In any organization, you’ll often hear leaders talk about engagement. They know that it directly and positively relates to employee performance and retention, which ultimately means better outcomes for the entire group.
But what exactly is engagement? Definitions can differ based on a person’s background or field of specialization. Companies define engagement by outcomes. Psychologists might view it as an effective, motivational state of fulfillment, while HR consultants think about an employee’s feelings of commitment and drive.
All agree, however, that employee engagement is a desirable state. It arises from the individual’s sense of attachment to their work and leads to their investing greater and more optimized time and effort on behalf of their organization.
Where organizations often fail, though, is in understanding their own role in cultivating this quality. Engagement is part of a synergistic relationship. For employees to give more, companies must ensure that certain conditions are met.
Inspirational leadership is one of those conditions. But leaders can also do more to exert a positive influence on the other drivers of engagement.
The nature of work
Many people don’t just want to work to earn money. They derive satisfaction from work that challenges and stimulates them while letting them use a variety of skills.
As a leader, it’s your job not just to manage people but the work itself. Too often, leaders approach this task in terms of getting things done, no matter what. They assign tasks to the people who’ll get the best results, and that’s that.
You can do better than that. Take some risks. Shake up everyone’s routine from now and then and give them a small taste of different tasks. It will continuously stimulate them to learn and apply themselves in new ways.
Closely tied to that factor is the employee’s search for meaning. Too often, people perceive their jobs as being meaningless. And they want to make a difference in the world. This sense of futility stymies that.
Leaders can help to change that perception as well. Every business hinges on delivering value to a certain audience. Find the bandwidth to occasionally allow your people to detach from their daily tasks and go along the different parts of that value chain. It will help them understand how the things they do contribute to other people and communities in the world.
Growth opportunities and recognition
Along with meaningful and fulfilling work, employees want to feel appreciated. This is one area where leaders are often trained to deliver with consistency. Awards and incentives are a common feature of most workplaces.
But leaders also need to align these things with an individual’s desires. Not everyone is truly motivated by a small financial bonus. Some don’t particularly care for employee-of-the-month certificates or shout-outs on social media.
Employees might want to receive further training or opportunities to advance their careers. Not recognizing that need can stifle their motivation. You don’t have to offer a promotion. Just take the time for consistent mentoring sessions and play a role in guiding their professional development.
Effective leadership is premised on strong relationships with each member of the team. There are many ways to go about this, but the bottom line is that people won’t be engaged if they see you as someone who bosses them around.
A military leader like Neo Kian Hong of SMRT, for instance, values that sense of camaraderie that comes with being “on the ground” with their team. It’s the same principle at work when sports players respond better to a former player. Even role players like Steve Kerr or Tyronn Lue, for instance, were able to command veteran teams and win NBA championships in their rookie seasons as coaches.
You can make an effort in all of these aspects, but arguably none of them would translate very effectively without a foundation of open, two-way communication.
Whether it’s a routine daily briefing or a lengthy, serious discussion about how to tackle a crisis as massive as Covid-19, leaders have to follow the rules of good communication. Be sensitive to the needs of your employees and acknowledge their emotions. Keep them in the loop regarding all changes.
Above all, listen to their input and give it earnest consideration. Most leaders only give one-way feedback. The best are receptive to feedback coming from the bottom. It’s a valuable source of ideas for improvement, both for the organization and for the leaders themselves.
No single factor in isolation can guarantee engagement. It’s only by working on all of these that a company can truly engage its people, and leaders have a critical role to play in every aspect.