- Katie Calhoun
But like many popular phrases (e.g. ‘innovative’) the phrase becomes overused and soon loses its impact. In a sense, we become immune to it. So, what does it mean if employees and managers are unresponsive to the term ‘engagement’? How do we overcome this so that we can actually well, engage, employees?
First, it all goes back to relationships. Engagement is not synonymous for ‘improved productivity’. Improved productivity is an outcome of engagement. Engagement is about connection – and connecting an employee’s motivation, goals and energy in a way that makes them feel they are valuable, respected and actively able to impact their own and the company’s success.
In order to feel connected, you have to build relationships. Let’s look at what typically happens. People get hired, they join a team, they meet their manager, they get busy accomplishing their tasks and things like ‘employee engagement’ show up and get mentioned at mandatory meetings, occasional trainings, team-building and leadership workshops. And yet, at the end of the day, you can do everything by the book to ‘engage’ your employees and they may not feel engaged at all. What does this mean? It means something is lacking. And nine out of ten times that something is relationship.
You have to spend time getting to know someone in order to build a relationship. That means interacting, talking, learning about the other person. In short (and within appropriate boundaries) it means getting personal. That’s right. These are people you need to get to know; not ‘employees’.
You can force people to spend time together to get to know one another (after all, how many ‘team outings’ are a forced effort to try to make these connections happen?) but true engagement comes from something beyond what is merely required by company policy. You have to get one thing right before you will be able to engage employees. What is that one thing?
Having the right managers. They say that people don’t leave their jobs or companies, they leave bad managers and bosses. You will never improve employee engagement if your managers do not have the leadership skills, and the caring, authentic, humble personalities to make their employees feel valued. If you’re struggling with low employee engagement, you need to evaluate the quality, attitudes and personalities of your managers.
Leadership is the key to employee engagement. You can do any other number of things to try to boost engagement, but without the right leadership, it will all fall flat. You need leaders who understand that being a leader means being an authority figure who genuinely takes an interest in and cares about the wellbeing and welfare of the individuals they call employees. You need leaders who risk their own positions in order to defend their people. Leaders who understand how to translate company goals into team goals and even further down into individual aspirations. Leaders who see their role as a coach, a champion, an owner of responsibility, a defender and person who has the opportunity to truly influence their employees’ lives to help them grow as human beings.
In short, your managers need to genuinely care. They need to be ‘other-centred’ and bring an energy that makes people feel as if they are people first, employees second. People respond to being genuinely cared for. They rise to meet the expectations of someone who treats them as if they are valuable and appreciated. They don’t need to be coddled, they need to be encouraged, respected and believed in. So that when a stretch assignment is given, or workload volume spikes, or a team member quits and the workload is shuffled onto the remaining team – the manager can demonstrate trust and belief in their ability to do more than they think they can. And guess what? They’ll believe a manager they know cares about them. They will work an extra mile, not because they are dedicated to your company, or their job, or the client – but because they love the person who is their manager. And THIS is the type of relationship that builds connection that grows trust, and thus naturally and honestly create employee engagement.
This is how you build amazing teams and how to rally employees to weather rough economies; this is how you find the courage to invent and launch something new. It comes down to that very basic quality of caring. Out of that caring will come transparent, open communication; promises kept, respect and empathy for human error or life challenges that affect performance, and the feeling of belonging. People who feel they belong, who feel seen, heard, valued and respected; who respect, value and trust their leader, will raise your company to heights you can’t even imagine.
Katie Calhoun is Director of Client Services for Seven Step RPO