HR professionals at every company are striving for high employee engagement levels. The data has shown us the value of high levels – lower turnover, higher productivity, greater innovation, and more. So what leads to high engagement? There are many answers (and business services!) to choose from. As with most challenges, there are many ways to approach the solution. In my storied experience, several factors trigger high engagement: trust, transparency, trying new ideas. These three “Ts” work in combination. By themselves, they help but are most effective together.

Why do I call out these three? Personal experience. At the company I work for, engagement is high and climbing higher because of trust, transparency, and trying new ideas. Easy to write about, more challenging to do. My employer is a family-owned company, five generations of ownership, so it is quite stable. Core values are clear from Day one of onboarding, and they are visibly adhered to.Having that visibility is not the exclusive property of family-owned businesses, but, in my experience, it is easier to achieve because of the strong emphasis on long-term business strategy versus short term results for Wall Street and human capital investment commitments.

As pillar teams work on their focus areas, sponsors are assigned from the beginning to be sounding boards and help remove obstacles. This is especially critical to the success of global pillar teams

One of our core values is mutual respect. This is practiced as listening to other points of view from any function, region, gender, or generation within the organization. Hierarchical levels are not obstacles to communication or collaboration. The CEO will sit down to lunch with any table in the cafeteria (at least before COVID-induced remote work). All topics are fair game. Functional heads have Town Halls (in person before COVID, via Zoom now) when sharing important business/organization updates. As we grow, we are careful to preserve and evolve our culture, not diluting it with new hires having very different company culture expectations. We are far from perfect, but, through the feedback of real-time global pulse surveys, we see our gaps and work on them. We consciously reinforce trust, respect, and transparency at the global and local levels. Special teams are formed locally and at the global level to address the areas of opportunity revealed in the surveys. These teams are great examples of trying out new ideas, new solutions.

The “secret sauce”, I believe, of our success with the three “Ts” is the creation of pillar teams. For years, my employer has used pillar teams as a post-survey tool that generates impressive engagement and tangible results. Gaps with global implications, like outdated systems impacting efficiencies or silos or career paths, have global pillar teams assigned to them. Gaps unique to a location or region have local pillar teams. At both global and local levels, there is an HR team member coordinating team formation and progress. The pillar teams are a cross-functional/regional/demographic mix of those with passion around the topic, high potential associates, and subject matter experts. They work on their focus area for 6-12 months, bringing forth recommendations and/or improvement actions. For global pillar teams, this work also brings executive team exposure, a great add to their career development.

As pillar teams work on their focus areas, sponsors are assigned from the beginning to be sounding boards and help remove obstacles. This is especially critical to the success of global pillar teams. Typically 1-2 executive team members are sponsors. Recommendations can be vetted by and socialized with them before approaching the full executive team. Sponsors are also champions for proposed improvements. These improvements have been numerous over the years. Summer work hours, improved engineering processes, global “We are ONE” program, and moving from annual performance reviews to quarterly performance check-in discussions are a few examples we are proud of. The global pillar teams share their results globally during our Global Business Updates. Doing so keeps a clear linkage between issues shared in our pulse surveys and actions taken. Employees know their comments are taken seriously.

Many companies have their own “secret sauce” recipes for employee engagement. In sharing my employer’s story, I hope it gives you ideas to tinker with your own recipe. And don’t let working from home slow down your efforts. High engagement is possible via Zoom or face-to-face; it is part of the digital pivot and honoring trust, transparency, and trying new ideas.