According to Gallup’s 2017 “State of the American Workforce” report, only 33% of employees are engaged, only 21% of employees “strongly agree their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work” and only 13% believe organizational leaders communicate effectively. On the other hand, when employees are engaged, absenteeism is 41% lower, productivity is 17% higher, sales increase 20% and profitability increases 21%.
Imagine presenting these figures to your board of directors. Who would not agree that improving employee engagement is worth the effort? Unfortunately, organizations often focus on more tangible outcomes, efficiencies and complicated incentive programs to drive performance. Creating a culture of engagement is not insurmountable, but it needs to be focused and purposeful. Follow these four tips to begin the process of shaping your culture.
1. Be a Better Leader
Being a better leader starts with recognizing that you are not normal! Expecting that everyone thinks like you, acts like you and responds like you will only leave you frustrated. Recognize that people have different skills, strengths and blind spots. Some people love working in a group, others in solitude. Some people are good working through the details, while others are strong “big picture,” theoretical thinkers. Know your style, and know your strengths and weaknesses — but more importantly, know that others bring a host of different qualities and characteristics to the discussion. Value what others have by recognizing their uniqueness and helping to shape experiences where everyone’s strengths and blind spots will positively contribute to outcomes.
Being a leader means spending time understanding what leadership is and how it impacts the outcomes for your team. It means balancing the development of your personal action plan with knowing what others are working on. Leaders create teams that work well together, balance each other’s skills, and purposefully challenge individuals to grow and develop. Leadership is creating a safe environment.
2. Create the Environment
Over his or her lifetime, the average person spends 328 days socializing with friends and 4,806 days (13 years and two months) at work. Work doesn’t have to be a social event, but since we spend the majority of our waking hours there, the environment matters! Few work environments obtain the idyllic culture where everyone is skipping through the front door, yoga is offered after lunch and nap rooms are encouraged. They’re all great things to aspire to; however, creating the right environment is not about transforming into a perfect environment but about making purposeful steps toward improving the current environment.
Creating the environment means assessing when the team is tired, frustrated, happy, anxious or run down. Put the phones on hold, call for a walk around the building, blast music for 10 minutes, or go sit on the front steps and enjoy a nice day. For example, at my office, we bring people together through cookouts, a “managers cook breakfast” day and, of course, our annual bocce tournament.
Too often, we think that shaping the environment requires an expensive program. Small, repeated gestures add up to huge, culture-shaping experiences. The key is to continuously, actively assess and drive to shape a positive — not perfect — culture.
I’ve written on this one before! If you are not a mentor, be one. If you don’t have a mentor, find one! The value of being a sounding board and a guide is immeasurable and can improve individual and group motivation.
4. Build a Diverse Culture and Team
I started my career as a resident director for a college in Virginia. The great thing about working in student affairs from a leadership perspective is you fire your staff every year! Since one-third of your staff graduates each year, and the tendency in residential life is to move toward better housing options, the resident director gains years’ worth of team-building experience in a short period of time.
The first team I hired were mirror-images of me. After all, I was successful, engaging and assigned this leadership task, so why not hire people like me? Two weeks in, I knew why not! While my team was fun, we were not detail-oriented. We had room keys spread all over the place, room condition forms that weren’t complete, and no system in place as our 200 first-year students and their families pulled up to the front door. For year two, I hired a group of people who were not like me. What a difference!
Twenty-five years later, I spend time working with leaders focusing on building teams with different perspectives, experiences, cultures, races and ethnicities — the more viewpoints, the better. However, different viewpoints require a leader with refined communication skills, who can meet varying needs and demands, and great conflict resolution skills, since different views often lead to different and varying opinions.
This type of diversity leads to innovative solutions, better outcomes and less rework when executing ideas. An effective team is not a group of clones but is a chaotic and ever-flowing exchange of skills, ideas and suggestions, all working toward the same end goal.
“Optimizing employee engagement” is another way of articulating that the role of the leader is to shape the environment, create the culture, and continually work to perfect his or her talents as a leader. Leadership is always about being supporting the outcomes of others. Leadership is a combination of improving your own skills and helping others improve theirs.
Thanks to Armando Llorente for his input and stimulus for this blog.