Maybe you have heard people at work talking about engagement. It is modern today to talk about motivation and engagement. You will see it in the mouths of HR People, mid and senior leaders, even the production line workers talk about it. Companies measure it, departments draw strategies and plans to improve it. But still engagement stays as a mythical unicorn in the middle of a complex working structure, not understood but used to keep people in the companies and ensure they meet goals and deliver results.
According to a Gllup research from 2016 68% of companies leaders fell in engaging people to achieve results and grow company business. Doesn’t it look scary? I feel terrified knowing that most people don’t feel engaged with the company specifics and are only there because of hygiene factors like money, safety of work place and convenience of the work hours.
A short story in my professional life has showed me how much leaders don’t understand. Here it is:
More than 10 years ago I have worked for a big company , represented in more than 15 countries and with employee population more than 150 000 people. I was part of the corporate HR department and had to work with most of the senior leaders in the company. My boss was a very people oriented HR professional always ready to help people and find ways to keep them within the company, showing them the meaning while we work. The company leadership team was built from 3 people – CEO, COO and CFO. In most of the activities they had equal power and where able to take independent decisions about the part of the business they were responsible for, without be judged by the other two. Our department was positioned directly under the CEO, a smart leader, thinking first about people and then on the sales. But that was not the case with the COO. The person holding this position was authocratic, with no understanding about people problems and needs, not communicating core company values expecting more to be done, just for the sake of the sales increase. That person strongly believed in the principle “If you quit there is someone better to replace you ”. Didn’t care about anyone in the structure responsible for and hiring people with the same mindset in it’s team on a managerial positions. When we had meetings about how to keep people engaged in work the position of this person was like “take it or leave it”. It didn’t believe that people need positive boost, it was criticizing everyone and pointed to others showing how much they don’t mean to her. After a year with this situation and behavior results started to impact the business – we lost 15% of the operational personnel and people from the COO team and also other key teams started quiting. In less than 3 months we lost people on 27 key positions. People who started company business in the country and have grown it to it’s current state of a market leader where moving to similar companies, taking the knowledge with them and also their contacts to make them successful in their new roles and grow our competitors business. In the next 6 months company business has shrinked with 14% and then came the solution. The other two senior leaders CEO and CFO has turned against the COO and have pushed in the company headquearter for changing it. After that act they took over the business for the next 6 months and returned it to growth by keeping people inside the company and making radical changes in the operational unit responsible for more than 2000 employees in the country.
I had close relationship then with the CEO rather than the CFO, so I asked him to talk about how did they manage to change this critical for the company situation. He shared with me his people vision of several steps that I’m using up to today to ensure success in my and others work.
LOOK AT PEOPLE LIKE PEOPLE
The world is changing and demand for more work is growing, but even now you need to look at the person next to you not as a tool ,but as a living been with emotions, personal challenges and professional fears. Building relationship with others means to understand and accept them the way they are and include them in the work , task and projects you work on, without trying to push them to change.
ESTABLISH CORE VALUES
Most people are not engaged, because they don’t have anything they can be engaged to. People engage to behavior and examples. When you have established core values in your company or team you need to become role model for them. When others see that values are alive in your actions they become more committed to your vision and way of working.
FOLLOW THE VALUES YOU HAVE ESTABLISHED
As a leader you need to be an example for the values. To stress on what is appreciated, acceptable and not acceptable and to deal with a strong hand when you see that people around you don’t act by the values they speak to. There is nothing worse than a person talking one and doing completely different thing. Some leaders call this “flexibility”, but there is nothing like this. Values are like internal laws you need to be example of and others to follow by example. If you make them “flexible” you then weaken them and position them as not needed.
MAKE YOUR DECISIONS BASED ON VALUES
Values are your logic to do the things your right way. Engaged people are those who know what they do and why they do it exactly that way and now. If you have chosen people who support your company values you will be able to engage them in your work challenges and decisions. But if you failed to recruit these who believe in your values be brave to admit it and work to change it.
COMMUNICATE AND WORK ON MISTAKES WITHOUT FEAR
Most leaders, when climbing on the ladder forget that are people and make mistakes. Something else, disturbing to all employees is that those same leaders establish internal double standards for implementing values driven behavior in the work. The most obvious mistake is when people see that values count for them, but are some kind of recommended, but not obligatory for their managers or leaders on the top. That can lead to lowering engagement to values and work priorities, and weaken values power. Thaht is why, as a leader, when you have made a mistake, admit it openly an show readiness to work on changing the situation. Even if that means to “harm” some other leaders self-esteem. That may lower your operational results at the moment, but will win you results in future and together with that will make the people in your team more engaged and committed to win higher results in the future.
Employee engagement is crucial for business success. Nowadays people work for companies who share their values and live the values thay share. The authentic leader, leading change and achieving results is the one who can show other that he or she is human. People want leaders to make mistakes, but also want to see them committed to do what they say. Being example for the values company has admitted can bring in leaders team engaged and fully committed people ready to go every ay the leader takes on and achieve every result that has to be achieved.
Now leaders need to reassess their behavior and look where they stay – posing with the empty values box, or showing a path full of values driven behavior as as a standard for work and results achievement.