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We at the Engagement Zone sat down with Amanda Atkins, Head of Internal Communications of Slack and judge of the North American Employee Engagement Awards. We discuss her interpretation of employee engagement and what she will be looking for in an award-winning entry.
EZ: What does employee engagement mean to you?
AMANDA: Engagement is what motivates you to not just come to work every day, but to do your best work while you’re there. It’s believing in what the company is trying to achieve and knowing that you have a role in making it happen; it’s a cohesion with your colleagues that you are all in this together.
EZ: What are your three tips for companies looking to drive engagement in their organizations?
– Listen to your people – what do they love? What frustrates them? What inspires them? Pay attention, ask questions, build relationships at all levels so you can keep a strong pulse on the organization outside of formal channels.
– Set clear expectations – Ensure every person in the organization understands the company’s goals and how they map to their everyday work. Marry that with strong values to guide how people work together.
– Be transparent – Tell your employees before you tell the outside world, whether it’s about new products or features or releases or business results or anything else. Give them opportunities to provide input when it makes sense, or at least to ask questions and share feedback. Keep the lines of communication open.
EZ: What do you feel are the biggest pitfalls that companies should look to avoid when executing their engagement strategy?
AMANDA: Engagement is everyone’s responsibility – it can’t be an HR – or internal communications – only effort. Don’t lose sight of your values and culture as the company grows and priorities shift; maintain focus on scaling your engagement strategy along with your company. And always include employees in the strategy – talk to them, get their buy-in, use their ideas!
EZ: Why do employees fail to buy in when companies try to ramp up engagement?
AMANDA: Typically it’s because the strategy does not take into account the reality of the existing company culture. No matter what stage you’re at when you try to ramp up engagement, there’s already a culture in play. You have to know it and understand what makes it work or not work in order to ramp it up effectively. You have to engage employees in determining how to ramp it up and what “better” looks like. Otherwise, an engagement strategy can feel inauthentic and out of touch.
EZ: You’re a judge for the Employee Engagement awards. What will you be looking for in the entries?
AMANDA: I’m looking for work that is truly employee-focused and seeks to create a lasting improvement in the employee experience, with an eye to advancing business results.
EZ: Since you entered the world of work, what’s the best experience you’ve had?
AMANDA: Building the internal communications function at Slack has been the most challenging and rewarding experience of my career. It’s taught me more in one year than I could have imagined and provides the kinds of opportunities to be creative and take risks that are hard to find in most internal communications roles. We still have a long way to go, and I can’t wait to see what happens.
EZ: What’s the worst?
AMANDA: A few years ago, I was working on a rollout of core values within a large, established company. The values were good, the program was good but the executive team insisted on measuring success by checking whether employees could recite the values from memory on a monthly basis. That exercise alone undermined the effectiveness of the program and its authenticity. It was more about memorization than meaning.
EZ: If you could only roll out only one programme, which of the following would you choose and why? Wellbeing, Leadership Development or Recognition.
AMANDA: Leadership development! It positively impacts every person in your organization. Great leaders will recognize their people and foster engagement, and a leadership development program gives potential managers something to aspire to.
EZ: Which person (dead or alive) would you love to be able to come in and speak to your workforce/colleagues?
AMANDA: Michelle or Barack Obama! I can’t imagine more inspiring people to instil a sense of going hard after your goals while staying committed to working together and always doing the right thing.
EZ: Favourite song to crank up after a tough day at work?
AMANDA: Pretty much anything by Beyonce, but right now I’m really into 6 Inch and Formation.
EZ: Best place in the world you have visited?
AMANDA: Within the U.S., my most favorite place is Folly Beach, South Carolina. It’s this amazingly chill little beach town about half an hour outside Charleston. It’s my sanctuary. Outside the U.S., Belize is probably my favorite so far. The water, the sunsets, the food, the people – it’s a magical place.
EZ: The place in the world you’d most like to visit?
AMANDA: I want to go to a panda nursery in China – it’s on my bucket list!