Compelling research done by CEB Corporate Leadership Council, Gallup, Hay Group, and others demonstrates the indisputable correlation between high levels of employee engagement and substantially improved business results – increases in profitability, productivity, growth, and employee retention rates. Organizations spend an enormous amount of money implementing various employee engagement initiatives, which far too often get results far short of expectations. So the question becomes Why? Author John Guaspari, in his new book Otherwise Engaged, offers leaders a new way to think about employee engagement that helps answer that question.
The problem, according to Guaspari, is that the approaches to improving employee engagement are based on a faulty assumption. Companies fund their initiatives assuming, like they do with almost all business initiatives, that the problem can be solved with rational, best-practice-driven initiatives. Unfortunately these mechanical, utilitarian prescriptions are trying to fix what is essentially a problem of the spirit and soul. “It’s not just that such approaches don’t work,” says Guaspari. “It’s that they can’t work, any more than even the most powerful antibiotic will cure a viral infection.”
So how can leaders get a grip on employee engagement. According to Guaspari:
- Leaders need to prepare to be uncomfortable and recognize and embrace the fact that Intangibles are “intangible,” and that taking a simple, rational approach to dealing with the people stuff isn’t good enough.
- Leaders need to avoid the employee engagement trap: Engagement is not a matter of them interacting and connecting with employees. It’s a matter of them creating the conditions necessary for employees to find meaning in their work. Engagement is not a series of activities in which people participate. It’s a feeling-state in which people exist.
- Leaders can’t bestow empowerment. Instead they need to create an environment where employees feel safe while exercising judgment on the job.
- Leaders need to create an environment of trust by ensuring that leaders and employees clearly understand what’s expected of each other and that they are confident that those expectations will be met.
- Leaders need to understand that employees are entitled to respect from them. Leaders need to give employees respect, presumptively.
- Leaders need to promulgate the company’s values by ensuring that their own behaviors are consistent with those values. Values aren’t stipulated, they’re lived. Don’t just stick them on posters.
- Leaders need to understand that “the people stuff” in not separate from the “running the business stuff.” Engagement, and the business benefits that result, require attending to the people stuff.
Using humor and metaphor and providing clear, specific actions that a new or experienced leader can take, Guaspari shows us that, in the PowerPoint world of analysis and logic that permeates most organizations, it’s really our humanity and feelings of trust, respect, and safety that generate commitment and therefore performance.