By Blaine Bagley, senior VP of operations, EnerBank USA
As managers, we want our employees to be on the same page, pulling in the same direction and delivering the same high standard of customer service. Employees want the same. They want consistent company and brand messages they can understand and communicate so they can make an impact and feel confident in their jobs. When your employees are engaged in this way, it’s a beautiful thing. However, it doesn’t always happen; and if it does happen, it wasn’t by accident. So, what does it take to help your employees become fully engaged?
BlessingWhite, an employee engagement and leadership development consulting company, classifies engagement on a scale based on employees’ level of contribution and individual satisfaction. Highly engaged employees are those who are delivering what employers need and getting what they want in the process. Less engaged employees are missing some component of those two characteristics.
Your challenge as a manager is to help control this dynamic so all employees can be more fully engaged. It takes more than a survey and a couple of HR initiatives, however. To drive employee engagement, you must make it a daily priority — a priority that starts long before the employee even comes on board — to ensure you find the right matches for your company.
Prospecting for new employees is done mostly online, along with other methods. At EnerBank, we spend a lot of time in the application and evaluation process to make sure we’re looking at the right potential candidate, and that they’re positioned for success before they even start working for us.
We create our job posting descriptions with very specific language to attract the best candidates. This application process forms the foundation for success.
We also focus our time on evaluating the best candidates on their skills and experience, as well as how well they would fit within our organization. We ask questions about how well their strengths match within a department and with their potential co-workers, and how we could help them through training and education to overcome their weaknesses. The answers to these questions help us see how engaged they might be as employees.
Helping potential candidates be successful in their job creates a positive reputation in the community, which helps us attract the right employees. We also receive many referrals from other employees and friends of the company. And, when someone works for us and is successful, it leads to low employee turnover. Low turnover and high referrals feed each other to continually improve the strength and engagement of the employee base.
Through these processes, we’ve focused our prospecting time on preparing and attracting people who can succeed with EnerBank.
Then we hire…
Primarily, we focus our hiring on those who are seeking “a career” as opposed to just a job. Because these employees are career-minded, we offer them many kinds of educational opportunities — not just on-the-job training, but broader education. We also want employees who want to grow and have a plan for their own future, even before they come to us.
JC Shore, who runs a national financing program at CED Greentech, one of the largest electrical product wholesale distributors in the country, said that a company needs to first focus on retaining the employees they have before they develop their sourcing and recruiting competencies. He asks, “Why be good at recruiting if you haven’t first figured out whom to retain?” JC has met with about 250 solar installers in the last year, and he understands the challenges companies face in finding and retaining employees.
He also believes that strong training programs are vital to retaining good employees, especially in the solar industry. According to him, people need and want to be good at something, and while they might already have a solid foundation in solar, there’s always room for incremental improvement. He believes it’s a shared — and critical — requirement for both managers and employees.
At EnerBank, we don’t mind if someone works for us for a period of time and then goes back to school or even works somewhere else. We leave the door open for them to come back to us, as rehiring limits training when they return.
How to keep employees engaged once on board
Once the right employees come on board, you need to nurture and grow them, whether they start directly from high school, or college and beyond. At the bank, many of our people start in our call center. Then, we develop them, and many of them stay for years. We have numerous vice presidents and managers who started in entry-level positions.
Value your college students. Most have lofty goals and aspirations. If you can help them see a future and provide them with opportunities to grow, they’ll stay. We offer generous tuition reimbursement. They can study any subject, even unrelated to bank operations. We also accommodate their school schedules. If they can work and attend school at the same time, we know they have a solid work ethic, which helps with the success of the company.
We once hired a person who had recently graduated from law school. This person started at the bank working in our call center and gradually moved up. Eventually, the employee became a Vice President and currently works in our compliance department. Another employee has worked in nearly every department and earned two masters degrees while at the Bank. He’s now in a great position leading our change management area.
JC pointed to two important aspects of retaining and engaging employees that he believes are critical to his company’s success. The first is brand clarity and transparency, which helps potential and new employees understand the company’s purpose, its differentiation and its mission. This level of understanding leads to situations where employees are empowered to drive change and learn from mistakes, because they understand what drives the company’s success and are invested in being a part of it.
The second aspect JC pointed out is the importance of accountability from the top of the organization to the newest employee. When management teams are accountable, it trickles down, creating an opportunity for every person and every team to own success and failure by owning the outcomes. It changes the dynamic from bureaucracy to a commonality of purpose.
When to outsource?
While we focus on nurturing and promoting from within through education, sometimes you have to look outside if you don’t have the expertise already in-house. That said, we frequently offer internal postings to give our current employees a chance to apply, because you never know who may surprise you with an unknown skill.
Hiring from the outside helps uncover new methods or strategies from those who have been in other industries. For example, at one time, we needed project management help. We didn’t have the expertise in-house, so we hired outside project managers. They brought useful ideas and best practices we wouldn’t have had without them.
The bottom line for encouraging engaged employees: Hire the right employees by prospecting and evaluating them extensively before hiring, and then nurture those employees through education and promotion opportunities. Support them even if they pursue interests outside your core operations. It’s not perfect, but we’ve found that this model has contributed to the long-term success of the bank.