in a recent article on Cognitive Edge:

“Forcing people to accept a common culture increases the tension between the way that people naturally behave and the way they now feel they have to. That means increasing alienation and inevitably suppressed conflict and increasingly levels of conflict.”

Instead, Snowden suggests creating boundaries around compatible but different cultures – even if a little healthy conflict arises. The point is: You have to make certain that people’s dearly held sense of individualism is honored. That their work unites with their own sense of life. And that they’re treated like individuals on the frontline – not integers on the company report.

Otherwise they’ll be out the door faster than you can say, “Tuesday is Soylent Green Day.” When does the feeling of formality keep your people from communicating freely?

6. Contribution can’t be mere blip on their radar screen. It has to become a legitimate, long-term trend. That’s what makes people engage: When their job makes use of their talent.

The challenge is, not everybody is comfortable being smart. Some people need permission to bring their brilliance to the table. And as their leader, your mission is to create a safe place where individual personality and creativity can shine.

To do so, ask each person the following question: What personal skills are you currently not using in your job?

Their answers might surprise you. Look: Nobody wants to spend their life at a second-hand task. And nothing shackles the human spirit more than a work life that’s prosaic and unmusical. If you want people to engage, the work they do has make a significant contribution to something they value. Do you provide opportunities to do meaningful work that helps others?

7. Don’t just get over yourself – stay over yourself. Here’s the reality: Your organization is one part of your people’s total life experience – not the sole focus.

Accept this. Stop operating out of the old school model that loyalty is an entitlement. It’s not.

You have to earn it and re-earn it daily. Instead, start adjusting your company to the rhythm of its constituents. And understand that work isn’t the only determining factor in how your people live their lives.

Especially younger generations. If you want them to engage, you have to show them that you respect their commitments outside of the organization. That’s part of the process of staying over yourself: Focusing less on getting people to join you and focusing more on trying to join them first.

Who knows? Maybe your people would engage more if they felt their lives were participated in too. Are you fitting them into your nice little plan or celebrating how you fit into their lives?

8. Be a value-adding machine. As much as I loathe reality television with all of my being, the sheer number of makeover shows on a typical evening of programming does indicate something reassuring: Most people want to get better.

Not all, but most.

And I’m not just talking about those grease balls on Jersey Shores who want calf implants. I’m talking about your employees, who would relish the possibility to become more valuable. Not just in the organization – but in all areas of their lives.

Why make it so hard for people to grow? Afraid they’ll get too successful and steal your job or find a better job? Come on. They’re going to be gone in four years anyway. May as well show them you support their development. Rise above standard operating procedure and create room for people to become something different. Odds are, they’re eager to reinvent their work experience anyway.

Try asking what it will take to build something that they recognize themselves in. Try treating them as the people they want to become in order for them to know who they really are. Maybe then they’ll stop watching reality television and actually work a few nights a week. Does your organization move its people closer to, or farther away from where they want to be?

REMEMBER: It’s hard work to keep your people from walking out the door.

And odds are, you won’t retain everybody.

But if you make a conscious effort to engage people in the most human, most approachable and most respectful manner, your organization will greatly improve its chances of making love stay.

How will you keep people from walking out the door?

For the list called, “10 Unmistakable Motivators of Human Engagement,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

Never the same speech twice.

Now booking for 2011!

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