5 Ways to Challenge Your Employees

Written for EO by Jessica Thiefels.

When employees aren’t challenged they’re disengaged. Disengaged employees are easily burnt out, not productive, don’t produce quality work, and lack loyalty to their company and job, according to Aventr. When employees are challenged, however, they’re engaged and motivated.

Challenging your employees more often will require a shift in the status quo, from goal-setting to your company culture. Use these ideas to facilitate this move from a disengaged workforce to one that’s engaged and motivated to work harder.

1. Create a Culture of Feedback 

If employees don’t know how they can improve, or where they’re falling short, how will they ever grow in their position? Regular feedback gives you the opportunity to spur growth among employees, challenging them to be better in both their career and their current position.

Creating a culture of feedback, however, can be challenging. If it feels like you’re just adding yet more processes and meetings, reconsider how you’re going about it. Peformance tracking tools such as 15Five make it easier to provide ongoing evaluations and comments. The platform simplifies:

  • Weekly check-ins
  • Best-self review
  • 1-on-1 meeting planning
2. Give Them Harder Projects 

Many employees are largely the same work on a daily basis. While those tasks are undoubtedly important, this repetition can make employees complacent: “There’s a natural tendency for us to gravitate toward what we’re good at doing. Then we get stuck there because we’ve gotten comfortable,” suggests Kristi Hedges, Forbes contributor. She continues, “This kind of stasis can be too much of a good thing and inhibit growth.”

That’s where you come in. Hedges explains that great leaders are always pushing their employees to try things they have potential for. As a leader, your job is to “give them the opportunity to take a risk.”

One way to make this possible is to assign a challenge project, along with their job-related goals, during quarterly reviews. Your employees will have the upcoming quarter to work toward their day-to-day goals, with a regular dose of “I don’t know how to do this!” thanks to their challenge goal.

3. Keep a Running “Challenge List”

This is a fun way to challenge employees more often. Start by asking each team or department to create a challenge list, which includes new projects that need to be tackled or problems that need to be solved. Note that these should not be pressing items.

Employees then turn to their team’s list when there’s a lapse between projects, or they’re having a slow week. Their goal is to find a challenge they can tackle with this free time.

A simple “challenge list” keeps employees solving new problems, while testing their skills and giving them the opportunity to own a project outside of their day-to-day tasks. It also keeps them busy, even when business is slow. Instead of scrolling through their phone, they’ll be focused on fixing a company problem or improving an out-of-date process. 

4. Take Technical Training Into the 21st Century

Your technical teams, from analysts to developers, want hands-on training. What’s more, the right training will keep this technical talent right where you want them: at your company. This is especially true for skilled developers, who can be hard to come by.

“Training is a talent attractant because it serves a dual purpose: It enables developers to do their current jobs better, faster; and it ensures they remain marketable. Savvy developers know they have to continually upgrade their skills in order to remain relevant. An organization offering the latest technical training, in learning delivery methods they enjoy, will not only retain them, that company will reap the benefits of their continuous learning,” according to Developer Academy.

To engage your technical employees, offer a variety of training methods. A 2017 survey found that, of nine options, employees’ top three preferences for learning are: “instructor-led training (ILT), short-clip videos, and mentoring,” according to a press release from the survey authors.

This blend of learning approaches is easier to achieve than you might think. For example, you may set up your training options as:

  • Hold one monthly or quarterly ILT.
  • Purchase a subscription to Lynda, Khan Academy or Udemy for Business, all of which provide employees access to on-demand learning.
  • Start a mentoring program, which encourages employees to learn from one another, while deepening relationships and enhancing overall company culture.
5. Change Your Goal-Setting Process

Goals are critical for providing job focus, motivating employees, and holding them accountable. Yet not all goals are effective. To truly challenge your employees, you need to re-think the goal-setting process you use. Here are a few important ways to do that:

Switch the focus. Goals shouldn’t be centered on “being right” but on finding the best possible solution, suggests Peter Barron Stark, leadership expert. Not only does this remove egos from the situation, but it challenges the employee to get creative, rather than finding a quick, straightforward solutions.

Set goals together. When employees are involved in goal-setting with their manager, they’re 3.6 times more likely to be engaged.

Set HARD goals, not SMART goals. HARD stands for heartfelt, animated, required, and difficult. What does this mean? “Unlike achievable and realistic goals that leave you stuck in the status-quo, HARD Goals light up the brain and encourage great performance. A truly effective goal should push and challenge you to achieve great things,” explains Mark Murphy, author and Forbes contributor.

Challenge to Grow

Use these ideas to create a workplace where employees are challenged to take risks, step outside of their everyday role, and grow in their carreer. Upgrade your training, focus on feedback, or simply re-work your goal-setting process—just be prepared to put in a little work. In the end, everyone will be more successful and engaged, including you.

Read more on employee engagement from other top Octane blog posts. 

Jessica Thiefels is a social media coach and organic marketing consultant. She’s been writing for 10 years and you can find her work on more than 500 websites worldwide, including Virgin, Forbes, MarTech, Score.org and more. Follow her on Twitter@JThiefels and connect on LinkedIn.

Categories: Coaching Company Culture Productivity Technology


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