As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of the most common frustrations I hear from leaders and company owners is that people don’t care about their company as much as they do. Sometimes these folks engage me to help make their people care more. Once we establish that short of providing stock options (and even that’s debatable) employees will never care ‘as much’ as the owner, there are things that tend to elicit far more employee engagement and good stewardship and usually when company owners are frustrated, they tend to do less of these things so it can be a vicious cycle. There are a lot of ways to increase employee engagement. The magic bullets used to be ‘empowerment’, ‘accountability’ and ‘communication’…well, they still are, only they’re not magic and you actually need to do things differently to produce the effects call ‘empowerment’…etc. and not just tell people they are empowered.
Here are some behaviors I have found have been highly successful to draw a team together, enhance unity and elicit good stewardship of company resources.
Trust: If your people truly trust you and each other, you will be amazed at the collaboration, innovation and honesty you will see. We all know that it takes much more effort to lose trust than to earn it and that simply telling people to trust is not effective. Trust takes time and is built on a foundation of shared experience, honored commitments and integrity. The more vulnerable people are with one another, the more trust will develop. Although this is not something that can be forced, it can be modeled and it starts from the top down.
Respect: When you don’t respect people, they can tell, and it does not bring out the best in them While trust needs to be earned, respect is best given freely. If you treat people like brain-addled children or larcenous miscreants, there is no way you will get a committed work force. Yes, we need accountability measures and security, but you probably shouldn’t have people in your employ who you don’t trust. If you don’t trust anyone on general principle, management and leadership might not be the best and most fulfilling role for you.
Communication: Many leaders think of communication as telling people just what they know to perform their task. This is a necessary component of employee engagement but far from sufficient. People by nature need to feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves. You build this by sharing your vision of where your company is going. You also do this by sharing the bad news as well as the good. I don’t mean causing panic and disruption by scaring people within impending doom, but assuming you have hired responsible adults they will appreciate the opportunity to be part of the solution. But more than telling people things, communication is also listening and hearing. Ask your people if there are things they need from you. Ask if there are better ways of doing the job. And implement what you can.
Contingency: This isn’t talked about much but is absolutely essential to building an engaged workforce. You need your balance of consequences to favor the things you want in your company. These things might differ but some examples are hardworking employees, innovation, and extra-role responsibility. If you want these things, reward them and for goodness sake don’t punish them. Not too many people intentionally punish good behavior, but it happens in subtle ways when you load up your superstars and when you tolerate under-performing employees.
Appreciation: It is not a sign of weakness to sincerely thank employees for doing their job. I have heard more managers than I can say question why you’d need to thank people for doing what you’re paying them to do. Yes, you’re paying them. Understood. And if you want a motivated and engaged workforce, you also need to thank them. This is really not debatable. To paraphrase an amazing transformational coach I know, the desire of every person is to contribute to the best of their ability and to be recognized for their contribution.
Mount Everest: Finally, if you want to build an unforgettable team, you need an (almost) insurmountable obstacle. Think back to the most amazing team you were ever part of. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that your example includes going through a storm together or accomplishing the nearly impossible. Don’t worry, there is no need to manufacture a crisis to gel a team, they are plentiful in today’s climate. Instead, use setbacks to work together to find new solutions.
If you are being intentional about doing these things now, congratulations! You probably are experiencing some amazing contributions from your employees. If you realize that your intentions are outpacing your actions, don’t worry…this is something you start any time and get results. And of course if you need help, that’s what leadership development coaches are for!