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Leadership and true team engagement

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Is it just me, or is there really a growing rift between leaders and their people?  I’d be happy to be proven wrong, because one of my values is that leaders get to know, understand and, most importantly, apply the wealth of knowledge that exists today about leadership.  Take ‘engagement’ as a case in point.  Have we made it too complex?

There’s lot of articles written about engagement – but the majority of it seems to be about engagement ‘scores’ and engagement ‘solutions’.  Team leaders tell me that they want to know better ways of really getting team members involved and taking the initiative in the projects they run.  And if they’re not getting their messages across properly to people, how to improve.

is employee engagement too complex?

Is employee engagement too complex?

I’ve coached managers who get great ‘engagement scores’ yet have little true buy-in from their people – for example when major change comes along. Conversely, you see people using the annual employee engagement survey to let loose all of their moans and groans – but who are, the rest of the year, hard workers who seem engaged and fulfilled in their roles.

I’ve got three recommendations to make:

  1. Get commitment from the top team
  2. Use a really simple survey
  3. Encourage leaders to get closer to their people

Start with the top team

It’s important that senior leaders have a snapshot of the overall tone and culture of their organisation.  Believe it or not, there are still major organisations out there whose leadership is not showing commitment to engagement.  They don’t understand why they should, and they don’t commit time to promoting a positive organisation culture.  It’s no coincidence that organisations with this kind of attitude have significant staff problems like –

  • High turnover
  • Absenteeism
  • Safety issues
  • Low morale

Yes, of course some leaders will treat this topic like a ‘tick box’ exercise.  They need to do it to get the balanced scorecard signed off.  Or the annual report to shareholders finished.  But it’s a sign of good leadership when the top team champions employee engagement and really walks the talk.

Then there’s the annual survey itself

Does your organisation have a 172 questions, employee engagement survey?  I think it’s a miracle that people even bother to fill them in.

They need to be short and sweet – the shorter the better.

Just asking the fundamental questions about how it’s going.  Questions along the lines of –

  • Do you know what’s expected of you in your role?
  • Do you know how this contributes to the overall vision and mission of your organisation?
  • Do you have the resources to get the job done?
  • Does your line manager help you access the resources you need?
  • Do you have a feeling of working together in a team?
  • Are you getting opportunities to grow and develop?

Life’s complicated enough already – let’s keep our surveys simple.

One survey stumbling block – getting personal about our managers

One of the biggest failings of these surveys is the way that these surveys become a way to knock the manager.  Helping people to understand that an employee engagement survey is about culture of the whole organisation, not just the line manager, is an important step.

By not briefing people properly about the benefits and uses of the annual survey, organisations inadvertently encourage cynicism and negativity towards line managers.

But once managers have got some really constructive feedback on their general performance, how do we support them to build a more engaged team?

Transformational Leadership – it’s about people

The best leaders I have had the good fortune to work with are those who genuinely know and appreciate their people.  I mean really genuinely.  They know what makes them tick.  They know their development needs. They turn up and support them in front of the wider team.  They listen to the feedback as they get out on the front line.

A few years ago I ran a project supporting managers to communicate better with their people.  And seeing how the best of them not only delivered clear, engaging presentations on all the usual stats, facts and figures, but took the time to answer questions.  However tough.

They didn’t just turn up for their slot – they sat down to eat together.  They turned up early in case anyone wanted a chat in private.

I remember one leader in particular standing alongside a team being briefed on the set up of a complex engineering structure.  An engineer himself, he owned up to his own ignorance on a particular technical point.  And thanked the tutor for making the learning clear.

True engagement isn’t just about top team commitment to the annual survey.  Or the survey itself.  It’s about leaders really immersing themselves in being with, and understanding their people.


Author: Helen Caton Hughes

Leadership and Team Coach based on inspirational and practical tools. Works with leaders around the world; trains coaches to International Coach Federation standards. Passionate about finding best ways for leaders to inspire themselves and get the best from their teams

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