Engagement Revisited

I know I have written about employee engagement before, but I thought this month would be a good time to revisit that topic.

What is employee engagement? A workplace approach that results in employees caring about their results and providing discretionary effort toward the organization’s goals.

Why is employee engagement so important?
1. Our success depends on it. We can’t rely on technology and systems alone to generate the results we need. We must have people that care. People that care about one another’s safety. People that care about taking care of a customer. People that care about running a profitable business. When people stop caring and providing discretionary effort, it’s just a matter of time before we get what we don’t want.

2. It’s just the right thing to do. Caring about the people we lead, communicating with the people we lead, listening to the people we lead, and holding one another accountable will always be the right thing to do.

So how do we drive engagement?

First of all, here’s what doesn’t work:
1. Do quarterly one to ones discussions and go on managing as you always did. While one to ones discussions are great, they are just one element that an engaging leaders uses. A 15 minute discussion once a quarter won’t get you much if that’s all you are doing.

2. Work on your prior year action plan once a month. Here again, action plans are fine, but they are just one element. Furthermore, a once a month focus won’t have much impact.

3. Rely on one leader to be “engaging” while others continue to manage differently. People are either engaged or not engaged oftentimes based on their direct supervisor/leader.

4. Stop holding people accountable and become a very passive, friendly management team that tries to be everyone’s best friend. Engagement has nothing to do with passivity or lack of accountability. Engagement should be based on leaders looking out for what’s best for the team. Passivity and lack of accountability will never be in a group’s best interest.

Here are a few suggestions that do work:
1. Communicate. Communication is the foundation of any engaged team. People need to know what’s important, know how they are doing, know how they can help, and have an opportunity to share concerns and ideas.

a. Communicate timely and often. Stick to what’s really important, keep it simple, and ensure everyone understands (validate by asking questions).

b. Communicate in a variety of means. Verbal communication in large groups can be effective for some message. Verbal communication in one to ones or small groups is better for other messages. Visual communication through charts, postings, pictures, etc. can be effective also.

c. Communicate by asking questions and listening to those being led. When we ask questions, we value what the people think and not just what they do. People want to be valued.

d. Always make time for your people.

2. Managers and supervisors need to lead. Those are two very distinct roles that can often be confused. Managers and supervisors get things done through others. That’s what they do. That’s important and always will be. Leaders go a step further and have influence.

a. Managers/supervisors tell people what they need to do. Leaders go a step further and explain why. Leaders aren’t just looking to get something done once, they want to influence others to continue to execute by knowing the reason for the activity, etc.

b. Leaders that are committed to an engagement approach realize it’s a commitment, not a convenience. They engage employees daily in the operation. Engagement is not something you turn on and turn off. People don’t respond to inconsistency.

c. Leaders are open about their objective. They obviously care about the people they lead. The leader communicates that he/she is making decisions in everyone’s long-term best interest and that they will hold everyone accountable for executing in a manner consistent with that focus. It’s not about what the boss says, it’s about what’s in everyone’s best interest. If that sounds like it takes time to gain that level of understanding, it does, but it is well worth the time. Yes, credibility of the leader is essential.

d. Leaders’ recognize that engaging their employee’s is one of their essential means of achieving success. It’s not an HR program that gets talked about once a year. It is a daily approach that will enable success.

Those are just a few ideas. Where do you get started? It starts first by realizing that you are responsible for the well-being of others. Their safety, their performance, their jobs… Once you understand your role as a leader, you need to communicate clearly the basis for your decisions (always in the best interest of those being led). On a daily basis, take time to explain “why” every chance you get. Ask others questions as often as possible, even if you know the answer. Be consistent in holding people accountable. Communicate often using a variety of methods. Support your “followers”, stand by them in front of others, and demand the best from them while giving them your best.

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