“I just wish my employees cared like I do – or some days even cared just a little bit! I wished they used their brains and thought through their actions. I wish they were truly engaged in their work instead of just collecting a paycheck.”
(And now every one of my clients will think I’m writing about them personally – this conversation has played out that often.)
Employee engagement is the dream and passion of many a business leader. For a lucky few it is a realty, while for most it seems a far off fantasy, a mirage in the desert of management life.
There are no shortage of articles and books of how to chase the rainbow. No lack for opinions on how to find the engagement pot of gold.
There’s just one problem.
Most advice on employee engagement is incomplete, misleading, or just down-right wrong.
It’s the Wrong Question
Most advice on employee engagement stops at the question, “How do I achieve excellent employee engagement?” From there, the discussion invariably changes to initiatives and strategies to take to attempt to improve employee engagement.
There’s just one problem.
Employee engagement, like motivation and so many other people issues in business, is not something you can do anything about directly. Rather, it is an outcome. Specifically, it is the result of solid leadership.
So the real question is not “How do I achieve excellent employee engagement?” but rather, “How do I improve my leadership and what impact will that have on employee engagement?“
You can’t ignore the real cause, the real basis, Leadership.
Let me take another example, sales. Let’s pretend your revenues are down and you want to do something about it. You could decide that you will make more sales calls on your existing customers and new customers and that should increase your revenues. And you could stop there. But you’re ignoring one important thing: Marketing. By spending effort on marketing, you establish the environment into which you sell, and sell more easily. And your sales should go up.
By spending time on leadership, you establish the environment which encourages employee engagement and motivation, and it’s through these efforts that you see improved employee engagement.
So How to Lead for Employee Engagement?
The beauty about realizing that employee engagement is the result of quality leadership is that the core focus can remain on building exceptional leadership of the business and employee engagement will continue to improve. There’s no need for specialized initiatives, and in fact, unless an initiative addresses core leadership, it no longer makes sense.
There are core leadership principles to highlight as especially important to employee engagement. Those include the following:
1) Clearly Communicate Direction
It is no accident that this article is coming right after my three week series on Business Values, Vision Statements, and Mission Statements. It is absolutely key to creating an engaging environment that employees know how and where they fit and what they are working toward. That especially includes having clarity on these business fundamentals. These things are so fundamental that many people take them for granted or don’t take them seriously. Don’t make that mistake. Have them clear. Share the clarity with your people.
2) Flatten External Client Engagement Where Possible
Research shows that employees are more motivated and engaged when they understand their place in the system. One thing you can do as a leader is to flatten that system wherever possible. Let’s use the idea of a manufacturing plant. Can you think of ways you could humanize the orders? At Caterpillar’s large engine plant, the name of the customer and where the engine will be going hangs from every engine as it travels through assembly and testing. It’s not “just an engine.” It’s a customer’s need.
3) Equitable and Salient Rewards
Getting pay, bonuses, and rewards right can feel like more of an art form than a science, but it’s an important one. There is nothing less engaging for employees than seeing what they perceive as unfair rewards, or being rewarded in ways they don’t care about (e.g. – more money when they’d prefer time off). Today’s modern assessments can help determine these opportunities. Contact us for more information.
4) Meaningful Feedback
Meaningful feedback means feedback that enables improvement. Constructive criticism as well as praise. Environments that foster employee engagement tend to be characterized by leaders who are focused unquestionably on “What can we do better?” without dwelling on “What did we do wrong?”
5) Performance Management & Accountability
Employee engagement happens when leaders lead. People actually want boundaries. They actually like the word accountability. They don’t simply like it for themselves, they like it for others around them. They want everyone to be held accountable to promises and find it very demotivating when other employees “get away with things.” Performance management and accountability levels the playing field so that everyone has a fair work environment.
Achieving Your Employee Engagement Outcome
There is nothing about the items above that is special to employee engagement. There is nothing there that constitute an employee engagement “campaign.” These are simply good, solid leadership principles. There are many more and the more you implement, the stronger your business will be because of it.
The key is to remember that you establish the engaging or disengaging environment and the employee takes care of the rest. You will not win over all employees.
But the primary question is what can you do through leadership to establish as engaging an environment as possible?