The question I am undoubtedly asked the most by leaders is; how do I get my employees more engaged in their job? Leaders are often frustrated by the feeling that most team members are just going through the motions. That’s not surprising when you consider that seven out of 10 employees are not engaged, or emotionally connected to the mission, vision and values of the organization.
In my previous two posts, I have written about findings on employee engagement in an excellent book by Timothy R. Clark, The Employee Engagement Mindset. Clark writes that engagement is a shared responsibility between the employer and employee, but the larger burden rests with the employee. After interviewing 150 highly engaged employees across a diverse cross section of industries, Clark concluded that the one common theme among them is that highly engaged employees assume personal responsibility for their own engagement.
Employers do need to provide a culture and values system that is foundational for engagement. However, if it is up to employees to take personal responsibility for engagement, are there other things leaders can do to help employees tap into their engagement potential? Clark says there are some steps you can take:
1. Promise and deliver effort. Make a commitment to employees that you will do all you can to support them and help them flourish, and follow through on your pledge. Clark emphasizes that your efforts in that regard can in no way replace the employees responsibility to perform. However, if employees are certain that your commitment is real; it will make a positive difference.
2. Be a leader of conscience. Don’t expect people to follow or be more highly engaged because you have a nice title. Positional authority doesn’t cut it when it comes to the employee’s willingness to go above and beyond. You must lead folks with what they understand is a genuine concern for their growth. If you invest in them, you will get a return on that investment.
3. Give permission to challenge. I used to work for a company that many of us in leadership positions referred to as the “shut up and get on board” company. We had brilliant managers throughout the organization, and yet the top corporate brass not only refused to encourage a diversity of opinions, they were downright disdainful of ideas other than their own. Encourage people to challenge your thinking and that of others. The more good ideas you have on the table, the better results you’ll get, as well as consistently higher levels of engagement.
4. Coach the individual. Coaching people on my team has, without question, been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done professionally. I cherish the look on employee’s faces when they have left my office after a coaching session. I have often said that employees place far higher value on the time a leader invests in them than they do financial consideration. Clark says that you should get out from behind your computer, pay attention and give of yourself to your employees.
5. Win on imagination. Clark says that strategy matters less than it did in this era of increasing global competitiveness and that employee engagement IS the difference that makes the difference. He says companies at the greatest risk of failure are those with an uncommitted workforce, and that they will fail on imagination, not because they don’t have any, but because leaders can’t draw it out of their employees.
Engagement isn’t something that will happen over night. It also isn’t something that occurs as a result of lip service. You have to clearly communicate and live your organization’s values. Employees can see through insincere platitudes. It has to be real and sustained. If you’re willing to stick with that commitment, you’ll find an environment that is energizing, fulfilling, visionary and one that top talent will want to be a part of for the long haul.