The Great Re-engagement

The current focus on the fluidity in the workforce offers a chance for all of to reflect on what engagement can and should look like at work — both individually and organisationally. Conversations, learning and experiments offer the chance for change that sticks.

The ‘great resignation’ was a familiar expression in 2021, Job vacancies in the UK and US, both hit record highs and with many reasons driving the shifts: furlough programmes created time for reflection, pandemic based stress affected many of us and the collective experience remote working opened many minds to the potential of being productive from anywhere.

Sociologists and economists continue to share deeper drivers behind this shift; but at a personal level most will recognise that simple sense of re-evaluation, and the pause the pandemic afforded us to reflect on our priorities, what we want and need from work and the ways we ‘balance’ our work with our lives.

And having thought about these needs and values, it makes sense that we’re keen to work somewhere that’s well aligned to them.

Smart, creative organisations are treating ‘the great resignation’ as a cue for leaders to start purposeful and positive conversations in teams; intentionally re-examining their culture, purpose and values, re-calibrating their employee offer — and in doing so, reframing this point in time as a ‘great re-engagement’.

Quitting, most economists will tell you, is usually an expression of optimism (“we can do better”); and so with a yellow hat positively adorned — here are some ideas and reflection questions to explore in your teams as the year gets underway, with continually improving team engagement in mind.

Ask — what’s working well right now? And write it down

Most of us are familiar with the idea of an exit interview (although in reality they’re often skipped) — as a way to capture insights into someone’s experiences of their time in the team, held at the point they’re about to move on. And, given our innate negativity biases, there’s a tendency with these interviews to dwell on what we’ve learned wasn’t working.

Distinct from a regular 1-1, proactive leaders can instigate timely and positive conversation around what’s engaging current colleagues in their roles right now. What’s working really well around here? What are we culturally proud of? What makes us, us? How are we capturing it? How are we sharing it? How are we encouraging more of it?

Leaders should get curious, embarking on a ‘listening tour’, talking to team-mates directly or in small groups — and treating it as an opportunity to flex those soft-skill-superpowers.

In an early episode of the excellent Eat Sleep Work Repeat podcast, Bruce Daisley spoke to innocent co-founder Richard Reed on his approach to these kinds of close and curious conversations when it came to defining innocent’s values (more on that below), and how he used the sharing and eating of cheese as a way to make sitting down to talk feel culturally on-point. What cultural tropes or touch points could you factor in to support facilitating these kinds of conversations among your team?

As well as learning stories of success, finding positive patterns and flexing those questioning and listening skills; you’ll show colleagues that all voices count when it comes to capturing what’s working, and that good practices should be recognised, celebrated and shared.

Socially sense-check your purpose and values

When we talk to our partners about what they’re learning from exit interviews, common themes emerge. One that’s especially pertinent to the motivation for moving on is purpose and values alignment (managers frequently postponing 1-1s is another)

A lack of clarity on how someone’s role ties into the broader purpose of an organisation — coupled with a disconnect between someone’s personal values and perceived organisational ones — are big drivers of dissatisfaction, and offer up a clear opportunity for reflection and re-engagement.

Talking about purpose and values doesn’t need to be a lofty or nebulous exercise. At You Can Now we use the simple ‘To….. So That……’ archetype to lay down what we’re trying to achieve and why, continually reviewing it as a work in progress.

With a working sense of purpose, and some collectively defined values, to hand, a conversation facilitated specifically around behaviours, as examples of them in action, is a great way to bring them to life in a way that feels real, recognisable and more than just ‘words on a wall’. An important value at YCN is to ‘make it personal’. Behaviours that support that could be asking someone how to pronounce their name, or keeping clear notes on a conversation with a potential partner to review ahead of a follow up call. and it’s powerful to be able to continually call them out, and share them with others.

For people managers, purposefully linking team members’ behaviours back to recognised values, within their 1-1s is an effective way to drive culturally attuned performance, mitigating the idea of ‘values incongruity’ so often cited when people move on. How does this sound? “I noticed in the meeting with the sales team on Wednesday that you asked some really powerful questions that showed you’d really taken on board the core ideas in the presentation — a great example of ‘Constantly Curious’ in action there.”

Recruit and onboard around purpose and values. Start as you mean to go on.

And with this greater collective clarity around purpose and values comes the opportunity to more intentionally onboard your newest team members around what’s important culturally. More energy expended at the point of entry will then likely be evident in the tone of any future exit.

Organisations set on great engagement think about the journey a team member will make; from interview to offer, from first day to first thirty days and onwards to becoming alumni. And they intentionally map the moments where purpose and values will come to life, creating memorability and actionability within them. At YCN we should be asking ourselves — how can we bring ‘constantly curious’ to life on someone’s very first day?

Reflect on how you might better bring purpose, values and ideas critical to your culture within the onboarding journey. What questions are you including within the interview process to reflect them? If you were to talk to one of the newest recruits in your team today about the organisation’s purpose and values, and where they’ve come to life in their journey so far, what do you think they’d say? And what would you like them to say?

The current focus on the fluidity in the workforce offers a chance for all of to reflect on what engagement can and should look like at work — both individually and organisationally. Conversations, learning and experiments offer the chance for change that sticks.