Engagement and leadership are the two major priorities facing organizations in 2015. According to a Morneau Shepell survey of 442 Canadian human resources (HR) professionals, 43% of respondents cited employee engagement as the major impediment to higher productivity while 22% cited leadership.
Stephen Liptrap, Executive Vice President of Morneau Shepell, concluded that "the challenge that employers face is in knowing how to address these issues effectively in order to increase productivity."
Perhaps the answer resides in fusing together engagement and leadership to achieve engaged leadership.
Making senior leadership a partner in engagement
In times past, HR would ask how to get senior leadership buy-in to focus more on engagement? I believe we need to drop the concept of buy-in for engagement. The term buy-in transforms HR into sellers and senior leadership into buyers.
Within an organization, engagement resides more in partnership than in selling. We need to move from a transactional view of engagement - full of levers and drivers - to transformational engagement where employees (remember, leaders are employees too) are transformed through engaging work.
In 2015, leadership resides everywhere. No longer does leadership reside at the top of the pyramid. Good leaders manage and good managers lead. Leadership is found more in daily actions than a strategic retreat away from the organization.
10 directions for daily-engaged leadership
Engaged leadership asks and invites leaders to take ten different steps as they proceed with their work. Are you ready, willing, and able to: ask, invite, join, experiment, weave, read, see, fly, narrate, and lift? Here are brief descriptions of ten directions for daily-engaged leadership:
Begin with not knowing, even if you think you already know. Questions engage, so ask compelling questions to draw people into the work of the organization. Perhaps the organization's strategy is best framed as a question rather than a goal, objective, or commandment.
In 2015, all employee effort is discretionary. Employees seldom resist change but they certainly do resist coercion. As a leader, do not become an agent of coercion. Frame all your leadership work and contributions as invitations. Strive to make these invitations both engaging and compelling.
As we journey from me to we, help employees craft jobs and co-create strategy. Recognize and make use of the wisdom and contribution from all team members and know that leadership does not reside in a position. Rather than running out in front trying to pull people into the future, join with your employees and move together into a co-created future.
Start dealing more with hypotheses than certainty. Try things as you journey from best case to test case. Test hypotheses by running experiments and seeing what happens. Be willing to disconfirm your cherished leadership beliefs. A good start is to read, The Discipline of Business Experimentation by Stefan Thomke and Jim Manzi, which appeared in the December 2014 issue of the Harvard Business Review.
A basic synonym for engagement is connection. Weave engagement into the fabric of work by connecting individuals, departments, and work. Don't allow engagement to be in silos and don't think one department, such as HR or internal communication, can look after "that engagement thing." Engagement is an "everybody thing."
Yes it may sound old fashioned in the age of tweets and updates, but reading good leadership blogs and business books can open up new vistas on how to engage fully as a leader. An excellent place to begin is to make a habit of reading the eclectic mix of informative posts on Halogen's TalentSpace.
Show up and pay attention. Keep your eyes (and ears) open to the people you work with. Attention is a powerful and natural way to engage others in the organization. Seeing brings leadership into the present moment and when you really think of it that is the only moment you truly have. Mindfulness enriches leadership with real-time insight.
Climb off of your hierarchical perch and keep flying into the day to day workings of your organization. It is easy for people to disengage when they are disconnected from leadership and believe that leadership does not have a clue about who they are. Our mobile tools allow people in leadership positions to become untethered from their offices. In addition, strive to be more comfortable with the principles and practices of improvisation and building on what others bring to the organization.
In some ways, leadership asks you to become the keeper, creator, and teller of the organizational story. Master story-telling skills to add meaning and significance to the work and contributions of the organization. Facts are important, yes, but stories add meaning and connection to the facts.
Know your own strengths and use them in the service of others every day. You will be more engaged with your work, you will enhance your personal well-being, and you will provide a powerful and engaging role model for everyone else around you. Never forget, engaged leadership is strong stuff.
At the start of this article the two pressing concerns for organizations were engagement and leadership. Let's be creative and solve each of these challenges by combining them together into engaged leadership that guides all of us further into improved and increased employee engagement for the benefit of all.