In an instant ‘on’ society, we don’t have time or patience for many things. We want change and results quickly. We want to take a pill to shed excess weight quickly. We want our leaders to attend a training course and change their behaviour over night as a result. But we all know the reality of life is very different. People don’t lose weight and remain slim with one weight loss treatment. Good leaders aren’t made with one leadership program. The key is about building routine and consistency.
As I find myself again looking for answers to assist people in organisations become better leaders, I have been thinking more and more about how to integrate what a leader needs to learn and do, into their every day work. There is plenty discussion at the moment about informal learning. In essecense most of what we learn occurs when we are working. The theory clearly makes sense and seems to be a no brainer. That’s until you try and put it into practical application, where old world learning values are still pre-dominant.
‘Learning and working, won’t that decrease my capacity?’
‘How are we going to measure what has been done – how many courses have been delivered?’
So if activity measurement is key, as we know ‘what get’s measured, gets done’, yet we still want to have the activity occur on the job – how can that happen? Well here is one idea stolen from the world of weight loss. Currently there is an initiative by the Australian Government to help reduce obesity, the Swap It, Don’t Stop It, campaign. The premise being, swap one less healthy activity / eating habit, for a more healthy activity or eating habit.
I downloaded the iPhone app and thought it was pretty nifty actually. It included alerts to remind you about different activities and gave you a way of checking things off. Maybe by offering a similar tool for leaders, I thought we could help leaders to help themselves to change their behaviour (see my example).
Improving leadership, like any behaviour change takes consistency and effort. Re-programming our brains into new patterns, requires us to continually repeat new behaviours, so they can become instinctual. Integrating a tools such as this sort of application, into a broader reinforcing system designed to change leaders behaviours (e.g. role modelling, mentoring, coaching, reinforcing of core values, ‘calling’ of behaviours) surely can offer us another way of helping our leaders adapt to new ways of working.
I would be keen to hear your thoughts and comments on this idea. Please comment on my blog below.
If you work in a large corporate, you may be familiar with the following pattern. The annual employee engagement survey is announced, which you are encouraged to complete and sometime later you are debriefed about the results. You hear about areas that your business unit is doing well on and some areas leaders want to focus on. Plans are made to address area’s of concern for employee engagement, which are often in addition to what everyone is doing in their day job and then some of those changes are implemented. Leaders at some point in the future will remind everyone what was done since the last survey, a new survey comes along and typically there is still a to do list to work on, which may look pretty similar to the last employee engagement to do list.
So why didn’t things change? Chances are as an employee you may not of been part of the workgroup designated to work on the employee engagement issue, so not much personally changed for you. You may of been on the working group, but too busy doing your day job to do much, so you effectively said ‘*insert other department* is doing that, we will just let them do it’. Or you just may have had too many other things to worry about other than all that employee engagement stuff. Sound at all familiar?
So how do we improve employee engagement? The key is a mindset shift when thinking about employee engagement. To increase employee engagement the following mantra’s are a good starting point:
Employee engagement is a part of everything we do – not an additional ‘to do’ list.
Employee engagement is everyone’s responsibility – not just leaders, senior leaders or the working group ‘fixing the issues’.
Following are some tips to improve employee engagement that embrace these mantras:
1. Regular conversations about what people are working on, discussing inputs and lessons learnt.
In an era of quarterly reporting, half yearly financials and metrics to measure anything that supports better financials, it is really easy for people in a large corporate to get fixated on the outputs. But when you are constantly focussed on the output measures, you often neglect the most important thing -the inputs required to get the outcomes you are chasing. Inputs, consist of the activities and the behaviours required of the people in order to achieve the results.
Leaders often ask ‘how do I motivate my people’, or ‘how do I get the best out of them?’. A good place to start is by listening to how people are going about their job, understanding what gets them excited and reinforcing efforts that are directed in the right place. If people leader conversations are focussed on what’s working and exploring where things haven’t worked (& options to improve this), then the dialogue will become more much more about personal learning. Allowing people to experiment, try, fail and then try something else, will ultimately provide a more powerful and engaging experience, instead of applying pressure to team members whose outcome measures are not stacking up.
2. Provide constant feedback to others reinforcing what has been done well. Be specific and targeted on areas of improvement.
I once had a team leader who constantly focussed on what was wrong with my work and rarely mentioned anything that was right. It was de-motivating and depressing. I managed to shift this around with a simple conversation that went something like this.
‘If you want to get the best out of me, tell me what I am doing right and I will keep doing that.’
Things improved a lot after that.
Whether you are a people leader or a team member, an environment when feedback is freely given and embraced, will be an environment that is far more engaging to work in. The key to fostering such an environment is to give a disproportionate amount of positive feedback. As a leader, you should be aiming for at least three positive points of reinforcement, for every developmental area you identify. The development area identified should also be unrelated to what is going well. The effect of a more constant and positive feedback environment is that it encourages people to behave in the way that is most supportive of achieving the groups goals. Positive reinforcement promotes positive energy, which leads to more positive engagement.
3. Shared problem solving, rather than relying on leaders to solve everyone’s problems.
An easy trap for leaders to fall into is the one that finds them the chief problem solver for the team. Everyone who has a question, issue or crisis comes to the team leader to have it fixed. The issue with this approach, is that it reinforces to the leader that they are the centre of their employee’s universe and thus employee’s can not act with out the guidance of the leader. For employee’s they may think that the leaders role is to set the direction and ‘solve any problems I have’ in order to achieve the goals set out by the leader. But here’s the rub. As a team member I begin to lose any sense of empowerment, enablement and eventually engagement, if I just believe I’m there to do ‘what the boss tells me’. As a leader, I find I end up blaming and resenting my employees for their lack of ability to successfully execute what I need them to do.
A better approach is for leaders to facilitate mutual problem solving. This could be on an individual basis, for example encouraging employees to solve their own problems through carefully selected coaching questions. Or it could be on a team level, through conducting meetings where barriers to progress are identified and actions are put in place to address the issues that will promote improved team performance. In the later exercise, the key is obviously to focus on the issues the team has control over and can be empowered to do something about. Anything that requires the team to modify their own behaviours is usually a good place to start.
Please respond to this post with any suggestions or approaches you have found valuable in increasing employee engagement.
I recently attended a Change Management meet up to discuss ‘Top down, bottom up, or middle out?’ change management approach’s and think about the different ways we can implement organisation change (thanks for the invite Jude). […]