Engagement, like teamwork, is one of those concepts that my clients know they need more of in their organization, but when pressed, they struggle to describe how to create it in real behavioral terms. No wonder that today only 14% of employees are fully engaged.
Do you get to do some things* at work you love? Do you see challenges as opportunities to learn and approach them with excitement? Are there times at work when you get so thoroughly absorbed that time flies by? These are signs of engagement.
We are learning post-Covid that resilience and engagement are independent concepts that are highly correlated. People who do things at work they love also have the capacity to withstand and bounce back from difficult circumstances or failures. The good news is that if something is ” a capacity,” we can break down the fundamentals and figure out how to build it.
I spent most of my career in market research, which taught me that in-depth questioning yields answers and insights that aid decision-making. The ADP Research Institute takes the pulse of global employees and has identified 8 fundamental questions that drive engagement:
- I am really enthusiastic about the mission on my company?
- At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me?
- In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values?
- I have a chance to use my strengths everyday at work?
- My teammates have my back?
- I know I will be recognized for excellent work?
- I have great confidence in my company’s future?
- In my work, I am always challenged to grow?
I hope you read this list without defensiveness or judgment if you are a Boomer or Gen X leader. We were not socialized to believe or expect the workplace to meet these needs. Be aware of that. Understand that. Accept that, and now ADAPT. Embracing new behaviors that increase engagement provides the byproduct we seek to doggedly pursue: happy customers, revenue generation, and opportunities for advancement and means to seek a better life (defined any way you choose).
Now, where do you start? At the top, of course.
Mission statements get a bad rap when they are words on a wall, a sales pitch, or a check-the-box component of an employee handbook. In organizations that drive engagement, the mission statement is why they exist. It’s aspirational and idealistic and states how they contribute to a better world.
When times get tough, and you feel like calling it quits, your Mission and Core Purpose remind you and your organization, “oh yea, that’s why we are doing this.” In organizations where engagement is high, the staff is not only clear about the purpose, they see the connection between what they do each day and the bigger mission. Leaders continuously tie their actions and decisions to the organization’s purpose.
Nothing says “this is how we do things around here” better than organizational values described in behavioral terms. Codifying your values is a challenging but advantageous investment of time for a leadership team. It provides direction for decisions and actions, what you reward and recognize, and what you will and won’t tolerate. It’s the playbook for both your informal and formal communication.
In my house, I preface topics that I get preachy about with a “Lord Farquaad” alert. That’s the warning, and here I go: unmet expectations are mostly CONTROLLABLE sources of confusion, frustration, and, now we know, disengagement. Yet, I continue to hear in 360 surveys that leaders do a poor job of setting clear goals and expectations.
Is it because the leader doesn’t care? Absolutely not! This post won’t begin to unpack the numerous reasons it happens; it means to alert leaders to the fact that it’s controllable. And you are in charge. Clear expectation thrives in a climate of timely feedback. Conversations that outline, clarify, and reward missed or met expectations take longer in some cases, but they pay both short and long-term dividends.
“Make it a point to provide feedback when you can improve frequently used skills; problem can’t be ignored; a person is expecting feedback and when good work deserves recognition.”
Engagement shouldn’t be an ethereal or mystified concept. Dig into the questions and learn the fundamentals of how to make the 2,050 hours per year you, your team members, and your employees matter. We are happy to share how we’ve been able to do that with our clients.
* Side note: according to research by Marcus Buckingham in “Love and Work,” only 20% of what we have to do each day needs to be tied to “red threads,”; things we love that use our strengths.