by Steve Adubato, PhD

Everyone talks about the importance of engaging your employees, particularly in times of uncertainty. It can be an organizational merger, an acquisition, or because budget cutbacks are taking place.

Simply put, engaging your people means to get them actively involved and committed in a passionate way, not just to their own future but to that of the team and the organization. Sounds simple enough, but it takes exceptional leadership and communication. Getting employees actively engaged isn’t something you check off on your "to do" list. It has to be part of your DNA as a leader and it is something you do on a regular basis.

Consider the following tips and tools that will help you better engage your people:

Invest the time. No matter how busy you are with your day-to-day responsibilities, there is no substitute for spending time with individual team members. It’s important that your people know that you care about them and their future. Doing this will communicate the message that they matter. Not doing it, will create distance and barriers. Not doing it for too long runs the risk of having some of your best people walk out the door.

Proactively communicate direct, candid and constructive performance-based feedback on a regular basis. Use e-mail, telephone and face-to-face communication when necessary. Don’t wait. Do it in real time, because most employees are more receptive to receiving immediate feedback, as opposed to waiting until their annual performance review. This doesn’t mean employees will always like what you have to say, but it will get and keep their attention, which is what engagement is all about.

Be consistent in your expectations. Great leaders communicate to employees exactly what they expect and when their people perform at that level, they are rewarded and recognized. Too often, organizational leaders privately decide they are going to change the rules for promotion or advancement without telling employees until after the fact. Doing this will guarantee that your people will become disengaged and disillusioned. Real employee engagement requires open and honest communication that is consistent and clear without changing the rules in the middle of the game — and not letting your people in on it.

Communicate about the bigger picture. Too often, leaders don’t share important information about where things are heading for fear of employees not being able to handle it. Of course big picture communication must be strategic, but when your people are the "last to know" about important organizational news, they wind up feeling out of the loop and disconnected. For people to feel engaged, they must be involved, which requires that leaders take the risk of sharing information about where the organization is going and why.

If you don’t know, say so. Engaging your employees also means sometimes involving them in the decision-making process. You are not expected to have all the answers. Sometimes, as a leader, sharing a difficult question or challenge with employees and asking for their feedback will engage them in identifying a possible solution. Brainstorming is a great way to engage people. Being part of the struggle reminds people that they are a part of something bigger than themselves and increases their investment in the overall effort.

Communicate on multiple platforms. It is important that leaders have engaging, interactive and inclusive meetings, but in an age of social media and omnipresent mobile technology, it is essential that leaders who want to engage employees also use other communication platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Skype, as well as e-mail and texting. It is not a question of how many platforms you use to communicate, but rather that you are using the medium to which your people will be most receptive.