Engage and Empower

Aug 26, 2016

To remain competitive, today’s business owners want (and need) a highly engaged workforce – empowered to ask questions and challenge the status quo. Employees who have an “ownership thinking” mentality bring more traction to the company’s vision.

This issue recently played out with one of my clients. I could sense the frustration in his voice when he called, wondering how to address a middle management team’s complete lack of ability to solve issues and challenges that faced the company. I thought some field observation would help me better understand the situation, so we scheduled a visit. Meeting  day came – everyone filed in, nodded, smiled and listened. As they said “yes” in response to everything the leader offered up, it was clear they were completely checked out.

This was an un-engaged workforce…It was clearly time for an intervention.

Let’s begin with the end in mind. According to Dale Carnegie, an engaged employee is someone who is “enthusiastic about work, inspired and motivated by leadership, and empowered to do their work their way, confident they can achieve excellence.

Before we can ask our team to be be solution finders, other key things need to be in place. If you feel you’re surrounded by a team of “yessers,” here are 5 Tips to consider, that can help recondition any team to engage at a higher level.

  1. Communicate a Clear Vision: Is everyone clear on where the organization is going? If this clarity is lacking, it’s no wonder that people aren’t sure how to address the challenges.
  2. Define Roles and Relationships: Do they understand their role, and what they’re accountable to do in support of the vision? Do they have good relationships with other roles, to support each other cohesively?
  3. Encourage Engagement by Listening: State the issue, ask a question and then be silent.  If your tendency is to immediately provide the answers, it will take awhile to ‘retrain’ both yourself and your team. When a question is followed by silence, it creates an uncomfortable space that people want to fill. Another  good way to start is by asking everyone to take one quiet minute to write down their own thoughts around the issue. Both the silence, and the writing exercise demonstrate that you’re interested in their input. Warning: this will be VERY uncomfortable to you if you’ve been used to doing all the talking… Duct tape works!   
  4. Create a Socially Safe Environment: Give your team the chance to fail, and a safe place to land when they do. Meeting challenges head on means taking risks. Not all employees are risk takers. This can be modeled by backing off on a tendency to micromanage. If employees feel they need to ask approval before making every decision, this reinforces a mindset of not thinking for themselves. Shift your thinking to removing obstacles and barriers to your teams’ success rather than telling them how things should be done.
  5. Reward Employees’ Efforts: There’s disparity in the workplace around employee praise and recognition. Only 17% of employees believe their efforts are appreciated, while 51% of managers feel they do a good job. Lots of opportunity for improvement here! Rewards don’t have to be monetary. A well-timed note of appreciation, words of acknowledgement in front of the team, or a personal lunch are great options.

Participating on it’s own does not always equal “deep thinking” or “solutions finding,” but it is the first step towards creating a fertile environment of empowerment and contribution. Going back to the basics, reinforcing communication, and getting out of the way to foster participation are key in raising the level of employee engagement.

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