Engage non-desk employees to become change leaders [Guest Blog]

May 9, 2018 - 6 minute read

By Karen J. Hewitt - CEO of Leaderlike Ltd and author of “Employee Confidence – the new rules of Engagement”

Non-desk employees work in a variety of locations – manufacturing plants, construction sites, working ships, aeroplanes and buses. They may work alongside many other people, or be lone workers, such as delivery or taxi drivers. Whatever their job role, and whatever the location, the common denominator is lack of regular access to a desk and computer, and constant movement.

For both these reasons, non-desk employees often find themselves distanced from the company they work for, with a smartphone their only way of receiving company news, and sometimes even this doesn’t work, due to their remote location, irregular shift patterns, or the demands of their job role limiting its use. And when we consider that non-desk employees are often working in the harshest physical and often high hazard environments, these employees are probably those that most need to be connected to home base, where vital company messages can give them the support they need.

Engaging with non-desk employees means protecting as well as connecting

Companies with non-desk employees have a big dilemma – they have a duty to protect and safeguard them, especially given the nature of their working environments, but how do they do this when as well as being arguably the most “at-risk” employees from a Health and Safety point of view, they are also the most inaccessible. Indeed non-desk employees often work in their own micro-environments, where subcultures exist, and are hard to reach and influence.

The answer is not to dictate the 'what' and the 'how' to non-desk employees, but to give them the 'why', the 'big vision', and to inspire them in a way that motivates them to create their own sub-cultures that keep all within them healthy and safe every day. When we do this, not only are our non-desk employees protected, but also connected, and aligned with the culture of the company as a whole.

All communications imparted to non-desk employees therefore needs to not only consider the physical communications barriers, but also how to impart messages that are inspiring and memorable. This ensures that they influence behaviour long after the last company message they receive, as well as when they are faced with hazardous working environments and difficult decisions that may put their and others lives at risk.

3 key things to consider when engaging with non-desk employees

When engaging with non-desk employees to ensure they are both protected and connected, there are three key things to consider:

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So how does this translate into practical measures for engaging with non-desk employees, in a way that keeps them both protected and connected?

Firstly, you cannot dictate your company messages to your non-desk employees – they operate far too independently, and cannot wait for company approval to take essential everyday actions and decisions.

Be transformational rather than transactional

The tone of your messages needs to be transformational rather than transactional, with regular repetition of an ambitious and inspiring vision for the company, and challenging each and every one of your non-desk employees personally to play their part in it, in their own unique way. Being transformational also means inspiring them to adopt certain behaviours, even in the absence of company communications, and this happens when your messages combine both logic and emotion.

Most companies only communicate with logic, but it is emotion that influences the brain to take action. Emotion, therefore, influences behaviour. When you change the tone of your messages to non-desk employees from transactional to transformational, each message will last longer in the employee’s mind, and be more likely to influence behaviour. When the number of messages you get out to non-desk employees may be limited, you need to make every message count!

Instil belief and capability up front, then reinforce regularly

To get your non-desk employees inspired around your company vision, give them a toolkit to be the change leaders in their own environments. Get them together before they go out to site, and give them the right training. Give them communication and leadership tools, and instil belief as well as capability. Give them the mind-set to be proactive, and the personal responsibility to keep themselves connected.

When you instil belief as well as capability, through one-off intensive training sessions before they go off site, then all communications after that time only need to reinforce and remind, through the use of inspiring and challenging questions, such as:

What will you do today to keep your co-workers safe?

How will you make your site a reference for our company culture?

When your messages ask powerful questions of your non-desk employees, you become their virtual coach, and they become change leaders. A strong vision will weather many storms, and with the belief and capability to enact it every day, non-desk employees will respond to their virtual coach, stay protected and connected, ask for the information and support they need, and defend company culture all by themselves. And when they do this, both they and the company have the world in their hands.

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Karen J. Hewitt

Written by Karen J. Hewitt

Karen J. Hewitt is CEO of Leaderlike Ltd, a company specialising in Employee Engagement for Culture Change and the delivery of change leader training, particularly to non-desk employees.