Employee Engagement Depends on Leaders Modeling the Way

Start With these 4 Steps To Lead By Example and Build Engagement

Leaders Model the Way

As a kid I used to LOVE watching Kung-Fu movies. You know, the ones with the cartoony stunt work, hilariously bad translations and horrible voice-overs? Somehow in these movies the video track always failed to match the audio.

Makes me wonder…is that how we sound to our employees when we make proclamations and then act in ways that run counter to what we just said? What message are we sending to our people?

That’s why I propose that the first rule of (employee) engagement should be this: above all else, be clear. And the best way to be clear is to make sure your video matches your audio. In other words, make sure that what you say is backed up 100% by what you do, at work.

Call it leading by example or modeling the way.

Here are 4 steps you can take to make that happen.

1. Make their Work Meaningful by Asking “Why”?

No disrespect to Nietzsche or Freud, but human beings are NOT driven primarily by the will to power nor the will to pleasure. Those desires are powerful, but neither constitutes our primary drive. Instead, I believe in Kierkegaard’s and Frankl’s notion of logos and the will to meaning.

All people have as a primary drive, the search for meaning in their life, and work is a powerful aspect of that search.

So when Simon Sinek urges us to, “Start With Why” it resonates with me.

How about you?

Have you stopped to ask WHY your company exists in the first place? WHY does your department exist? WHY do you do the work that you do? HOW do you add value to people’s lives?

Yes, we all want to make a good living but we also have a powerful desire to do good. Are you addressing this powerful need within each of your employees? Do you talk about the purpose of your organization? Do you go out of your way to show them, in very tangible, if not visceral ways, how the work they actually do, touches the lives of other human beings?

Or are you incessantly harping about your firm’s quarterly numbers?

Engaged employees want meaning and purpose at work,  and not just a paycheck. Won’t you give it to them please?

2. Put Values Front and Center Every Day

Values are not just the pretty words put on the plaques adorning the lobby. They are words (or symbols) of what matters most to your organization. They are words to live by; hire by; fire by; serve by.

Are you treating them as such?

Or are you allowing them to go ignored; to be forgotten; or worse, to be violated or corrupted?

Take a moment to consider that Enron avowed having the values of communication, respect, integrity, and excellence while simultaneously making a mockery of each of these words in their day-to-day operation. Perhaps this type of behavior is the reason we’ve become cynical and disengaged in the first place.

But as employees, we want to work for organizations that aspire to lofty values, and while no one expects perfection, employees do expect consistency in the pursuit of those values.

Values are unique to each organization, and it may not even matter which values you choose. What matters is that you stick with  them EVEN when it is inconvenient or disadvantageous to do so. Actually, it is in moments of trials and tribulations that we discover what our TRUE values really are.

Values are crucial and we need to keep them front and center in everything we say and do at work. When we diverge from our values we are sending a confusing, if not disingenuous, message which in time will lead to disengagement.

3. Make Sure Your Strategy is Clearly Communicated and Considered from the Employee’s Perspective

Michael Porter teaches us that “Strategy is about making choices and trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.” Most managers may understand that, however, many fail to understand the vital importance of communicating those choices in a simple and clear fashion; managers may not mind complexity but employees certainly do. And rightly so.

Make sure that your strategy can be summarized in plain, easy to understand English on a single sheet of paper. Then, make sure that you help everyone understand how the chosen strategy impacts what they do every day. To that end, make sure that you help each employee understand the following:

  • What their top priorities should be (just 1 or 2, not 10)
  • What results are expected and by when?
  • How results will be measured (in terms of both lagging and leading indicators)?
  • What, if any, adjustments or changes to their work will be necessary?
  • What, if any, additional training will be required?
  • How will  progress be reviewed?

Being as explicit and clear as possible on these points will aid engagement and the execution of your strategy.

4. Demand Excellence from Everyone, Starting with Yourself

To increase engagement will require people in your organization to embrace change and change requires a sense of urgency. The leaders of the organization must be the ones that communicate that sense of urgency to their people, preferably by their actions twice as often as by their words. Let’s remember that employees adopt the behavior they see reflected in their leaders.

To appropriate a sentiment once expressed by Ghandi, Be the change you want to see in your organization. Model the desired behavior for your people. Demand excellence of yourself before you demand it of others.

Do not allow inequities and incongruities to seep into your workplace, and if they’re already present, work to remove them immediately. Leaders must set the standard for excellence while ensuring that everyone is held accountable to that standard, equally. Daily.

Parting Thoughts

We’ve discussed much about the issue of employee engagement, but here’s the irony: employee engagement does not start with your employees. It starts with you.

High employee engagement requires that you, yourself are fully engaged with the organization and that you are engaged with your people. The latter takes humility and an understanding that you can’t do it alone, that you don’t have all the answers and that you’re there to serve your people as well as the bottom line.

Before seeking to engage others, seek to be clear about your own level of engagement so that what follows is an earnest, heart-felt pursuit of collaboration for the sake of your organization’s purpose and mission, and the benefit of all its stakeholders.

photo courtesy of Edu Lauton, via Unsplash