The above question was presented to me as part of the evaluation process for my suitability for being the CTO of a company in Washington, DC.
I will answer this question in the context of technology workers. My guess is that similar strategy may also work for other creative and knowledge workers but I do not want to make any such claim here.
There are two parts to what we want to achieve here: employee engagement and employee’s ongoing trust in the company vision. First lets focus on the employee engagement. Here I would like to draw up on my previous article about how to motivate technology workers to produce more and assert that very similar methods also work for employee engagement. There is an additional contextual situation here about people being stretched too thin and that we are not able to hire more people due to shortage of talent. Similar situation would be there when there is lack of funds even if there was no shortage of talent in the market. The strategy for keeping employees engaged would differ in the two cases. My answer here applies to the first case only.
Assuming we are doing everything my previous article asks for and we are still seeing less than expected results due to the additional contextual situation, I suggest that we draw from my silicon valley experience. Companies in silicon valley are all very familiar with this problem and they solve it by offering multitude of non-monetary perks to employees. And it works quite well. You can read a lot of articles about these methods on the web but I will enumerate a few here for the sake of completeness of this article and to save you the trouble of doing another internet search. Some of the tactics used are the following:
- Offer free lunch to employees.
- Provide a health club and/or arcade like facility on site.
- Provide free dinner to employees who work late in the evening.
- Provide free training for profession growth.
- Reimburse tuition and material expenses for taking evening classes at local colleges and universities.
- Encourage employees to attend industry relevant conferences and speak at those as well.
- Organize company picnics and other fun activities periodically.
- Sponsor various sports activities where employees participate, for example sponsor a local marathon or triathlon meet and offer additional goodies to employees who participate wearing company logo shirts etc.
- Have a company a softball team and conduct matches between various groups within the company.
Please note that you don’t need to do all of the above but you would need to do some of the above for sure.
Now lets address the second part of the question viz. how to keep employees continue to believe in the corporate vision when they are stretched too thin and there is a shortage of talent.
This is where the leader’s/manager’s personal charisma is the most important factor. If the leader of the group is not able to speak enthusiastically about the company mission to the employees s/he will fail to achieve this goal. Enthusiasm is very contagious. So the first and foremost thing to do is to make sure that you yourself believe in the company mission. If you have any doubts, talk to your superiors and peers and come fully on board with the idea. Prepare a short speech that you can draw up on when talking to your team members one on one or in a group. During your daily/weekly/monthly meetings with your group members, make sure that you mention the importance of the mission and how important the employees’ work is for the success of the mission. Also acknowledge their importance in general.
Despite all this if there are still be a few employees who fail to meet your expectations, make sure they are aware of it. Give them time to improve. Even then if they are not able to meet your expectations, do not hesitate to eliminate them. When you do eliminate a team member make sure you have a talk with the rest of the team about it soon there after and explain the reason. If done right, this will improve the performance of the rest of the team.