Last week I overheard a conversation between my two teenagers. My son told his sister that he was an A-student in Spanish these days. “Having a great teacher makes all the difference,” he explained. Preparing to insert myself into their conversation to point out that he had a great teacher last year when he was failing Spanish, my son independently corrected his initial statement: “Actually,” he said, “The two things that made the biggest difference for me were becoming engaged [in my life] and making a commitment to learning. Once I did that, having a great teacher made it fun.” By way of additional perspective on this comment, I will also add that a little over a year ago, failing Spanish was the least of my son’s challenges. He was failing Spanish and everything else, academically and socially.
The decision to “engage and commit” changed everything for my son, just as it does for all of us. In the workplace it is well established that employee engagement produces innumerable positive business advantages, including higher productivity and customer service*. And while managers and leaders play a critical role in heightening employee engagement, as my son experienced, the need to develop engagement strategies on an individual level cannot be underestimated. As my grandfather might say, “There’s no point in flipping the switch if it’s not plugged in.” We need to empower employees with skills and resources that allow them to plug into their careers and life choices every bit as much as we need to provide managers with ways to coach, motivate, and hold employees accountable. Most importantly, how do we help employees to care about their careers, the customer, or the company?
Engaging employees and bolstering their commitment is not simply a management or an organizational problem – though managers and organizations can certainly be helpful in this process. Employees will demonstrate higher levels of ownership when they identify and implement strategies that will motivate them in times of adversity (even when their managers may not be functioning optimally). To get them to that point, we offer a partial list of suggestions for how managers can accelerate engagement and commitment in their employees:
1. Provide honest and appropriate recognition for the value employees contribute.
Describe the importance of their role or function with respect to the overall vision of the organization and also acknowledge them for the individual talents and contributions they offer to the team. When employees understand their value, they will have more confidence.
2. Demonstrate respect.
One of the most effective ways to show respect is to listen. Find times to connect with employees, ask them for their input and ideas, listen, and demonstrate that you have taken their ideas and suggestions to heart. When employees feel respected and included, they show more commitment to co-workers and customers.
3. Promote openness and take action.
Encourage employees to share their ideas and consistently thank them for speaking up. Act on what your employees ask – and communicate what you are doing (and why) in response to their request, especially when the answer is not what they initially requested. When employees feel that their point of view was sincerely considered, they become more solution-oriented and show more initiative and creativity.
4. Develop strengths with appropriate feedback and coaching.
Shine a light on how employees are performing currently and highlight ways that they can (or must) improve. Praise actual achievements with sufficient specificity that employees can continue to perform well. Develop a plan for their development that provides challenge and offers opportunities to expand into other areas or work on other projects. When employees identify opportunities for growth and reward, they perform at higher levels and show more commitment to results.
5. Show that you care.
Becoming engaged and committed necessarily involves connecting hearts and minds. Sometimes this is messy work. Fraught with feedback, challenge, and occasional adversities, we need to acknowledge that there is an emotional undercurrent to every decision that we make and everything we do. Transcending the buttoned-down professionalism of today’s workplaces to show that we genuinely care about each other requires compassion. When employees feel genuinely cared about, they care more.
Let us know your suggestions. We want to hear from you!*State of the American Workplace, Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders