Many of today’s leaders cling to the time worn idea that, because they offer incredible benefits to their employees it naturally follows that employees will enthusiastically engage in the work of the organization. Perks are seen as part of a quid pro quo—I scratched your back, now you scratch mine. Maybe it should be that way, it seems right, and yet it’s not, primarily due to human nature.
You see, we humans very quickly become used to having something and, once that happens, it is no longer seen as “special”.
Think of the last new car you purchased. Before you got it, weren’t you incredibly excited? You thought, “Once I get this, I won’t ask for anything more. It will be enough to make me happy.”
Then you got the car and for awhile you were over the moon, enjoying the feel of driving it, exploring all the new features, boring friends and family as you waxed poetic about it… and that new car smell! Nothing beats that!
But gradually, over time, you got used to it. And eventually it became…well, just a car.
So it is with benefits and perks. When employees are in the process of being hired, they become very enamored with the benefits your organization offers. They go home and tell their families about them. They think, “If I get this job, I won’t ask for anything more. It will be enough to make me happy.”
Your existing employees, when presented with new benefits your HR department has worked to acquire for them get excited. Unfortunately, just like the new car, over time, they get used to having these things. And now they’re just…well, benefits. Ho Hum. If you’re the owner of the company, this likely makes you a bit angry. But if you’re a leader within the company, you probably have the same attitude. You quickly got used to having all these wonderful perks.
Alas, Employee Engagement is not about money and perks. Wouldn’t it be great if it were? It would make the job of leadership so much easier! Of course, if your organization is limited as to how much money it can pay and how many perks it can provide, it would be bad news. But study after study places money surprisingly low in employee rankings of what’s important to them. For example, a 2015 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found 72% of employees ranked “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” to be the most important factor in job satisfaction. The other factors in the top 5 were trust between employees and senior management (64%); benefits (63%), compensation/pay (61%); and job security (59%).
So what’s the answer? Employee engagement most often occurs when workers have opportunities every day to use their creativity. If you want engaged employees, if you want them to own their results, you’re going to have to do something to inspire that ownership which, by the way, every one of them wants but may not know how to produce on their own. It has nothing to do with their intelligence; it’s more about whether they feel they have permission to be creative. Can they apply their own style or are they simply supposed to do the job as they were taught?
One way to allow your team to use their creativity is to build a culture of continuous improvement. Let each team member know he’s in charge of improvement for his specific job. I promise you, they have ideas. Your role, as their leader, is to create a culture in which their voices can be heard. Build a culture in which the motto you exemplify is: there are no stupid ideas. And watch as your people become more engaged.
In my last blog we discussed the 3rd of four key action components of leading your team:
Today let’s tackle the 4th and final component – You are a walking, breathing scoreboard!
When I was Manager of Marketing Intelligence for a software company, every leader went through an annual 360o feedback process, which, by the way, is key if you have any hope of improving employee engagement.
One of the more important pieces of data I heard from my team is that, while I was skilled at providing direction, I was lacking when it came to letting them know what happened during and after the project or task was complete.
What I learned from that is twofold: (1) we all want to know where we stand in relation to each goal; and (2) we want to clearly understand the impact of our work.
Yes, we all want to know where we stand; Millennials insist on it. If your leadership style is, “I told you once you’re doing well. If it changes, I’ll let you know,” you likely have issues with your team’s productivity and ownership of their work.
We are a society deeply entrenched in keeping score, whether it’s in sports, competition-based reality shows, or political polls. Imagine watching a basketball game where they’ve changed the rules and, instead of revealing the score as the game unfolds, you don’t find out who won until the game is over! That’s what it feels like to your employees when you assign goals and don’t let them know the score as they forge ahead.
There is the argument that employees should know where they stand in relation to the goal. That might be possible if the goal remained fixed but you and I both understand that the goal/deliverables of nearly all projects are adapted as they move forward. If we forget to pass those changes along to those who are doing the work, they end up working toward a goal that no longer exists; they tend to become demotivated and less productive. This is one of the more compelling reasons for you to be a walking, breathing scoreboard, And even if the goal remains fixed and they do know where they stand, your employees want assurance that you agree with their assessment of where they stand in relation to the goal.
When employees know where they stand, they get more motivated. And here’s the interesting part: they get more motivated even if they find out they’re behind. If they’re on track, it feels good and they want to do more. When they know they’re behind, they become more determined to catch up. Could there be a better reason to keep them informed of the status?
Employee Engagement (and leaders are employees, too) is all about having opportunities every day to use your creativity. When you and your team know where you stand in relation to your goals you know where your creativity is most needed, you become more engaged as you apply it.
In my last blog (see below) I asked if you know where you’re taking your team and whether your team is clear about the destination. We identified four key action components of leading your team:
Before we can tackle each of the four components above I asked you to complete some pre-work. If you didn’t do it, take some time now to complete it:
Today we’re going to talk about the first component:
Know and completely understand what the team destination/ goal is.
This might seems obvious and yet often, when you try and articulate it, it becomes confusing. Did you discover that to be true when you did the pre-work?
Here’s why. Let’s take the example of a Customer Service Department. The goal, of course, is to provide a level of service that results in satisfied customers. But what’s the final destination? How do you know when you’re there?
The final destination for any Customer Service Department is 100% customer satisfaction. And that can be frustrating because, based on human nature, it seems impossible. Nevertheless, that’s where any Customer Service Manager worth her salt is leading her department.
Unrealistic? Sure it is but that’s the thing about destinations in the business world. They ARE unrealistic. Who could have envisioned Facebook, Apple or Amazon? Could our great-grandparents have imagined flying to Europe let alone the moon? Well, someone did and today the impossible becoming reality is no longer surprising.
So wherever you are leading your team, understand that if the destination is easily reached, it’s not challenging enough for them to become engaged in its achievement. Remember, Employee Engagement is about your team having opportunities every day to use the creative parts of their minds. Our creative minds kick in when we have problems to solve, not when we are tasked with maintaining the status quo. Create a very big challenge for your team and watch them flourish.
Does your team know where you’re taking them? Are you sure? One way to figure it out is to ask yourself, “What am I leading them toward? What’s the destination?” If you don’t know the answers right off the top of your head, think how confused your team is!
Imagine trying to coach a team to win a new game you’ve invented without telling them the rules or the objective. In other words, without telling them how to win!
One reason Employee Engagement is so low (30% according to Gallup) is that we have turned into robots. We show up at work each day, do what we assume are the priorities and have no sense of whether we are moving closer to the team goal or further away – either because we’re not sure what the goal IS or we don’t see how our work supports it!
Just showing up and working is not a big enough game for your team and that’s why they are disengaged.
For too many employees, the daily goal is to get through the day without showing up on anyone’s radar screen. They do enough of the job to stay out of trouble but leave their inspiration and passion at home.
So what’s the answer? First, it’s important that:
Over the next few weeks, we will take these one by one. For now, there is pre-work to do:
Your team is a reflection of your engagement. If you’re floundering, they will flounder. If you’re clear about where you’re taking them, they’ll be clear. If you’re engaged, they’re engaged.
Please don’t mistake engagement for working hard. In fact, when you are fully engaged in the work, it doesn’t feel hard at all. Engagement is about continually seeking ways to improve the end product, developing processes to achieve results faster and/or better, and growing your own skill set and knowledge base.
In short, Employee Engagement is about using the creative part of your mind every day. Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore ways for you to do that and to encourage your team to do the same.
I am continually surprised by how many organizations think that employee engagement has to do with extracurricular programs like company picnics, or internal perks like an on-site coffee bar or billiard table.
While there is nothing wrong with any of these things, it is a serious mistake to think that they deeply impact employee engagement, particularly if leadership is not practicing the basics every day.
A friendly supervisor at the company picnic who tells your family what a great worker you are cannot make up for poor input and inconsistent feedback about your work the rest of the time.
A manager cannot make up for his lack of availability to meet with you about an important project by challenging you to a friendly game of billiards. Why does he have time for that and not what’s most important to you?
Too often the perks offered to employees to promote employee engagement have the same effect as putting an ice pack on a broken leg. It might feel good momentarily but it’s not a long-term solution.
True employee engagement has to do with how you involve your team day-to-day in the work. Are they only given “marching orders” or are they able to have input into the parade route? Do you honor and tap their knowledge and experience or are they treated like novices? Are they given honest and useful feedback about their performance or do you disrespect them by telling them “good job” when it was, at best, mediocre?
Employee engagement has to do with attention:
Short-term, quick fixes cannot increase employee engagement—at best it creates a voracious appetite for, “What have you done for me lately?”Providing your team instead with opportunities to truly get involved in the work is what they most want. Doing so fulfills the definition of engagement which, in this context, Merriam-Webster defines as: b: emotional involvement or commitment.