11 ways to create real employee engagement from the ground up – Barefoot Cellars 

The founders of Barefoot Cellars, the company that transformed the image of American wine from staid and unimaginative to fun, light-hearted and hip. When they started their company in the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse, they knew almost nothing about winemaking, the wine business or leading a company.

True engagement is a natural, organic extension of a company’s culture, and people can’t be cajoled, tricked or bribed into feeling it. There just aren’t any shortcuts.
They learned early on that growth and success depended on employees: how hard they worked, the ideas they had, how committed they were when times got tough, the types of relationships they formed with customers, and so much more. Keeping their employees inspired and happy, and honestly acknowledging how much they appreciated their loyalty and efforts, were some of their top priorities as business owners.

On the back of their success they have shared 11 tactics to help business owners create and increase employee engagement in their organisations.

1. First, ask yourself: Would I work for me?

The following questions should be answered truthfully on a regular basis

• Do I treat my employees’ labour as a commodity? Do I try to figure out how little they will work for? Or do I see my people as an asset, rewarding them for performance and acknowledging their achievements?
• Do I acknowledge producers publicly, or am I afraid they will ask for a raise?
• Do I think that giving time off will cause me to increase or lose production?
• Do I see medical and retirement benefits as a cost or as an investment in long-term stability?

2. Hire Smart

A good rule of thumb is to avoid hiring solely based on someone’s technical skill set. You can always teach that. Instead, hire people with foundational qualities you can build on: integrity, enthusiasm, a willingness to learn, a sense of humour and a sincere interest in your business, to name a few.

3. Go overboard with orientation

To the extent where each employee knows exactly how the company generates income for their wages to be paid.

4. Share the wealth (as long as people are helping create it, that is)

To create true engagement, you must tie money, employees’ personal success and the future of your company inextricably together.

5. Give more days off

Employees regularly put in extra hours to finish their work before the weekend. They didn’t want to take their unfinished projects with them, or worse, worry about them while they were on holiday. And when they returned, they were recharged, refreshed and ready to get back to work. This beats the myth that days off will lead to productivity deficits.
A Friday off once a month that fell outside official holidays relieved much of the long-haul tension that builds between the official holidays. Now the work periods were never more than six weeks without a break. Attitudes and morale improved accordingly. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, Barefoot Days created major employee engagement. Our people loved working for a company that told them to take more vacation, and, as a result, they tended to be incredibly loyal and hardworking.

6. Be a mentoring matchmaker

King Arthur had Merlin. Harry Potter had Professor Dumbledore. And Luke Skywalker had Obi-Wan Kenobi. While your business operates in the real world instead of in the fictional realm, you can still learn a valuable lesson from these famous pairs: Mentoring works. When a new employee comes on board, try to match him up with a more experienced worker (preferably in the same department or division) who can advise, teach, challenge and encourage him.

7. Say “thank you.”

In a recent Gallup survey, 57 percent of disengaged employees said they felt ignored at work. Well, isn’t that what employees want—to not be micromanaged, and to be left alone to do their jobs in peace without commentary from management? Not exactly. While nobody wants to hear a constant stream of criticism or anxiously delivered “suggestions” from the boss, workers do want to know that they’re doing well. According to Timothy Egan, a columnist for The New York Times, “regular praise…would go a long way toward getting the checked-out to check back in.”

8. Allow employees to make mistakes 

Employees who are afraid of doing something wrong will never live up to their full potentials or take any unnecessary risks—including the kind that pays off big. They’ll also feel like children who dread displeasing a parent, instead of valued partners in their company’s success. Your employees shouldn’t be afraid to make or report mistakes (unless, of course, they involve bad behaviour or an inability to perform, which should not be overlooked).

9. Observe some simple office courtesies.

For example, saying, “Have that report to me by the end of the day,” can have a very different effect on your employee than the similar, “Would you please have that report to me by the end of the day?” By using only three extra words, you have transformed an order to a subordinate into a request of a valued colleague—and your employee’s attitude about working for your company is likely to reflect the difference.

10. Tap into your values

This was a concept that was applied to Barefoot from the start, and with great success. They made it clear that they wanted to use any growth and success Barefoot Wine might experience to help worthy causes.

11. Have heart

Your attitude and outlook will affect those of your employees. If you come to work each day excited about what your company does, optimistic about its future and happy to spend time with your team, there’s a good chance your employees will feel the same way. On the flip side, if you’re a grumbling, grouchy, pessimistic Scrooge, your employees probably won’t be able to jump ship soon enough.

So remember, contrary to many popular notions, creating employee engagement is not about taking your people out to lunch or scheduling team-building activities. It’s about connecting them to your organisation’s values, inspiring them to work toward its goals, giving them the tools they need and treating them as valued team members.

The full version of this article was originally posted on bedtimes magazine and is not owned by Engage for Success.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey started the Barefoot Wine brand in their laundry room in 1986, made it into a nationwide bestseller, and successfully sold the brand to E&J Gallo in 2005. They now share their experience and innovative approach to business as consultants, authors, speakers, mentors and workshop leaders. Their book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine brand, chronicles the history and lessons learned building the popular Barefoot Wine brand.

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