Based on my own experience as a business professional, employees who are not seriously engaged in the business should be totally obvious to everyone, including the manager or CEO. Yet many managers and executives seem to ignore the situation or have no idea how to fix it. The result is that the performance of the whole team is degraded, and the business suffers as well.
For example, in one assignment my desk was near another professional, and I could not help but overhear this person on the phone discussing personal business most of the time, despite the fact that he always complained of being overworked, and missed most of his project deadlines. I and many others reported him regularly, and we were all frustrated that nothing was ever done.
I might have been convinced that this was a rare exception to the norm until I saw some Gallup survey reports showing that 68 percent of employees are not fully engaged at work. From my experience as a business professional, and later years as an executive, I’m convinced that all of us, especially management, have a role in fixing the problem, with actions including the following:
- Top management must be the role model for engagement. That means a visible and timely acknowledgment from the top to change “business as usual,” with specific actions to improve the culture and resolve known issues. Asking HR to fix the problem won’t work. Don’t be the manager who can’t be found, or is “too busy” to focus on engagement.
- Provide positive feedback and rewards to engaged employees. Take daily time to provide genuine and specific feedback on things done well, as well as items needing attention. Praise alone, especially in front of peers, is one of the most powerful engagement motivators. Monetary awards and bonuses are good, but not sufficient.
- Add a higher purpose to your vision and shared values. Today, every employee wants to feel a sense that they are bringing more than profit to a company – they want to feel a sense of positive contribution to the environment and society as well. For example, Whole Foods and Patagonia raise engagement by focusing on health and sustainability.
- Measure your investment in engagement as an asset. Too many companies think of employee development efforts and benefits as an expense that must be minimized. They don’t recognize that employees drive customer growth, improve productivity, and drive company success. They, like you, are the key assets of every thriving business.
- Share business realities and issues with employees. Keeping employees in the dark on business problems and customer issues is a sure way to lose their trust and their engagement in the business. You cannot ask workers to take on more responsibility, without demonstrating full transparency and treating them as a key part of the team.
- Hire and mentor people who show engagement in prior roles. People willing to engage are actually more valuable than those with deeper skills or prior experience. After the hire, the keys are mentoring and continuous training, as well as providing growth opportunities to retain the best. The result is a culture of engagement and performance.
- Promote a more collaborative leadership style. Of course, top leaders must retain the final say, but efforts to work collaboratively will encourage and reward engagement, and expose the ones who are not engaged. When employees feel they are not heard or have no say in the business, they have no incentive to take risks or do their best work.
- Admit and demonstrate that you have learned from them. Active listening is the key message here. You can’t learn while you are talking, or not engaged yourself. Great leaders have found that mentoring works both ways, and taking the time connect to each employee, over lunch, or outside of work, will pay big dividends in their engagement.
Indeed, I find that many employees are also overwhelmed by the rate of change they see in business today, making them hesitant and fearful of fully engaging. Sometimes the best thing you can do is not to try to force them to change, but simply be there for them as they struggle to change themselves.
Engagement in business is largely about relationships, just as it is in your non-business life. How good is your relationship with your employees, and how hard are you working on making it better?