Out of the many drivers of employee engagement, the one that has the greatest impact is leadership. Leaders influence engagement within an organisation both horizontally and vertically, and as identified in many research reports over the last ten years, engaging leadership is a non-negotiable when it comes to shifting culture and engagement.
And as if it wasn’t already important, with the introduction of COVID-19, and a ‘new normal’ that has disrupted the way we work, it seems that now could be the time to rethink the way leadership development occurs from an engagement perspective. And there is a very good reason for this that doesn’t need research – it’s something we all know. Ask most leaders and they will be able to tell you ‘why’ employee engagement is important. They will most likely be able to tell you ‘what’ they should be doing as well; after all most leaders have at some point completed some form of management or leadership training that has provided some great ideas on what to do. But, as we also know, it’s often the ‘how’ that lets a good leader down.
The secret to really good leadership engagement lies in ‘how’ we choose to deploy the skills and tools learned in the courses that teach ‘what’ to do, and in this respect the answer has been in front of us for a number of decades without realising it. Eric Berne, in his work with Transactional Analysis, identified a series of hungers that drive our behaviours, and they are integral to employee engagement:
- Stimulation (being intellectually and emotionally stimulated),
- Recognition (being acknowledged for who we are and what we do – acknowledgement of our existence in the group and in society)
- Structure (how we make time for relationships and the activities that allow us to give and receive stimulation and recognition).
In the simplest of terms – hit these markers in your leadership approach and you are building engagement for your people. If your personal cup is at a healthy level or overflowing, then you are most likely also engaged!
For over 25 years now, I have often found myself working with actively disengaged employees and teams. In this time I’ve worked with many underpinning causes of disengagement, such as, lack of challenge in the role, no vision for the future of the employee, lack of trust, psychological safety. inability to connect and integrate with new teams. The reality is that they are all related either directly, or indirectly, to each of the hungers mentioned above. Or rather, they are related to a lack of fulfilment of these hungers.
‘How’ we choose to create engagement as leaders should therefore look to address these basic hungers:
- We desire stimulation, so provide stimulation and enable challenge in the lives of your people.
- We desire recognition, so acknowledge your people on a personal and unconditional level (like a simple ‘good morning or a smile), as well as for the work they do and the experience they bring to the table.
- We desire involvement and connection, so facilitate a structured way of building rapport, connection and spirit in your team in such a way that people feel comfortable to connect with each other beyond the task at hand.
With the large-scale and sudden introduction of remote working, each of these factors play a much more important role when you consider the constraints of isolation. Despite this you can easily construct a personal leadership engagement approach around these three pillars despite distance, and in fact it’s because of the basic hunger aspect of these elements that we need to address them more than before.
However being remote does make it harder to create stimulation, to provide recognition and to feel connected in the same way as we do in an office environment. So your challenge is to find ways to help your people feel involved; they may be geographically distant, but they don’t need to be psychologically distant. So the key here is frequency of connection points, and then the quality of how you connect when you do come together.
On the simplest of levels you can:
- Create ways to connect and just be with your team, collectively and individually (structure).
- Listen and respond to the challenges they may be experiencing, or the things they are really enjoying about their new ways of working (recognition).
- Respond to what you hear; can you leverage the energy of someone relishing the remote work environment? For those who express negative feelings, and even if there’s not much you can do about it, you are acknowledging what’s happening for them. Perhaps there is the chance to co-create some ideas for doing things differently (stimulation & recognition).
The engine room of engagement is often perceived as a complex beast; but it doesn’t have to be this way; and it probably never has had to be this way. If you can keep it simple and focus on the above three elements, then you are making it easier to lead in a naturally engaging and potent manner.
You are leading to engage.