With studies showing low levels of employee engagement, it’s striking that so few people are really engaged and intrinsically motivated to perform the jobs they spend most of their waking hours doing.
While there are many solutions, such as timely feedback and recognition for a job well done, many leaders are overlooking several areas that help to build culture and create a sense of purpose. For employees to feel that sense of purpose in their role, leaders must consistently demonstrate several key behaviours: trusting, involving and developing their people.
When it comes to trust, leaders must create an environment that ensures all members of the team feel safe, not just to do their jobs but also to break free of them. Employees should feel they can trust their leader to discuss any part of a process or scenario or do whatever it takes for a customer or a given situation. To build an engaging team, leaders must portray themselves as approachable.
Read: Canadian employees more engaged than Americans: study
If a situation arises where leaders need to involve employees in a decision, discussion or deliberation and the default behaviour is for the staff to avoid eye contact, pretend they’re not paying attention, lie about their level of busyness or ignore the request, what does that say about the state of leadership within the organization?
To involve is to be inclusive and invite others into a part or all of the process leading up to and including action. In the organization, involving others is an act of calculated inclusion. Jack Welch’s breakfasts were legendary across General Electric, providing both him and the employees with an opportunity to learn from one another.
In a study conducted by IBM involving global chief human resources officers, researchers found the most critical issue facing organizations is their ability to develop future leaders. At its core, developing employees is about recognizing the talent that exists within the team. The leader should be thinking about development opportunities for employees, such as job rotations or swaps, job shadowing, short-term stretch assignments on other teams, coaching, mentoring and community volunteerism. It’s important to set aside time to work with team members to help plan their development path.
Principles in action
Consider Quicken Loans Inc., a major U.S. online and retail lender. It firmly believes employee engagement is key to its success and encourages employees to “chase the skills that will make you great at what you are doing or what you are building” and not chase money because, “then, and only then, do the better numbers or the good money follow you.”
The company trusts its people and constantly involves them in decisions, while firmly believing that developing talent is the best way to create an engaged culture. For example, it provides employees with what it calls “bullet time,” a weekly four-hour period in which they can work on a personal project or idea, even if it’s outside of the core business of the organization.
To improve employee engagement, leaders may have to change their styles, but as Niccolo Machiavelli once wrote: “Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”
Dan Pontefract is the author of The Purpose Effect: Building Meaning in Yourself, Your Role and Your Organization and Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization. He’s also chief envisioner at Telus Transformation Office.
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