Sunday, December 9, 2012

One rule and 6 steps to drive employee engagement

You may ask what qualifies me to speak about employee engagement and it’s a fair question when you are about to spend your valuable time reading something on such critical leadership competency. I understand leaders are busy so I’ll go straight to the answer:

  • 21 years of proven leadership and people development at PepsiCo, Kraft Foods and Lowe’s
  • Highest employee score in recent employee opinion survey
  • The highest score (90% strongly agree) to the question “my team members come together and help each other to get the job done
  • Full profile here if you want additional details

So let’s get to it shall we. The trigger for this article was a question from my management about what did I do to get such results, comparatively so much better. There was speculation about bribe, power play, torture and other common leadership methods. But I didn’t use any of that. Honestly, I could not exactly describe it other than say that my team’s development is my single most important priority.

That was not enough to put the interrogators at ease. So I really had to put some time and think about it, and in a way create some sense, some logic, some method regarding something that for me was day-to-day practice.

This is what I came up with. Don’t expect rocket science. This is something you can apply any time but it must be sincere:

RULE #1 and only: give before you ask; give more than you ask.

GIVE (4)

  1. Make your employees’ career your #1 priority (I stuck to my initial gut feel here) – Indeed the most important step is to remember that as leaders of people our first priority is to take care of people. Forget about your boss, forget about your deliverables and forget your other stakeholders. Their needs will be met naturally while you attend the needs of your employees. Engaged employees will deliver better results. Your engagement with your employees will provide the information you need to properly communicate with your boss and stakeholders.
  2. Trust before compliance (this is a tricky area) -. There is no question about the need for employees to comply with company rules and policies. However, if you treat everything under the compliance lens you are removing the one thing that differentiates us from the rest the animal kingdom: intelligence. Give them trust and they will positively surprise you.
  3. Flexibility and space (but stay connected) – one important way to demonstrate you trust your team is giving them space to work and allow flexibility in how they work. Set a clear objective and get out of their way. It doesn’t matter if they got there in a different way than you thought. Actually, often they will find better ways to get there. Note it’s very important that you understand people’s limitations and support them when needed. No matter how much flexibility and space you give a trainee he won’t be able to devise the company strategy. I’m assuming this is common sense though.
  4. Appreciate – this is likely the one step that requires the most sincerity. You don’t need to say “great job” to everything that is not really a great job. However, expressing your gratitude with a simple thank you goes a long way. Make appreciation public and again sincere. Remember that some things that may look like business as usual and simple at your career stage; can represent a major accomplishment to a more junior professional.

ASK (2)

  1. Accountability – make sure people understand that with greater power comes greater responsibility. It doesn’t need to be through punishment. Explain that along with trust you give you expect the individual or team to take accountability and escalate whenever things are not going as planned.
  2. Results – under the same principle, all that you gave to enable team success will be measured by the employee engagement and also by results. If everything else is in place and results are not being delivered there is something wrong. It can be your team’s readiness to transition to a more open model, your understanding of their capacity to deliver or lack of support. With time these will be discussed openly and any problem will be minimized.

The method is fairly simple. Make your people your first priority. Give them more than you ask. Observe your team thrive. If this is too different than what you do today and you are willing to try, make sure to explain the game plan and pace the transition accordingly. If team members are afraid to speak up or to think rather preferring to take orders, it will take same time before it works, however, the prize is worthwhile. The power of 10 engaged brains is always bigger than 100 disengaged ones.