Making the Dream of Full Engagement a Reality


At a recent company meeting, one of the people on my team announced that she was “the most engaged at work” that she’s ever been. She’s worked on our team for several years, and this hasn’t been the easiest of them. Yet she is on fire. Imagine the impact her enthusiasm for work has on our culture and productivity.

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I dream of workplaces where everyone is fully engaged. I’m not talking about ping pong tables and happy hours where it’s fun to come to work. I’m not talking about an environment where nothing is hard and no one is uncomfortable. I’m talking about, as engagement expert Bob Kelleher defines it, full commitment to apply discretionary effort into a cause. That’s what I dream about.

It’s probably an unattainable dream, at least in a sustained way over long periods of time. Life is hard, and factors outside our control often impact how much heart and soul we can put into our work. I know that when my marriage or parenting relationships get strained, or when I’m physically not feeling well, it’s harder to focus on work.

Acknowledging that, I dream about how leaders can support the conditions to maximize everyone’s engagement. In other words, how can leaders optimize the shared commitments of team members so all employees can give it all they have?

Leadership, Trust and Engagement

Employee engagement research reveals several key factors that drive engagement, such as the quality of relationships at work, a person’s belief in the direction of the organization, and how clear employees are about the ways in which they contribute to the success of the organization. At the heart of these factors is trust – in colleagues, in the company and in your own value. According to leadership expert Patrick Lencioni, we need to understand that this trust is two-fold: “predictive-based” trust and “vulnerability-based” trust.

Leaders foster predictive-based trust when they recruit, hire, onboard and evaluate people based on their demonstration of the behaviors that are predicted to improve organizational results. Predictive-based trust increases when leaders do these important tasks well and people perform as predicted. High-performance teams increase engagement.

Leaders foster vulnerability-based trust when they diligently support emotional transparency. After our company meeting, another employee confided in me that he was feeling anxious about how to move forward in a specific area of his responsibility. He admitted that he was worried because this part of his job was new to him, and he didn’t know where to start. This candid exchange allowed us to constructively problem-solve the issue without him being concerned that his candor would be used against him in the future—either in a performance review or via office politics.

Both predictive-based and vulnerability-based trust require a set of shared values. For instance, employees need to really appreciate, celebrate and demonstrate integrity, respect, accountability and excellence. Explicit or implicit agreements must be woven into the fabric of the culture and demanded by senior leaders.

Sharpening a Leader’s Angles of Awareness

These two types of trust also require that leaders persistently work on their awareness. And all leaders face the very difficult task of having to fine-tune their view of three angles of awareness:

  1. What does the organization need? This angle is usually the easiest. It simply requires leaders to consider how character and process for each role drive desired results at the organizational level. If you don’t believe that your leader is hiring and promoting the right people on your team, it’s hard to remain engaged.
  2. What does the individual need? This one’s more challenging. It requires leaders to continually set aside and prioritize time for really listening, empathizing (avoiding the temptation to “fix” people), reassuring and honoring confidential information. Professional counselors and therapists are trained to do this well. Leaders in most organizations usually aren’t.
  3. What does the self need? This third level—self awareness—is the most challenging. As I wrote earlier this summer, great leaders have the courage to confront themselves on all the ways they might be limiting trust.

Most leaders have no idea how they limit trust because they relate to people and their work the way that they’ve seen other successful people relate to other people and their work. They assume that what they’ve seen other successful people do must be the right way for them. But often it’s not. Many successful people enjoy success due to circumstances (good timing on an investment, a great product idea, a bull market, good people who compensate for their shortcomings, etc.) despite their failures to build trust. As a result, people need to challenge their own assumptions about what good leaders do.

I dream of workplaces where leaders place a priority on constantly improving their awareness, because awareness builds trust. Trust builds commitment. And commitment is where engagement takes off.

Will you join me in this dream of full engagement and do what it takes to make it possible?

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3 Comments

  • Tammy Anderson
    October 7, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    I am interested in hearing more about what you offer for management training in the Mpls area.

    • Matt Norman
      November 1, 2016 at 2:59 pm

      Thank you, Tammy! I’ll follow-up with you about management training through your website.

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