The latest global research by Gallup shows that only 15% of employees are engaged at work. Epicflow has investigated how to lead teams in this era of employee engagement crisis, and we brought in top project managers to help us. We’ve gathered the most relevant tips to help you master employee engagement from project experts at Boeing, Walmart, UBS, Citizens Bank, Wells Fargo, Doha Bank, Global Eagle, Sii Poland, Three, and other high-performing businesses.
Project Leaders Are the Top Influencers of Team Engagement
Our experts have found that the reason for this low level of employee engagement is misunderstanding of empowerment concepts. Some project managers shift the responsibility for employee engagement onto the HR department or consider it to be the CEO’s prerogative to set the vision and be the key engagement driver. Research by Quantum Workplace reveals the crucial role of middle management in engagement, even topping the influence of senior executives. Middle management is important because their relationship with employees is closer, more trusting, and more intimate than that of top executives.
Imagine how much your project may deliver if the percentage of employees who are engaged moves beyond 15%. Our team has investigated practical engagement tips and techniques to help you create a high-performing team. We share the best advice with you below.
Build a Culture of Open Communication
All respondents to our inquiry in one way or another appealed for open communication. According to Barry Ryan, the Managing Director at Broadhurst Management, “[a] high level of employee engagement is achieved by good and open communication… Being available as well as open to being approached.”
In the opinion of Susan DiGiacomo, Business Initiatives Consultant, former Sr. Project Manager, at Wells Fargo, a good PM thoughtfully seeks to secure engagement throughout all phases of the project. At the very start of the project, she offers to reach out and welcome the team, recognize their value, and set the stage for how the project will be structured.
Day-to-day feedback should be sought from the very beginning. Experienced IT Business Analyst and Project Manager Kim Williams always gets the best result when she meets employees prior to the start of a project and discusses all the ways the project is going to impact them directly.
I find that my team is more engaged throughout the project if they feel invested and if I stress to them that they are crucial to the success of the project, that I value their contribution… that I’m not just in need of a body to fill a chair, but that their insight and assistance really matters.
Julio Sanchez, Governance Process and Standards Director at Citizens Bank, shares his easy-to-follow practical tip for making people enthusiastic: “The best way to motivate and get an employee to engage is to tell them ‘your work is very important to the success of the team!’”
Open communication suggests two-way communication, which means giving and receiving feedback. Zenger Folkman analyzed feedback practices of over 22,000 leaders across different industries and found that inspiring managers who are skilled at giving feedback improve employee performance quite effectively. Tascha Halliburton, a former Resolution Specialist at Walmart, advises asking for team feedback on the time required to complete a task as a great team-building exercise.
Hani Almeghari, a Business Development Specialist at Nordic Privilege, offers this tip: “From my experience, I can say that sharing the ultimate objective and creating an open channel for healthy communication will definitely help. I even remember that once we linked part of the team’s bonuses to the shared feedback and the creative ideas popped up by a certain team, that was fantastic!”
Keep Developing Your Own Leadership Skills
Employees look to senior leaders to set the project’s direction. Team leaders must learn how to communicate ideas and show employees the whole picture of the project. UBS Project Manager Marcin Kosidłowski suggests having the big picture in your head and making sure your employees know how their work is valuable. You need to show the value that employees are bringing to the company so that they feel their work matters. And this value should be connected to a higher level so that they can see how they’re part of a bigger picture.
Actions should be aligned with strategy. Employees should see a purpose and everything we do should fundamentally address the silent question, What is in it for me? — Danish Jamal Khan, Senior Change Agent at Doha Bank
I’d follow Daniel Pink’s advice on this one — provide opportunities for team members to enjoy autonomy, connect their purpose to the project’s goals and develop mastery over their craft. This coupled with treating them like professionals and recognizing both team and individual effort should help. — Kiron Bondale, Senior Consultant at World Class Productivity
See how Daniel Pink examines the puzzle of motivation in his TED talk.
Vasyl Dmytriv, a Construction Lead at Boeing, recommends creating a culture of knowledge sharing and nurturing an environment where empowerment is the norm.
Afshin Montazami, a Company Engineering Director’s Consultant at EIED, advises sharing leadership with your team by including them in strategic decision-making, seeking their ideas for problem-solving, and sharing responsibility. Prisca Ngebi Asangwe, a Project Coordinator, also thinks that it’s important to get employees involved whenever any change has to occur during a project because employees are more likely to support what they help to create. This will foster engagement since employees know that their ideas are valued and that any feedback from them will be valued.
Customer satisfaction, mentioned by Maria Lekha J., a Project Manager at Photon Interactive, is one more driver of team engagement: “A team isn’t working isolated from the customer, instead they interact with the customer on requirements, technical challenges and during customer status meetings.”
Always remember that engaged managers inspire followers to be engaged. When a team leader demonstrates involvement and shows a high level of energy and commitment, team members will reflect this engagement and make your project successful.
Build Trust Inside Your Team
According to Kevin Kruse’s research on over 10 million workers, people feel engaged primarily as a result of growth, recognition, and trust. Trust is something that you need to earn. Trust doesn’t come along with your job title. Several PM experts we queried shared their approaches for earning trust.
Get to know your people, communicate about life, and show them you are personally invested in them. It’s not some touchy-feely fluff, it’s human nature. You must connect as people to truly realize your team’s potential. Simultaneously, take your project seriously while also keeping the mood optimistic and positive. As long as you foster and maintain a great climate and the work is meaningful and rewarding, your team will succeed. — Lucas Marino, Principal at Marino Consulting Services
Susan DiGiacomo invites project managers to express and demonstrate support by helping team members work through project-related challenges and being sincere with them.
A previous manager asked one of my teams, why do you like Susan so much? They replied, “Because she cares.” That continues to be one of the most meaningful comments I have received. — Susan DiGiacomo
Preston Lee, Managing Director at Patching Associates Acoustical Engineering, recommends using people’s interests to drive engagement. Some of Preston’s team members love to be outdoors, so the company allows them to work in the field; others have a passion for discovering the latest technology, so they put them on projects at the cutting edge of the company’s work; still others are motivated by verbal appreciation, so they make sure to acknowledge them personally and publicly. Izabela Burzyńska, a Senior Business Analyst at Sii Poland, offers the following advice about motivating employees: “Know their strengths, skills, and professional objectives. Then challenge them respectively. Some people love creative demanding tasks, others would rather do their job quietly. Companies need both.”
Kelly Geyer, a Scrum Master at Hutchison Drei Austria (Three™), says that a project manager should “be a dynamic and empathetic leader. You need to be able to change according to the needs of the team. You need to adapt. You need to find out what motivates each team member and embrace that. Allow each person to feel empowered to make decisions and be heard. Show appreciation for their hard work and praise dedication.”
Trust is a must when it comes to building a culture of engagement. It’s a tool that makes your people feel valued and jointly work toward common goals. Twenty-eight years of experience in electrical engineering and project management has led Ricardo Bethencourt to clearly understand that “our job as a PM is to know and listen to each person in our team and make sure that their activities have meaning and recognition.”
I try to learn from my team as well. I would ask them if I need help and would guide them if they need help. Otherwise, I would generally ask if they are learning something new from the project. — Benny Yumnam, Associate Project Manager at Global Eagle
When you feel exhausted by your team, just practice the approach of Kelly Geyer: “Being a PM is like having a child and you are trying to teach them to put their toys away and to stop throwing things in the house. The more you focus on the negative, the more they do it. You need to give them an example of the behavior you want to see. Praise them for putting their toys away. Gently redirect when they are doing what they aren’t supposed to do.”
One more important thing to remember is that people are resourceful — but please stop calling them resources! You can’t build a healthy environment if people continue to be seen as capital investments and considered resources. Instead, emphasize their ability to think, feel, make decisions, and sympathize.
Keep in mind that everyone wants to be part of the winning team, profit and loss management of course is important but it doesn’t solely drive engagement. There should be frequent success stories and short-term wins which give a sense of accomplishment. — Danish Jamal Khan, Senior Change Agent at Doha Bank
How can project management tools help project managers to engage employees? New solutions like Epicflow increase engagement. Epicflow does that by simplifying multi-project planning, bringing peace to the workplace by preventing stress and increasing job autonomy.
Epicflow gives clear task priorities for teams so that each team member precisely understands their everyday tasks. And this understanding doesn’t follow a manager’s order but is analytically validated by the program, which aims to fulfill each project on time. Additionally, the system calculates workload and notifies leaders if an employee is overloaded.
An overloaded employee is the most dangerous threat PMs can experience, as one person can delay all projects due to cascading dependencies between tasks and resources. — Epicflow researchers Jan Willem Tromp and Albert Ponsteen
Statistics published by Harvard prove that a high performer is 400% more productive than an average employee. Great managers consistently engage their teams to achieve outstanding performance and investigate new technologies for better project performance. Provide your contact information in the form below to get a live demonstration of a new planning paradigm.
P.S. We’d like to thank all the contributors to this article. We’ve done a great job together! The research was conducted in the following PM communities on LinkedIn.