“The best employees are those who are highly engaged” (Peter Drucker)
“The most productive employees are not those – highly engaged, but highly accountable to the work they do” (Erick Jameson – HBR Author of articles)
Have you seen these two mantras? They have different forms but are present in every company. Even if you don’t talk too much about engagement or accountability company leadership teams think about them constantly.
Some of the companies still separate both, but everyone understands that engagement and accountability are needed if they want to constantly upgrade results and achieve more.
Departmental and team leaders, together with whole armies of senior leaders and HR teams are investing a huge amount of time to ensure that people are engaged and will finish the work, delegated.
According to Willis Towers Watson in 2019 investments in engagement initiatives worldwide have hit the numbers equal to the UK economy debt rate.
And after so many initiatives and investments, many companies report lower engagement rates, high levels of turnover, and low performance toward goals and planned results from their employees.
We still need to focus on how to improve those two elements to help our teams succeed in achieving goals and building a better future.
Here is how it worked for me and the teams I have led through my career up to now:
Engagement and accountability trough providing purpose and comfort
Engaged people are those who feel comfortable with the environment, but accountable are the people who understand why the environment exists in a certain configuration and how their work contributes to the wider company or team objectives. To satisfy someone needs does not mean to give everything, but to ensure environment and tweaks that give the person in your team the understanding and acceptance that what you provide is there to make them feel comfortable. Engagement raises not when you give everything, but when people see that listen to them and put the effort into changing the environment. While this works for engagement, accountability raises when people see and understand how their work changes the environment and contributes to the wider goals.
Involvement of everyone
Engaged and accountable people are more connected to the purpose and vision of the company than those who only come to make their 9 to 5 hours. Increasing both can be easily achieved through involvement. People who are not involved in goals achievement often stay aside and only comment. Most of these comments are in a negative way and it is the team leader’s job is to decrease them. Most of the negative talk comes from people who feel that they can contribute more, but also see themselves as excluded from the core goals ensuring that they contribute to the greater good in the company. These people need special treatment and individual approaches to make them feel valuable contributors to the greater good in the company.
Do not give them everything
When the IT companies boom started we saw a long list of perks for the employees who worked there. They got anything they have imagined that will ever need. Game rooms, massages, bonuses for being present at work, etc. are only part of what employees received. Measured in time most of these perks have lost their value, but when taken away they can produce a negative attitude toward the employer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against them, but still, if you want an engaged and accountable team you will need to move from investing in such short term perks into investing in meaning and purpose. The valuable asset you can bring into your team is an activity connected with the company’s purpose, mission, and vision. Employees who understand and accept these elements are more connected to the company and other team members. Engagement is not giving everything to everyone, but bringing purpose and value into their lives, by making them feel part of something bigger. After achieving that you can then step forward to build accountability. As a team leader, you need to understand and accept that the most accountable people are not always the happiest part of your team. They struggle with challenges, they are emotional – sometimes even negative, but what you can see in them is the willingness to achieve the final goal, no matter the challenges toward the path.
Do not pay every price ty to change engagement and accountability.
A mistake I have often seen is that some leaders try to “engage” employees at any price. Don’t do that.
Engagement is something that comes out of the person when his or her needs are met. Engaged people are not those who get everything, but the ones who see meaning in the things that are done for them and see how the actions compare to their internal world and understandings and the company-wider strategy, mission and vision. This principle applies also for accountability. People who get everything that they want are often so fed up that you don’t know what else to give them to engage them with the wide team and company goals. To bring out a high level of accountability the leader must focus on bringing challenges that help team members grow and explain that challenges trough the company objectives. The thin line here is to find that challenge that makes team members think and act, without leading them to exhaustion and feeling that the efforts they put into the work are never enough to bring out a reasonable result.
Encourage and give Kudos
Engaged and accountable employees are those who feel appreciated. Kudos have become a norm in some of the social media sites during the last several years. This type of Kudos is not so impactful as people giving them think. When you think about them think that way. In the personal network of the employee, you are giving the employee are not more than 5-10 percent of close friends who will sympathize with the action of giving Kudos. Most of the people online are connected, because of possible future opportunities. To give meaningful recognition you will need to focus on the closest people around the employe, which are his or her teammates. As personal and as much in front of the closest group you give the Kudos or execute the recognition act, as higher the positive impact on engagement will be.
As for the other element – the accountability level, it is in a direct connection to the level of engagement. The high the engagement level is, the higher the results and the level of accountability will be. That will lead also to less resistance you will face from the employee in the team while working on the team tasks and goals. And even the hardest to fulfill tasks will be managed successfully to the end. Here is where you can position the encouragement. In harder times and facing challenging tasks what can help the team leader get the team results achieved is to support and encourage employees on the way of achieving these results.
The mistake some team and company leaders make here is to blame and accuse, instead of giving support. That directly leads to lowering the level of engagement, impacting internal motivation and accountability, and building resistance toward others and team and company goals.
There is no right or wrong way to lead a team. But still, what every team or company leader must focus on is to support the growth of engagement trough meaningful elements in line with company mission, vision, and culture specifics. Leading without comparing your style to these elements will lead to low team performance, low level of internal team recognition, and high level of resistance and turnover. Want to avoid these consequences – then adapt your style of leading to the company standards.