THE BLOG
12/11/2016 08:27 pm ET Updated Dec 12, 2017

Boosting Employee Engagement: All You Need is ICE.

If you came to this page thinking: "This can't be right...", your suspicions were absolutely justified: Of course we're not talking about actual frozen water. "ICE" is an acronym for the three main pillars employee engagement rests on: initiative, challenge, and enthusiasm. If you want to help your employees be more engaged, you need to enable them to develop and grow those three qualities. Here's how.

1. INITIATIVE
This is a quality that cannot be ordered or even explicitly expected because the nature of initiative is that it's self-motivated, without any external triggers. What you as a manager or HR consultant can do, though, is ensure an environment in which initiative can thrive:

• Allow failure and avoid blame:
The fear of negative consequences in case something goes wrong is what stifles initiative more than anything else. Communicate to employees that it's okay to fail. Not all ideas work out, no matter how great they seemed at the beginning.

• Trust people, don't control them:
If you want to enable initiative, you need to learn to let go. In other words: If you're a micro-manager, don't expect your subordinates to take initiative any time soon.

• Give positive feedback:
Initiative starts out as a delicate little plant. You can help it grow stronger by praising employees for having shown initiative - no matter if the outcome was successful or not.

2. CHALLENGE
This is about giving people the time and space to set achievable goals and reach them on their own. There are three critical organizational imperatives for enabling challenge:

• The ability to perceive relevant gaps between what is and what could be: Encourage people to challenge the status quo, to always question if a product feature, an internal process, a method is really as good as it will ever get.

• The knowledge and acceptance of a common organizational purpose:
Challenge needs a clear direction. Does your company have a vision that is easy to understand and to follow?

• Leaders who appreciate being challenged: Employees are more likely to perceive challenge as normal and positive if they their managers challenge themselves and appreciate being challenged by others, across hierarchical boundaries. By receiving time and space for challenge, employees feel they can use and test their strengths. The experience of succeeding at challenges, or of failing and persevering, is a powerful driver for improvement, innovation, and productivity.

3. ENTHUSIASM
How do you make someone become enthusiastic about their work? Hire a "feel-good manager"? Well, that may have a positive impact on your corporate culture in general, but in order to support work-related enthusiasm, you need to go beyond that:

• Give people the opportunity to follow their individual interests and excel at their individual strengths. Use regular assessment interviews to identify what those interests and strengths are and how they can be used to achieve the company's goals. Offer training and development if people feel they need additional skills do perform better.

• Furthermore, a common purpose (e.g. a strong company vision, as described above) can instill an additional sense of meaningfulness to everyone's work - and that's invaluable for enthusiasm. What's more: A common purpose also ensures that enthusiasm is focused towards a bigger goal, that it's not wasted for something completely unrelated to the company strategy, and therefore can live on for a long time.

With these three building blocks, employee engagement can be unlocked. As usual, it's easier said (or written) than done - and in practice, in can be hard to create time and space for all of these qualities. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. And if all your efforts do lead to people being more engaged than before, it will most likely boost your own engagement as well, wouldn't you think? Another great article to boost employee engagement is Transforming Your Leadership with Mindfulness - have a look!

If you would like to read more about the topic of employee engagement, then download the Premium eBook The power of Initiative, Challenge and Enthusiasm by Robert J. Engelbrecht. Also, have a look at our website bookboon.com where you'll find many more eBooks.