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5 Levers of Employee Engagement

MC
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
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An "engaged employee" is one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about their work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization's interests. --Wikipedia

At a recent ASTD meeting, a peer and I were discussing employee engagement and the trends that come and go. It seems like two to three years ago “engaged employees” were all the rage of conferences and consultants and organizations. But it seems to have fallen off the radar in favor of such topics as complexity and change plus innovation.

Employee engagement is one of those topics that will consistently remain a needed focus of managers everywhere, whatever we call it.

To be sure, work that managers and employees are doing is increasing in complexity due to the perception of globalization, less time, and the instability in economic and political parties. And even as innovation and transient workforces come and go, while employees are working (whether contract, part-, or full time) you want them to be engaged in the work they are doing. If they handle the complexity of factors thrown at them, an engaged employee by default will innovate and improve ways of doing the work.

There are five levers of employee engagement:

  • competent manager
  • broad goals that are established within the proper context
  • objective measures of progress and regress
  • the necessary resources to get the job done
  • sufficient autonomy to do their best work.

Competent

Manager   +

Contextual Goals       +

Objective Metrics     +

Resources  +

Autonomy  =

Engaged

 

 

Contextual Goals       +

Objective Metrics     +

Resources  +

Autonomy  =

Under-Performance

Competent

Manager   +

 

Objective Metrics     +

Resources  +

Autonomy  =

Confused & false starts, missed deadlines

Competent

Manager   +

Contextual Goals       +

 

Resources  +

Autonomy  =

Angry and / or Scared

Competent

Manager   +

Contextual Goals       +

Objective Metrics     +

Advertisement

 

Autonomy  =

Frustrated

Competent

Manager   +

Contextual Goals       +

Objective Metrics     +

Resources  +

                 =

 Micromanaged

                                                                                                

                                                                                               ©2012 www.create-learning.com

Lever 1: a competent manager

The idea of management is well understood, and the necessity of a competent manager is someone everyone wants and is not felt until you don’t have it.

A competent manager is one who is able to add value to employees’ work and enhance their decision making and judgment of the work. A competent manager is one who is able to illustrate that they know the work, have an understanding of employees’ work, and lets employees know that ultimately they (the manager) is accountable for the output of the team. A competent manager is able to judge work and enable workers to do their best work. They are able to move a team along in collaboration enthusiastically engaged with each other and the work.

In order for the manager to be competent they must be able to understand the goals of the organization, how those goals affect their manager, and how those goals will affect the work of employees. Then, they need to be able to supply workers with sufficient information to enable them to do their best.

Without a competent manager employee engagement will never happen, and underperformance will plague the organization and team.

Lever 2: contextual goals

Goals drive everything an organization, manager, and employee does. Without the goal, there is no work.

Thinking of contextual goals it is like Goldilocks and the Three Bears; the goal must be “just right” for each person. Goals cannot be so broad in scope that an employee is drifting aimlessly like a plastic bag in the wind, and they cannot be so narrow in scope that they feel constrained and cannot “be themselves” and do their best work.

Setting goals in the proper timeframe with the adequate quality and quantity requirements will also complement the competent manager—because a competent manager knows how to set goals within the frame of the employee’s work.

Without the contextual goal, employee engagement is impossible and frustration along with false starts and late/early finishes will disengage anyone from the organization and team.

Lever 3: objective metrics

Employees must be able to objectively—and on their own—measure progress and regress on work that is meaningful to them. This is accomplished by the competent manager setting contextual goals, and by the employee working to determine the needed small steps, how to accomplish those small steps, and knowing what progress looks like.

Metrics that are based on the “feeling of the manager” will achieve misery, anger, and fear, which is mutually exclusive of engagement. Metrics must be in reference to the contextual goals.  And metrics should be co-developed by the employee and manager, but the employee has the final say over how to complete their own work.

If the objective metric (a standard for progress and regress) is not known and established by the employee, anger and fear will freeze them in disengagement. Developing metrics that are based on tasks and work that is completed will work to further engage the employee in the work to be done.

Lever 4: resources

To complete work the employee must have the necessary resources. To quickly disengage your staff, delegate goals and then take away their resources. This does not mean that a manager must supply the employee all the resources they desire, but it does mean that the manager has to supply the employee the resources they need.

Resources may be materials, consultants, training, staff, and so forth.  Some questions to consider with resources include:

  • What resources does the employee currently have?
  • Can the contextual goal be completed in the time frame required with the resources available?
  • Does this contextual goal warrant the resources required by this employee?

Limited resources can drive innovation, but in order for innovation and engagement to occur, adequate resources are required.
Lever 5: autonomy

Autonomy is synonymous with self-directed behavior. It can be a lever that drives employee engagement into full implementation. But autonomy must be tied to the other areas mentioned: competent manager, contextual goals, objective metrics, resources.  Only then can the autonomy happen.

Within work an autonomous employee understands that there are choices, and ultimately they feel responsible for the choices made. They are able to do their best work, and gain wisdom on how to make decisions and solve problems while doing their work.

There will come a time when an autonomous, engaged employee will hit an obstacle that they cannot navigate around. This is when the manager can increase engagement by coaching and developing this employee to improve their problem-solving skills, therefore reinforcing autonomy and engagement.

If employees feel that they are being micro-managed, all the engagement will be sucked out like a rapidly deflating balloon. This creates the “I just do what I’m told, if it goes wrong…not my fault” behavior.  

Using all the levers

These five levers of engagement build on each other to drive the innovative and successful work of organizations and staff. Often managers are mistaken in their belief that a person’s psychology or personality drives engagement. Rather, it is the system that drives behaviors, and the work system must be developed to keep people engaged in work that is meaningful and they can make progress on.

By understanding that the manager controls the process and works to set the system, the behaviors will adjust to engagement. Everyone wants to do their best work, and feel connected and engaged with their organization, work, manager, and co-workers. By focusing on these five levers you will create a work environment that drives engagement and innovation.

MC
About the Author

Michael Cardus is the principal consultant of Create-Learning Team Building & Leadership, Inc., www.create-learning.com  Create-Learning believes that people want to do their best work, and that systems- drive-behavior. Improve the systems, and unleash the capacity of people to do great work and love what they do.

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