You know there is a crisis when it is the main subject of so many leadership conversations and articles. Reading articles and blog posts almost daily about employee engagement, along with having experienced the highs and lows myself, make it clear we have a crisis on our hands. In fact it may be the biggest weakness in our economy along with the millions of unemployed potential workers struggling to survive. I have written a blog or two on the subject and while I am certainly no expert I have had some real life experiences.
I believe there are a couple of key aspects about engagement we need to look at to start finding solutions to this crisis.
Engagement is a two-way street. It is without question important that leadership gives employees the tools to help them be engaged. Tools such as learning plans, growth opportunities, team building and one on one communication are just some tools leadership can use. Along with tools they can be present and available for the team. However, most importantly leadership must open the door for engagement. If they give out tools but don’t allow them to be used they will not build anything.
On the other hand when companies give employees the tools and they don’t use them they can only hold themselves accountable. Engagement is in some ways like training. Companies spend billions of dollars developing training programs, both on-line and in person classes, to give information and learning opportunities for employees. They do not now and never will encompass all parts of the job. There are far too many possible situations to be covered. Employees at every level must take this basic learning and build upon it themselves. Engagement works the same way. If an employee wants to be engaged but is not willing to walk through the door and have a conversation about their future or their ideas they can only look in the mirror for answers. Leaders need to be engaged and leave the door open for engagement, employees have to walk through the door.
Fear does not create engagement. I sat in a meeting one day and listened to my boss, (note not leader, boss) tell us that we needed to let our people know that with so many unemployed people we could replace them at any time if they didn’t like the way we were doing things. My first thought: “Really”. Unfortunately that was the style of this particular person. His version of leadership was “my way or the highway”. He believed that you engaged employees, including myself, by making them fear for their job. Two years and record turnover rates later he still is managing the same way and is failing. Fear is not an engagement tool. People that are good at their jobs and believe in themselves and their abilities will move on to other companies, many times your competitors. Many times, you will replace them with mediocre candidates, that will work without imagination or drive. You will try to engage through fear and you will fail. Be involved, have empathy, treat people like what they are human beings and you have the opportunity to build a strong engaged team. Fear based leadership will create short-term gain and long-term disaster.
Great companies are like great sports teams. They are a group of people working together in the same direction helping each other be better, while at the same time giving their best individual performance. Without leadership opening the door of opportunity there will not be engagement. Without employees holding themselves accountable for being engaged there will not be engagement. It’s a two-way street and traffic needs to run both ways.