Summary: Give employees a work environment that appreciates and values their contributions and give them engaging training that helps improve their work performance. If you do these two things, you will get exceptional work effort from your engaged employees.
When I worked at a Fortune 100 company, we had a problem. We had waning interest in our teams’ flagship learning delivery tool (LDT for short) and there was fear that the project would get shut down. During one of our weekly team meetings, this topic was discussed and ideas were requested for how to boost engagement with LDT.
One person suggested, and I kid you not, that each one of us on the team of about 60 people, should just start launching training videos from our LDT in background windows and let them play on mute while we did our work. The thought was that we could get over a thousand extra views per day for all of these background video “views”.
Seriously? Inflating engagement metrics is not the answer.
I suggested that we create a game that revealed parts of the videos we wanted people to watch and quiz people throughout the game on the content of the videos and offering points for correct answers given. At the end we would reward the participants with a bonus game with extra time to play the game if you got a higher score. The goal was through all of this engagement to motivate people to watch the full video and read the companion pdfs.
Several other ideas were suggested and our team was encouraged to participate however they wanted.
Guess which idea got more learner engagement? The game.
The game was so popular it was not only played by our team, but played (and promoted) by thousands of other employees around the company. And the game was replayed over and over, not as a background video, but actively played as a game — talk about engagement!
It boosted not only the validity of our LDT, but created viral sharing that wasn’t anticipated. In fact, people started posting their scores in the comments section of the game, and an organic leaderboard developed. For more information about leaderboards see: “Leaderboards: How they Motivate People and Increase Engagement“.
In management’s efforts to show that the ideas and tools they create are getting learner engagement, shortcuts like the video-in-the-background mentioned above may show off false metrics for manager slide show presentations, but in reality, learner engagement is not increased at all.
In his book, “The Truth about Employee Engagement“, Patrick Lencioni shares in his business fable style, the story about a recently retired founder and CEO who has sold his company and is trying to find meaning in retirement. After a few weeks of skiing and the resulting knee injury, he discovers a local pizza place in the ski resort town that is struggling and after investing a small amount of money with the owner of the establishment, takes over managing the weekend shift and helping to inspire the employees with the same principles he used at his own company.
Although he does offer to give raises for all the employees of one dollar per hour for improved performance, he also implements his management style that he successfully used on his previous company. I’d encourage you to read this very inspiring story, but the summary of his 3 points to drastically improve his performance of his employees were as follows:
- Get to know your employees personally. Learn about their personal lives and talk to them about what is important to them. Don’t do this to manipulate them, but truly care about them as people. Share in their joys and struggles. Don’t let employees feel anonymous.
- Help your employees create metrics that they help select to demonstrate their job performance. Some metrics are easy to identify, for example, in the story that Patrick told, the wait staff earning more tips was a metric. Other metrics are more subjective like: how many times did your customers smile at you. The bottom line is to help your employees buy into the process by letting them help select the metrics and measure them and share their results with the team.
- Show your employees how their job is relevant. It is relevant by serving the customer. It is relevant by serving each other. It is relevant for making the business as a whole successful. Let them know that someone else needs their work effort and without their service other employees or the team would not work.
Patrick calls these three principles by what you don’t want employees to experience at their jobs: Anonymity, Immeasurement and Irrelevance.
These all contribute to Job Misery. My list above is a modification of Patrick’s list in the book with a positive spin contributing to employee engagement. To read a great book summary of the “Truth about Employee Engagement“, check out this Medium article HERE.
What Motivates Us?
Dan Pink also describes some similar principles in his book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us” as:
- Autonomy – the ability to exercise our free will
- Mastery – the ability to set and achieve improvement goals
- Transcendent Purpose – the ability to understand that the small part I have is contributing to a greater purpose that benefits others
Patrick’s list and Dan’s List diverge on the first point and in fairness Dan’s book is about general motivation not just employee engagement, and I think if you ask any slave in the world, the only thing on their mind is being free and until that freedom is attained, nothing else is important because slavery limits a persons options; autonomy is definitely important on the list of what motivates us.
I do think that autonomy is expressed in the second point on Patrick’s list of allowing employees to help identify their own metrics and not be told by management about how they should be evaluated. Systems such as the Net Promoter Score tries to create a system where the customer rates the service they receive and the employees evaluated by such systems often feel like there are unique aspects to servicing their own customers that can’t be reflected in a generic NPS Score. NPS was not created with individual employee-generated metrics in mind.
The bottom line? Give employees a positive work environment that values their unique contributions.
So based on these two lists from Patrick and Dan, how do you increase Learner Engagement?
Getting back to my experience at a Fortune 100 company, we were required to take 40 hours of training every year. We were allowed to pick our own training in conjunction with input from our manager — training that would would benefit both my career and my team. Unfortunately, I heard one too many stories of people doing what was suggested at the beginning of this article, rushing to finish up their 40 hour requirement before the year ended in December, they would launch training videos in the background with the sound muted, and do their real work in the foreground.
The real key is to create meaningful learning activities that benefit employees on the job. It doesn’t have to be a game. It just has to be engaging. And game elements are certainly engaging (see my post “5 Tips to Gamify Anything“), otherwise you wouldn’t spend your free time playing them. Would you sit down with your family to play a board game that was a “bored game”? Sorry, for the pun, but you get the point.
Have you ever been in the “Flow”?
The Flow mental state is when you are so engrossed in an activity that you lose track of time. These mental states are very engaging and deep learning takes place in these states. I have written about it in my Linkedin article entitled, “Flow Theory: Maximize your Learning, Creativity and Productivity“.
If you don’t want to read the whole article this diagram sums it up nicely:
Increasing learner engagement is done by creating learning activities that challenge the learner to new levels of knowledge without creating anxiety in the learner.
Give employees a positive work environment with the information they need to succeed at their job in an engaging and challenging way and employees will gladly take the training and promote it to others as well.
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