Q&A: How to engage your workforce
With over 25 years of experience in senior HR roles with organisations like CBA and BHP Billiton, Rhonda Brighton-Hall is one of Australia’s most respected HR professionals. Since 2013 Rhonda has been a director of AHRI. She also recently launched her new business, Making Work Absolutely Human.
We asked Rhonda to demystify the concept of workforce engagement and explain how businesses can tap into the many benefits it brings.
How does a business get workforce engagement right?
Most importantly, don’t overthink it. There are two things you have to get right. One is at the organisational level and the other is at the individual level. These two things are all you need to be concerned about and they can both be quite simple.
Let’s start at the organisational level. What do we need to do there?
You need to be very clear about the value of the work you do. Perhaps it’s around value to society, or value to individual customers, or some other type of value. You need to get your purpose clear, get right to the heart of it. Then, once purpose and value are agreed, really good leaders and HR people can utilise that by consistently talking about the work the business does, and its purpose and value, so that everybody links into it.
Is that more easily said than done for some organisations? Say, for a weapons manufacturer?
Actually, if you make weapons and you need people to engage, it’s absolutely possible. For example, are you making weapons to help a nation defend itself? That’s a positive. Then your business is defence, which is very important for the safety of nations. Communicate this and you will attract and engage people who are similarly interested in security. But your value needs to be authentic and honest. If it’s not then people will work it out very quickly and you’ll lose them.
How do we get the individual level of engagement right?
Once you’re clear about the work you are doing, you then have to figure out how you work together. In other words, if your company is very hierarchical and conservative, putting everybody in skinny jeans and pretending you’re cool is just incongruous. If you’re conservative then own that. If you’re in an industry that requires a high level of governance and risk management, be proud of that and be open about why you are conservative. That way you’ll attract people who desire, and are engaged by, the environment you offer.
So once again it’s about being honest and authentic?
That’s right. It’s about the way you work together. Importantly, at the individual level it is also about knowing what matters to each individual, knowing where they’re up to in their lives, and recognising things that could stop them from being happy and, therefore, fully engaged at work. That comes down to sitting with them and talking to them, making them feel like they belong. Good leaders with highly engaged teams talk to their staff about things that personally matter to each individual.
Why is engagement important?
You can’t run a business with disengaged people, it’s that simple. You will become very uncompetitive very quickly. Human capital is your only uncapped asset in a business. If a person is healthy and happy and engaged and you treat them well, they will give you 120%.