“Engagement” is a well-known word in today’s workplace. As early as 2012, organizations were investing approximately $720 million each year to improve employee engagement. What’s more, according to a recent Forbes article by organizational psychologist Karlyn Borysenko, disengaged employees cost their organizations an average of $16,000 per year. Still, many leaders argue over the importance of engagement and struggle to view it as a daily business priority.

A key factor in connecting business priorities to individual employees is engagement, but it doesn’t start with the employee’s engagement; it starts with the leader. Consider the perspective of leadership optimist Simon Sinek, who says it’s important not only to ensure you have the right people on the bus but also to ensure you have the right leaders driving that bus. Sinek discusses the need for leaders to create an environment where employees can engage. “Firefighting” leaders often receive the badge of honor, while no one takes a step back to look at the people metrics associated with these leaders. Employees today are seeking consistency in experience, and these types of “firefighting” environments aren’t meeting that need.

Companies can change, though, and it starts with the leaders.

Engaged Leaders Understand That Engagement Is More Than a Number

While it should be hard to ignore the importance of employee engagement in today’s workplace, it continues to happen. If we focused only on the numbers, they should be evidence enough, with Willis Towers Watson data showing that “for every 10% increase in engagement scores, there was roughly a 4% increase in customer satisfaction, and an increase of close to 10% in business outcomes including sales, share of customer business, customer retention and operating efficiency.” In a Deloitte survey, almost 80% of executives rated employee experience as “very important” or “important,” “but only 22% reported that their companies were excellent at building a differentiated employee experience.”

These data points alone are a convincing argument for ensuring that your company’s leaders are willing to invest time, energy and effort in great employee outcomes, but true engagement doesn’t start or end with numbers. Rather, employee engagement is about people. Engaged leaders focus first on their people, because they understand that their people are the ones who truly drive business outcomes. They understand that engagement is about the organization’s culture and that culture is a daily practice of interactions and communication at all levels, with a deliberate design that encourages associates to connect to the purpose of the organization.

How is your company providing employee engagement their ability to support and grow the people they lead?

Engaged Leaders Lead the Way With Standards and Accountability

Engagement is built through examples. Some of the best organizations have great standards or manifestos, not based on they are written but on how they are brought to life by leaders who set the stage for the words to become reality. As researcher Dr. Brené Brown wrote in her book “Dare to Lead,” “A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.”

Leadership is not an easy role. It requires thoughtfulness, flexing of communication in ways that often lead to courageous conversations involving candor and, ultimately, a humanistic approach. Engaged leaders take the time to find out how to connect to each employee in a way that is unique and meaningful to them. They work to find the pieces that create a spark, not just in employees who show daily optimism, but also in employees who say, “I just want to come in, do my job and go home.” Engaged leaders figure out how to ask the right questions that open up new thought experiments for employees with this type of belief, too. They work to connect to the each employee and bring his or her unique passions alive.

In what ways are leaders in your organization deliberately working to take standards and accountability from word to action?

Engaged Leaders Proactively Design Daily Experience Environments

Employees want to enjoy coming to work, and they expect an environment that supports that desire. Engaged leaders have a plan on how they create that environment each day, and one way they do so is through consistency. They develop a proactive schedule to ensure that their team members know when they will see them each day. They also set up an environment where their employees know they will come to them, instead of the employee’s hoping to catch the leader for a drive-through conversation. Engaged leaders set one-on-one time regularly and allow their employees to drive the agenda. It is the leaders’ opportunity to set the “where,” and they can empower their employees by allowing them to drive the “how.”

This consistency requires a deliberate and proactive approach. If a leader cancels meetings with employees because “someone asked for a last-minute meeting, and I had to put her on my calendar,” or shows up to the meetings and isn’t fully present, the employees will begin questioning how important the meetings are to their leader. Engaged leaders understand how to lead with a consistent effort toward people outcomes and an understanding of how they drive the business outcomes.

What process does your company have in place to assess current leader engagement and assess engagement of leadership candidates during the hiring process?

If your company doesn’t prioritize leader engagement, how can you expect leaders to put a priority on engagement with the people they lead? Make it easy for your leaders to prioritize engagement daily, weekly, monthly and beyond. If the only time your leaders talk about engagement is when a survey rolls around, the results of that survey won’t be where you want them.

Don’t blame leaders; fix the processes that allow engagement to suffer. You won’t fix the issue overnight or, in most cases, even over the next year. But if your leaders’ focus on engagement means more than looking at a number and extends into daily experiences, modeling standards and accountability with a humanistic approach, you will start to see progress.

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