[4 min read]
[Originally published 2014 - Updated Jul 2019]
Let’s start by remembering why we care: engagement increases discretionary effort and reduces counter-productive behaviour. Replicated research unequivocally demonstrates it’s a fundamental non-negotiable essential if you’re seriously interested in optimising financial results.
So first the theory, and then the seven action points.
Engagement and leadership are the two faces of one coin, joined as closely as Ying and Yang, and linked as immutably as action and reaction.
So perhaps it’s unsurprising that they share a similarity that it is critical to understand when trying to create either. It’s this: they cannot be required or demanded from people by the would-be leader, but can only be given as an act of free will by the envisioned followers.
Accordingly in order to get meaningful engagement we are obliged to be seductive.
Forceful or blissfully-ignorant-of-reality approaches may win superficial acquiescence, but that’s a hollow sham incapable of changing people’s relationship to the firm, and actually drives people further away. Astonishingly such box-ticking exercises are not uncommon, despite their achieving the opposite of the resilient change we are actually aiming for.
And I’m not just talking about poor management. Well motivated capable people-people make these mistakes too. The reasons are to do with not wanting or daring to involve others because:
- Not enough time/resources. – In this case reschedule or save your money – engagement initiatives without consultation are as fit for purpose as a chocolate teapot.
- Telling feels easier. – The bossy instinct is hard wired in a lot of successful peoples’ brains, genetically embedded by natural selection in harsher pre-societal eras.
- Confidence. – Consulting others requires enough self-esteem to be comfortable adjusting one’s cherished ideas in the light of the opinions of others.
- Not understanding how to influence opinion. – This is pandemic, there just wasn’t any hard evidence on it until positive psychology came of age (this century).
Only persuasion will work, only positive cultures engage employees, only organisations where folk believe their interests are being valued experience high levels of engagement.
Indeed positive cultures are more profitable than others precisely because people only give discretionary effort when they feel they are getting a fair share of the benefit.
Our seven sure-fire steps for securing engagement are:
- Values. Conduct the business according to positive values, incorporate performance in this area into recognition and reward practices. All businesses have two values sets:
- Aspirational – as featured in posters, company handbooks, and mission statements
- Actual – as manifested in the way that leaders and colleagues ACTUALLY BEHAVE.
It’s the Actual values that decide whether people give their followership to a leader and their engagement to a firm. Reward behaviours and recognise people that manifest the aspirational values. Discourage and eventually eliminate dissident conduct.
Leadership. Research shows that people most readily award their followership to leaders who fill them with positive emotional responses (see my blog Leadership Demystified http://grahamkeen.com/?p=1009). Positive, reward focussed motivation, and negative, consequences focussed motivation do both work. Positive works very much better, being the only way to access people’s discretionary effort.
Strategies. It’s not always enough to be right about this, nor even to have mastered the winning arguments. Humans like evidence, however engaged they are with your leadership, they won’t just buy your ideas because you do. People need to be involved in the formulation of the ideas, so wide consultation is essential. That’s not to say this is the right approach in every situation, leaders sometimes need to forcefully take the initiative and back their own judgement. However in those circumstances engagement always drops until success manifests, and even after that point there will always be some who resent what they see as a high handed approach.
Belief. People need to believe in in their ability to deliver your strategies, not just the strategies themselves. They need to believe in their personal ability to change, and their colleague’s ability to change, so as to deliver on the strategies. Self belief is a learned thought pattern which can be boosted by people when they get appropriate training.
Shared Views. Reveal the similarity between leaders’ and led’s opinions about the direction the business should take and how to get there. In seventeen years I have never seen a fundamental disagreement between them. Measuring opinion in a safe environment, eg using confidential online metrics so people feel comfortable being open and truthful, is very helpful here.
Congruent Goals. Make all levels of supervision responsible for ensuring and demonstrating that achieving the company’s objectives is the best way for everyone to be confident they will achieve their own individual personal goals. Put it in supervisors’ and leaders’ job descriptions, KPIs, embed it in the performance review process…
Not For Sale. More money doesn’t win engagement, and only motivates a minority of personality types. However feeling aggrieved about financial and other conditions of employment does destroy engagement (and motivation). Fair conditions are necessary but not sufficient.
When people have faith in senior management’s strategies, values, motivations and abilities they are open to giving them their followership, transforming managers into leaders. Followership powerfully helps to deliver engagement, that sense of the company’s goals and individuals’ personal objectives being aligned, each delivering the other.
Then there’s no us and them, just US.
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