How can we, as leaders, engage employees’ heads, hearts, and hands? Much has been written on the subject of engaging employees however in this article I will endeavor to highlight a number of areas were leaders should strive for excellence in dealing with their people. These will yield engagement.
1. Always Connect: Leaders must demonstrate that they value employees. In the book, “First, Break All the Rules”, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman argue that leader or manager influence usually trumps companies. While company driven programs such as profit sharing and implementing work–life balance initiatives are important, there is much more to the equation. If, for example, the employees’ relationship with their managers is fractured, then no amount of benefits or incentives will persuade them to perform at top levels.
Employee engagement is generally a direct reflection of how employees feel about their relationship with the boss. They look at whether organizations and their leaders walk the talk when they proclaim that, “Our employees are our most valuable asset.” If employees feel that leaders do not believe in this mantra then high levels of disengagement will occur. While they may not flip entirely to disengaged, they may fall in to a middle group that is neither fully engaged nor fully disengaged. They will get the job done adequately but they will fall short of being company advocates for growth and innovation. There is always room for improvement when it comes to engaging employees.
2. Clarity is Critical: Leaders must communicate a clear vision. People want to understand the vision, mission, and big picture plan that senior leadership has for the organization. They also want to understand the goals that leaders or departmental heads have for the division, unit, or team. Success in life and organizations is largely determined by how clear individuals are about their goals and what they really want to achieve. Most importantly, engaging employees need to understand what the organization’s goals are, why they are important, so they know how they can be involved in attainment of those goals.
Clarity about what the organization stands for, what it wants to achieve, and how people can contribute to the organization’s success is not always evident. Make it so clear a 5 year old would understand it. If you put all these variables together, you can really attain your hopes and dreams. Do not use information to intimidate, control, or manipulate people. Use it to teach people how to work together to achieve common goals and thereby gain control over their lives.
3. Appropriately Congratulate: Business leaders can learn a great deal from John Wooden’s approach. Surveys show that, over and over, employees feel that they only receive immediate feedback when their performance is poor, or below expectations. These same employees also report that praise and recognition for strong performance is much less common. Exceptional leaders give recognition, and they do so a lot; they coach and congratulate.
4. Allow Contribution: People really want to know that their input is heard and that they are contributing to the organization’s success in a meaningful way. It is much easier to articulate in settings such as hospitals, hospitality, and educational organizations. However, what about other industries such as the retail industry? Many companies have started the development of a set of measures – known as Total Performance Indicators – which were to gauge how well the company was doing with its employees, customers, and investors. Where the implementation of the measurement system was well implemented, it led to a few startling conclusions.
- First, when the employee understood the connection between their work specific job-relevant behaviors and the strategic objectives of the company, it had a positive impact on job performance.
- Second, the employee’s attitude towards the job and the company had a direct and powerful impact on loyalty and customer service, more so than all the other employee factors combined.
- Third, improvements in employee attitude led to improvements in job-relevant behavior; this, in turn, increased customer satisfaction and an improvement in revenue growth.
In essence, good leaders help people see and feel how they are contributing to the organization’s success and future and it reflects in positive bottom line performance.
5. Flexible Control: Employees value some control over the dynamics of their jobs and leaders can create opportunities for employees to exercise this control.
Do your leaders consult with their employees with regard to their needs? For example, is it possible to accommodate the needs of a mother or an employee with chronic medical issues so that they can comfortably attend to childcare concerns or a medical appointment?
- Are leaders flexible and attuned to the needs of the employees as well as the organization?
- Do leaders involve employees in decision-making, particularly when employees will be directly affected by the decision?
- Do employees have a say in setting goals or milestones that are deemed important?
- Are employees able to voice their ideas, and does leadership show that contributions are valued?
Norman Schwartzkopf retired U.S. Army General, once remarked:
“I have seen competent leaders who stood in front of a platoon and all they saw was a platoon. But great leaders stand in front of a platoon and see it as 44 individuals, each of whom has aspirations, each of whom wants to live, each of whom wants to do good.”
It is critical that a leader allow a feeling of “being in on things,” and of being given opportunities to participate in decision making because it often reduces stress; it creates trust and a culture where people want to take ownership of problems and their solutions.
There are many examples of organizations who implemented an open-book management style and created room for employees to contribute in making decisions. The result was it had a positive effect on engagement and organizational performance.
The initial success of Microsoft, for example, stems in part from Bill Gates’ belief that smart people anywhere in the company should have the power to drive an initiative. Initiatives such as Six Sigma are dependent, in part, on the active participation of employees on the shop floor.
6. Encourage Collaboration: Studies and common sense show that, when employees work in teams that have the trust and cooperation of their team members, they outperform individuals and teams, which lack good relationships.
Great leaders are natural team builders; they create an environment that fosters trust and collaboration. Surveys also indicate that being concerned about and respected by colleagues is a strong predictor of employee engagement. Thus, a continuous challenge for leaders is to rally individuals to collaborate on organizational, departmental, and group goals, while encouraging them to pursue some of their own self-improvement goals.
7. Foster Credibility: Leaders must strive to maintain a company’s reputation and demonstrate high ethical standards because they are the defacto standard, whether they like it or not. It comes with the role of being a leader.
People want to be proud of their jobs, their performance, and their organization. When people are at home or at social functions the question of what they do for a living is bound to come up in conversation. If they respect their leaders, the company ethics and quality products they will proudly endorse and support it in these arenas, however if the reverse is true then the silence is deafening. Only leaders being credible in all things within the organization, small and large, can accomplish this.
8. Build & Exhibit Confidence: Good leaders help create confidence in a company by being exemplars of high ethical and performance standards. To demonstrate the problem of destroyed confidence, all you need to do it visit Wikipedia and search on “List of Corporate Collapses and Scandals”; to see that there is an issue with integrity, trust, and confidence. Since 2000 there have been 27 major collapses resulting in insolvency in nine different countries. Unfortunately, 14 of the 27 failures were in the US. There were also 53 scandals that did not result in insolvency but did result in a lack of trust and loss of market position.
Recent issues faced by GM regarding a simple item such as an ignition switch failure has caused damage to the reputation of the company and the confidence that consumer and employees have in the leadership. All new leadership is faced with the major challenge of regaining public trust and fostering employee engagement.
9. Career Management: Leaders should provide challenging and meaningful work with opportunities for career advancement. Most people want to do new things in their job.
- Does your organization provide job rotation for their top talent?
- Are people encouraged to develop stretch goals?
- Do leaders hold people accountable for progress?
- Are jobs empowered with solid duties and responsibilities?
Good leaders challenge employees; but at the same time, they must instill the confidence that the challenges can be met. Not giving people the knowledge and tools to be successful is unethical and de-motivating; it is also likely to lead to stress, frustration, and, ultimately, lack of engagement. If people feel, there is opportunity for change then confidence grows but it is based on accountability, collaboration, initiative, and trust. All four elements create cornerstones of a strong foundation of one’s career.
Leaders, coaches, consultants, and academics have argued that competitive advantage can be gained by creating an engaged workforce. The ideas that that I present above are a compelling case why leaders need to make employee engagement one of their priorities. Leaders should actively try to identify the level of engagement in their organization, find the reasons behind the lack of full engagement, strive to eliminate those reasons, and implement behavioral strategies that will facilitate full engagement. These efforts should be ongoing. Employee engagement is hard to achieve and if not sustained by leaders it can wither with relative ease. We can help you achieve these tasks; visit our web site at TLG-RWME.us.