Employee Engagement on the Front Lines

The idea of Employee Engagement is hardly just another business buzz word or fad to jump on. I have been doing a lot research and training on various aspects of employee engagement lately. Organizations have done everything from Executive Assessments and Coaching to full-on training programs on everything from Emotional Intelligence and Hiring Right, to Performance Management and Conflict Resolution, in an effort to develop leaders who can help people make their greatest contributions for the best outcomes for their companies. The problem with these efforts is that there are seldom enough resources for every manager to participate in the training efforts. This is unfortunate, especially since the least trained may be making the greatest impact.

Buckingham and Coffman, in First Break All the Rules, provides some of the best research on employee engagement, when they tied it directly to improvements in retention, productivity, profits and customer satisfaction. They boiled their research down to 12 questions, when answered affirmatively, will make significant improvement in these result areas. They went on to show that the KEY to getting positive answers on those 12 questions lies directly in the hands of our front line managers. Unfortunately, these are often the leaders who get the least amount of a company’s investment in leadership development. We spend a great deal more time and money developing the more senior level leaders, hoping for a “trickle down” effect. I say “hoping’ because I am not sure we actually show these senior leaders how to effectively coach their managers to develop these skills. However, since it is this Senior Leadership Group who can make the most impact by stepping up to their role as coach, what are a few, low cost things they can do to coach their managers in the development of the skills required to engage employees? Here are a few ideas:

You might go ahead and get the book mentioned above and have your managers become familiar with the research. Review this research as a part of your regular manager’s meetings. , Make commitments to improve, hold one another accountable for their commitments, and discuss mutual successes and failures.

Incorporate similar questions into an employee satisfaction survey to get a check on how your managers are doing.

Review their surveys with them and help them come up with new ways to respond to the more challenging situations.

Teach your managers how to set clear expectations, how to evaluate their staff against these expectations, and how to help their staff improve or find another place to work.

Teach them how to do this while preserving respect and dignity throughout the process.

Then measure these results against the four outcome areas mentioned in the research to see how well you’re doing.

Teach managers how to create a psychologically safe working environment where everyone can grow, develop, contribute and make a difference. Without this safety it is impossible to get people’s best ideas and efforts for improvement. What does it mean to be psychologically safe? It means to create an environment where it is okay to:· Ask Questions, But few do, because they don’t want to look stupid.· Ask for Feedback, But many don’t, because they don’t want to look incompetent.· Make Suggestions, But some don’t, because they don’t want to be disruptive.· Criticize Processes, But too many don’t, because they don’t want to be negative

Teach them how to help their employees feel genuinely appreciated. Few things seem to matter more to employees. The single highest driver of employee engagement, according to a worldwide study conducted by Towers Watson is whether or not workers feel their manager is genuinely interested in their wellbeing. Fewer than 40 percent of workers believed this to be the case in their current workplace.

Without appreciation we often feel at risk. When we feel at risk we become preoccupied, worried and threatened, all which drains and diverts our energy from making a significant contribution.

Teach them how to create a culture of positive feedback. The impact of negative emotions, and more specifically, the feeling of being devalued are incredibly toxic. In the workplace itself, researcher Marcial Losada found that among high-performing teams, the expression of positive feedback outweighs that of negative feedback by a ratio of 5.6 to 1. By contrast, low-performing teams have a ratio of .36 to 1.

The only way a positive culture combined with a high performing team can occur is when everyone is confident that each team member is focused on achieving a common result. When team members are focused on results, they can have open dialogues, even conflict, as long as they know the conflict and disagreements are about getting better results, and not about personalities. When a team is focused on the “What” or the results, the “Who” becomes less of an issue. They can find ways to acknowledge one another’s contributions, constructively criticize the process rather than the person, and remain focused on continuous improvement.

When the results start to improve so does the focus and energy levels. And as the Chief Human Capital Officer at Netflix once told me, “Everyone wants to play on a winning team! It is even better than picnics and potlucks!” And that, my friends, is employee engagement!

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