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The Leadership and Employee Engagement Connection – Is it really that hard?

I recently got my hands on a Conference Board report from a few years ago. The report was focused on insights on Leadership Development, Organizational Learning, HR & Talent Management and Diversity and Inclusion. The theme of the report was “Go Where There Be Dragons – Leadership Essentials for 2020 and Beyond.” The section of the report that grabbed my attention the most was when it started delving into Leadership Development and the link to employee engagement. I realize that the entire concept of employee engagement has received much ink and discussion over the years and in some circles is even considered overplayed; however, I thought the results of this report were worth sharing and commenting on a bit further.
Leadership connectionThe Conference Board defined employee engagement as, “a heightened emotional and intellectual connection that an employee has for his/her job, organization, manager, or co-workers that, in turn, influences him/her to apply additional discretionary effort to his/her work.” A bit of a mouthful but you get the point. The report goes on to cite the cost of disengaged employees and then identifies enablers linked to engagement. The identified the follow as key enablers within organizations that either increase engagement levels, or when not present, decrease engagement:

1) Leadership needs to focuses on creating a transparent culture; one in which its leadership team provides line of sight between the employee’s job and the organizational goals.

Translation = share the vision with your employees, treat them like adults and help connect what they do to the big picture of where the company is going. Show how they are making a difference.

2) Managers, who appreciate their employee’s efforts, treat them like individuals and that focus on ensuring that their employees’ work is organized efficiently and effectively will drive higher levels of engagement.

Translation = provide recognition for what your staff does. Make sure to individualize your recognition efforts and help remove obstacles to their success.

3) Employees need to be able to voice their ideas and be listened to with regards to how they do their job and how decisions are made at a departmental level.

Translation = Managers who are good at communicating with their team, along with employing a participative style will foster employee engagement at a departmental level. Further, employees want a say in what they do and don’t want to be treated like cogs in a machine!

4) Organizations need to live their values. This results in trust from its employees and sense that the organization is operating with integrity its business dealing.

Translation = Make sure that values are not just posters on the wall. Leaders need to lead by example and openly live the values. Make sure actions speak louder than words; this way your employees will trust you and where you want to lead them. Oh yeah, they also don’t want to work for crooks.

When you look back at the four enablers, they don’t really seem all that complex do they? What the report is telling us is that employees want to know that what they do matters, they want to be recognized (personalized) for what they contribute, they want to have a say in how their work is done and they want to work for companies that demonstrate ethical behaviour and integrity in how they do business. So why is this “magic” formula so hard to get right for so many companies? Is it the communicating part? Is it the integrity part? Is it the difficulty in recognizing employees for the work they do? I dare say it is the mix of all those factors.

Too many organizations simply thrust people into management roles and expect them to “lead.” They are provided little to no training or preparation to take on these roles. Furthermore, many organizations do not, as part of their performance system, have any goals, objectives, KPI’s or rewards/recognition focused on leadership capability – i.e. retention metrics of key staff, departmental engagement levels, etc. I think ultimately the breakdown is in the fact that you manage processes, systems, technology etc. but you need to lead people.

While many elements of the leadership/engagement enablers identified may be a matter of skill, the report also identifies several “derailers” in the form of personality characteristics that surface in current “leaders” during times of stress. The report identifies the following derailers that “waylay even the best and brightest:”

• Controlling leadership style; unwilling or unable to delegate
• Arrogance and insensitivity; unwillingness to ask questions or accept failure
• Poor communication/listening skills
• Lack of global mindset; failure to grasp complexity
• Risk aversion
• Ambivalence toward ambiguity
• Discomfort with diversity

So I would ask you ask HR professionals reading this list, the next time your leadership team talks about improving “engagement scores/levels”, you need to figure out first and foremost, are your “leaders” displaying these derailers? If they are, you must be prepared to address these first before the enablers can be acted upon and improved.

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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One Response

  1. Great article Donna.

    Thanks for sharing

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