Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Real Secret to Employee Engagement

In a mini-workshop today on Servant Leadership, I was asked if Best Workplaces surveys can provide a hint to whether the organization follows Servant Leadership principles (or Transformational Leadership or other nuanced forms of this style of leadership). From what I've seen--and I'm open to learning more about the best/better of the workplace surveys--they ask questions regarding workplace environment and related to a 'happiness' index. It might be indicative of good leadership or at least an absence of toxic leadership--narcissists, bullies and psychopaths.

However, if you believe Wiseman's research on Multipliers, there's not much difference in the behaviors between those that 'multiply' the talents of their teams and those that 'diminish' the talents of their teams and see a drop in performance. Diminishers don't rise to the level of toxic but they're not challenging themselves to serve the team by helping them do their best work. Surveys won't bring this out. Are most of the leaders Multipliers? Do they practice the principle that 'noboby wins unless the team wins'? Are they Level 5 (Collins) taking the blame for failures and sharing the credit for successes? Is the organization's success more important than their own reputation? Do they practice more consult/join decision-making rather than tell/sell?

My question about these surveys is whether they're measuring the level of engagement (enthusiasm, commitment to give their best effort to the organization). Many of the engagement surveys are sort of measuring the 'happiness' index too. I've seen those surveys and at times in my career I could have answered positively to all of the questions but would have been out the door as soon I could leave. Because I didn't trust the organization and its top managers.

Instead, the secret to engagement doesn't have anything to do with communication, recognition/feedback, incentives, benefits, clear goals, interpersonal support. It has everything to do with first having a foundation of organizational trust, good leadership and understanding mechanisms that support change. And then realizing that engagement is a daily event...and needs daily attention. This is the heart of the real secret to employee engagement.

Each day, we decide just how enthusiastic and committed we are when we get in the car, bus or whatever mode of transportation we use. At the end of the day, we make the same decision. It's been shown that the days we're still motivated are the days that we make progress or a contribution to success. Yet managers don't pay attention to this. There are also other aspects that lead to high levels of engagement: choice (autonomy), content (mastery), collaboration (purpose). Those other things--listed at the beginning of this paragraph--don't sustain motivation. In essence, they're just components of good leadership.

Here's the hierarchy of improving engagement--start at the top to reinforce your team members daily decision to:

  • Help your team make daily progress/improvement on their work (or stay out of their way)
  • Give them opportunities to make decisions (choice)
  • Adjust work to fit their skills and expertise and educate them on one more needed skill or bit of information that will help them succeed
  • Encourage collaboration with other team members and other teams.
The leaders who pay attention to these things on a daily basis with have employees want to be at work. They'll be making the decision each day that "Yes, I'm excited to go to work and can't wait to give my all!" Managers who focus only on recognition, incentives, communication and other forms of motivation will not see much of a budge on their team's engagement levels.

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