The most important thing for success is having a great and talented team. But it’s not enough to hire your team and leave them to their job -- if you want their best work, you have to continuously engage.
Figuring out how to do that sometimes feels more like art than science. One thing I find incredibly useful is to apply best practices and ideas from other industries to my own company. Here are some examples from the tech world on how to foster engagement, including some from my current company, MongoDB:
1. Engagement starts with recruiting. Your company won’t go anywhere unless you recruit and retain the right team. This should be your top priority, so interview someone every day. While a person’s experience is important, having the right cultural fit is more valuable -- finding an intelligent candidate who understands the vision, has a "roll-up-your-sleeves, let-me-at-it" mentality and hits it off with the entire team is key.
2. Less admin can mean more engagement. Netflix has pioneered some interesting ideas in the HR space over the years. Most of them have to do with eliminating administration -- basically, if you trust your employees enough to hire them, you should treat them like adults. Of course, this also works best if your team is excited to go to work! At MongoDB, we don't have set office hours, a set vacation maximum and or a set number of sick days they are allowed.
We also make things simpler with expense reports using Expensify. Expense reporting shouldn't take employees away from their core responsibilities. Employees are provided with a flat stipend per diem for food when traveling, instead of asking them for itemization.
3. Engagement is interactive. Get your people talking to each other -- often. This is one reason I am a big fan of “open-plan” office environments. They encourage interaction. I sit right in the middle of the team, and I enjoy the direct access it gives me to multiple spontaneous interactions that happen every day.
Another tactic is to cater lunch. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or daily. But once in a while, do it. When the food shows up, everyone from different teams and departments will converge.
4. A collaborative environment is an engaged one. Invest in your space -- but not just with money. Your space is crucial to creating a culture unique to your company, and it can be an attractive tool for your recruiters. We’ve spent a lot of time evaluating what makes for a good office environment, and while it might be nice to play ping pong at the office, we asked: what would make the office a great place to get work done? In addition to the “open-plan” style I mentioned before, we wanted our space to be quiet so our engineers could concentrate.
Because of this, we hired an acoustical engineer to consult during our buildout. We also looked into ergonomics and installed adjustable-height desks to allow people to sit or stand. The frequency that people stand or adjust them has been interesting, and we’ve received great feedback.
Put a whiteboard in every conference room, and make it big. While whiteboards are nothing new, this is something that can be useful in any business to encourage innovation.
5. Make engagement easy and use technology that is already available. There are a lot of new cloud-based (“software-as-a-service”) technologies that are helpful without any need to set up software or servers.
Consider email. At MongoDB, we use Google Apps for email, making appointments and saving files. We also use videoconferencing or webinar software (Vidyo, Citrix or WebEx), so we can have regular “town hall” meetings with our offices around the world. There may be more elaborate technologies, with richer feature sets, but we find that when technology is easy, most people are happy to use it.
6. Engagement through education. We’re seeing significant interest from our employees in online education -- what is often referred to as “massive online open courses” (MOOCs). We’ve built MongoDB University using the edX platform to not only help our community learn how to use our database, but to also onboard our staff internally. When people feel they are growing and learning in the job, they stay engaged.
7. Transparency fosters engagement. Finally, communicate and be transparent with your team. If things are bad, tell them what’s going wrong and how the challenge will be addressed. Try hard to over-communicate. For example, within a day or two after a board meeting, we have an all-company meeting to share key highlights that were shared with the board.
These are just a few ideas that we have used to create a culture of engagement. It may seem like a daunting task to engage your employees while also working to ensure the success of your business, but it is absolutely crucial to spend significant time on both. What we see is the more engaged people are, the more dynamic, creative and productive they are. Try some of these in your organization -- you’ll probably be surprised to see what a more engaged team is capable of achieving.
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