Herb Carver, Founder & President, Point Above Consulting
Talent is a major differentiator in today’s business environment – it’s key to business outcomes, revenue, profitability, innovation, productivity, customer loyalty and quality. Unfortunately, convincing talented employees that your company is the best one for them can be a challenge. Lately, the stakes are getting higher.
Firmly established as a principal indicator of good workplaces, employee engagement is increasingly a measure of the executives who lead organizations.
Here are three strategies to help your organization win the talent war by engaging your employees.
1. Solicit Personal Feedback
When I ask executives if they ask for feedback on how their actions affect other’s performance, I routinely get blank stares in reply. If you have difficulties answering this question, you’re not alone. Studies using the Leadership Practices Inventory, show that this question consistently receives the lowest rating. This is hands down the weakest behavior leaders practice.
An unfortunate assumption that managers often make is that we intuitively know what others need, want and desire. We’d never consider launching a product or service without first soliciting feedback from potential customers, but leaders often think they inherently know what’s best for their employees.
Managers and executives have come to believe that effectiveness and awareness are synonyms. It’s the workplace version of Berne’s theory of Transactional Analysis: the “manager” ego state that has us replicating ideas, beliefs, feelings and behaviors from our own formative influences.
Have you ever caught yourself saying something your manager used to say even when you consciously don’t intend to like phrases starting with “what you need to do is,” “under no circumstances,” “always” and “never forget?” Breaking this pattern begins with asking for feedback.
There’s no real substitute for feedback. Because you don’t see yourself as others do, self-appraisal isn’t likely to provide you with all the information you need. The perception that others have about working with you is more important than your self-perception. The simple truth is that you just can’t learn much if you’re unwilling to find out more about how your behavior is impacting the behavior and performance of those around you.
It’s no coincidence that feedback, like engagement, requires you to get involved. This is often easier said than done, especially for leaders near the top of the organization. Channels of communication dry up as one moves upward. With each level that information flows through, it gets filtered and strained. Like all things, to preserve the quality, you must get close to the source. This means reducing (perhaps drastically) perceived differences in power, making yourself more accessible, and likely opening informal channels of communication. In other words: engagement. What’s more: you’re exemplifying the behavior that you want others within your organization to mimic, even if they unconsciously do so when they assume leadership positions later in their career.
2. Stop Managing The Clock
When viewed at an enterprise level, most of the actual work performed by organizations is poorly designed, needs assessment, or project definition. Adjustments can always be made to better apply data, affectively allocate resources, and streamline productivity.
That’s exactly what most managers do: make adjustments, often as if their very existence depended upon it.
Begin your redesign with an assessment of each team member’s strengths then seek to purposely push them out of their comfort zones with tasks and assignments you believe they can achieve. Giving people greater control over when and how work gets accomplished leads to more optimal health and performance.
Even the most routine and repetitive tasks can be better enabled when employees are allowed to dedicate a portion of their work time to an idea or project of their choice. Stop insisting or mandating that appropriate time gets sacrificed and make it a managerial priority to instead take advantage of inherent energy.
Employee engagement happens when people feel that their job is sufficiently challenging, enjoyable and rewarding, and most importantly, when they feel valued. Ask your team to provide suggestions and solutions when you need them. Experience has proven that people that are listened to and given an opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills are more likely to feel that they are cared about and therefore more likely to contribute their whole selves to the company.
Although autonomy is not to be confused with relaxed accountability, the paradox of engagement is that it’s dependent on individual responsibility not managerial prescription. The lesson: don’t get overly involved in the specifics of when and how work is performed. Enable employees by providing careers rife with freedom and duty.
3. Demonstrate Purpose Beyond Profit
Performance is increasingly being measured on two scales: what the business does for others and how it treats people. In today’s technologically-enabled transparent world, these factors can’t be faked. Sure, the organization exists to create profit but that’s not remotely unique enough to empower engagement.
An executive kicking of a campaign and then relying on HR or subordinate managers to disseminate the mission while they return to managing cash flows and balance sheets doesn’t cut it. Help employees to draw conclusions about the importance of the work they are performing by holding your organization’s purpose in high regard and then act on it everyday.
We all want to work for an organization we can be proud of in terms of innovation, quality, creativity, or novelty. What’s more: we all want to be engaged in doing meaningful work. While clearly communicating goals and progress are important factors, never miss an opportunity to remind your team why their efforts contribute to a greater purpose. Then encourage the development of their own leadership skills so that that purpose can be furthered for years to come.
Your employees are passionate and creative contributors to your company. Engaging them will build extraordinary workplaces that maximize personal and professional potential.
About the Author
Herb Carver is the founder and president of Point Above Consulting, improving businesses through a dynamic range of customized leadership and development programs, executive coaching and private consulting focused on mindful performance. For more information visit www.pointabove.com.