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Keeping employees engaged during tough times

'Coach Kriengsak, I want to discuss how to engage my employees during tough times," Varit tells me.

"Khun Varit, what do you have in mind?"

"The other day I took a walk around the various departments at our company. I saw three categories of employees: the first group is very passionate and highly engaged with their work; the second group is moderately engaged while the third group appeared quite stressed. I want to help the second and third groups to become more like the first."

"Why do you think the second and third groups are not as highly engaged as the first one?"

"It's hard to say because it seems to happen across all departments."

"Khun Varit, you've been at the company for quite a while. What reasons do you think are behind the low engagement?"

"Coach, those in the second group might feel that the current crisis our business is experiencing is not their problem."

"For the third group, some might feel that they won't be able to deliver on their targets for this year."

"Which group do you want to focus on first?"

"Well, for the first group, we just let them do their work. For the third group, I think that if they're feeling a bit uncomfortable it might motivate them and could help improve the company's overall performance. But for the second group, if we can make them feel more energised, there will be a lot of impact on our company."

"Khun Varit, let's do some brainstorming. What would it take to make this second group of people more energised?"

"I think we can use the 3 F's strategy."

"What do they stand for?"

"Fun, Fear and Friend. Fun is self-explanatory.

"We can use the Fear strategy by explaining to people what will happen if the company is in bad shape. The Friend strategy involves asking people to reach out to their friends to seek best practices in employee engagement in other organisations.

"Do you think this sounds silly, Coach?"

"Not at all, Khun Varit, this is good. We're just brainstorming. What else can you think of?"

"I think we can do job rotation for this particular group. And for some veteran high performers, I think it's time for them to share their expertise. I could assign them to be mentors for the more inexperienced employees."

"Now you have several ideas. Let's make a shortlist of practical ones. Which ones do you think can be implemented and also have high impact?"

"Fun is not appropriate to the current situation. Fear is also not the right tone in our culture. So the workable ones are: seeking best practices in engagement from friends in other companies, job rotation, and mentoring"

"How do you plan to carry these out?"

"I will assign our HR vice-president to take ownership of job rotation, and our PR chief to handle the best practices project. I will take charge of mentoring myself. We can run all three projects in parallel at the same time."

"What could go wrong?"

"Each project has a unique risk. The best practices project might consume too much time. To prevent that, we need to come up with a clear objective, a proper process and be well prepared for the execution. To do this effectively, I need to assign the VP of sales to support the PR chief.

"For job rotation, the risk is cooperation from line managers. Since the VP of operations oversees the largest number of people, I need to assign him to work with the VP of HR.

"For mentoring, there is a lot of detail work in terms of administration and training. I will ask the training manager and my personal assistant to support me on this."

"That sounds like a good plan. What else are you concerned about?"

"Coach, I know that you've had experience in implementing mentoring programmes. What lessons can you share with a rookie like me?"

"Khun Varit, here are some insights:

- Chemistry is crucial for both mentor and mentee to create a good match.

- Make the programme voluntary, not mandatory.

- Use a psychometric test as a starting point for both parties to learn about each other's traits.

- Prepare some potential topics for mentoring, such as leadership, presentation skills, adjusting to the new normal, emotional intelligence, or career planning.

- Prepare coaching skills for mentors.

- Encourage mentees to be proactive in seeking appointments instead of being passive or kreng-jai.

- Hold a mentoring clinic to support the mentors."

"That's very helpful, Coach. Let's follow up in our next session."

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under the brand TheCoach. He can be reached at