When we talk about improving employee engagement, it sounds BIG and like A LOT of work. It can be hard for leaders to see a clear path between the "engaged culture of the future" as you describe it and the "culture of the present" that they live every day.
Engagement is a measure of the relationship between an organization and its employees. An “engaged employee” is one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action to further the organization's reputation and interests. So, improving engagement means a change in the relationship between leaders and employees.
Don't know how to start? Start SMALL. Here are three ways any leader can improve relationships and encourage a higher level of engagement.
1. The Handshake.
In common practice, we use a handshake when meeting, greeting, parting, offering congratulations, expressing gratitude, or completing an agreement. In sports or other competitive activities, it is a sign of good sportsmanship. The purpose of a handshake is to convey trust, respect, balance, and equality.
We often reserve the handshake for people who come in to the organization from the outside -- customers, vendors, and the like. But it can have big impact if used well inside an organization. Whether its shaking hands to greet colleagues at the start of a meeting, or extending your hand to the guy in the warehouse working on an important customer order, the handshake has a way of leveling the playing field.
Like any other behavior, the handshake can be over-used. It can become a "check the box exercise" instead of an authentic gesture. But imagine greeting your direct report for his 1:1 meeting with you by standing, looking him in the eye, and shaking his hand. How would that feel different for you? For him? My supervisors were usually ending calls, clearing off paperwork, or finishing emails when I arrived for my 1:1s. I felt like an inconvenience to them, not someone they were looking forward to spending time with.
It may feel weird at first. Your people may not understand -- and they may even be hesitant to shake your hand. No worries. Keep at it and they'll come around. Start with 2-3 people a day and work your way up from there. See what results you get and how it changes your relationships. Of course, be mindful of cultural differences. While a handshake is a generally accepted business practice, you may need to make exceptions. Find other ways to show respect, e.g. standing up when others enter your space.
I heard this on an episode of “Blue Bloods” (the TV show). Tom Selleck’s character (he is the chief of police) says it to one of his sons on the force:
“You’re not listening — you’re re-loading.”
You know when people are actually listening, not just waiting for their turn to speak next. It can be hard to listen well to someone else, harder if we think they have not heard us. If you listen well to others, you’ll have a better chance of them listening to you. But you can’t be sitting there reloading, itching for your chance to talk, or building up your case. Deep breaths, eye contact, even taking notes can help you stay focused on what the other person is trying to say.
You don't have to seek out more opportunities to listen; instead, take better advantage of the ones you already have. When you ask, "How are you?", stick around for the answer. Commit to paying attention in meetings, even if the subject of the moment isn't your favorite or doesn't directly impact you. If you are a manager who already makes a visit to the shop floor every day, make a point of connecting with someone different. Maybe shake their hand and ask what you can do for them -- and then listen.
Do you have a reputation for always following up -- or are you one of those leaders that never follows up? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
We can all get better at keeping our promises. Whether you take on an action item in a meeting, ask someone to do something for you, or say that you'll follow up with someone, you've made a promise. If you expect others to be engaged and accountable, as a leader you have to go first -- to lead by example.
Remember, an “engaged employee” is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work. As a result, they take positive action to further the organization's reputation and interests.
In the context of engagement, leaders represent the organization. Do your efforts at follow-up further the reputation and interests of the organization? When you follow-through on your commitments to others, it demonstrates that you care about what is important to them. It sends the message that you value and respect them, and it reinforces their trust in you. And trust is the foundation of any relationship.
Small changes bring big results. Why? Small behavior changes will have positive impact on others, but they'll also change you. With every handshake, extra effort to listen, and promise kept, you will build your own level of enthusiasm, commitment and engagement. You'll become the kind of leader whose positive energy is contagious -- the kind people want to follow.
Leadership is cause and all else is effect. Everything you do, everything you don't do, everything you say, and everything you don't say -- it all matters. Want to improve engagement in others? Start small. Start with YOU.
photo used with persmission by 123rf.com