"Strategy and conditioning can only take you so far. In this race, you've gotta have heart to have a chance." —Steve McGill's advice on the 400-meter hurdle race
Imagine yourself at the start of a 400-meter hurdle race. With the gun about to go off, you settle into the blocks for a fast start. You know that speed is of the essence, pace is fundamental, form is essential and 10 hurdles stand in the way of your path to the finish line.
That is an interesting experience to imagine, but the real issue for the readers of this post is employee engagement: Are you on track with engagement? This post outlines 10 hurdles we may encounter in engagement and how to bound over them without them defeating our sprint to the finish line.
Confidential for HR leaders: The following hurdle advice is helpful if you are in the initial stages of your engagement work or if you have been around the engagement track countless times and are into your second decade of work on employee engagement.
1. The strategy hurdle
Just as elite hurdlers develop a strategy for their race, we need to align our engagement with the overall organizational strategies. We don't want a higher engagement score just to get a higher score. We must attach engagement to significant goals for the organization around such issues as performance, well-being, productivity, profits and safety. Be strategic on your engagement run.
2. The education hurdle
Engagement is more than simple motivation. It requires education and structural tools. Design thinking and the employee experience offer us a map and empathy to determine who needs to know what, and what structural nudges we can implement to help employees take the actions required for full engagement. Education is about learning and if you are enamored with the employee experience framework, never forget the most basic definition of learning: "a change resulting from experience."
3. The coming out of the block hurdle
Hurdlers strive for an explosive start. You don't want engagement to be reduced to an annual event, of course, but how you start your year or initiative is very important. Put lots of work into planning and gathering employee attention at the start. As one old saying goes, "Well begun is half done."
4. The stride-pace-rhythm hurdle
Even if you start well, you need to have sustainable engagement. Determine the best methods to install an engaging stride, pace and rhythm into your work. Help employees balance full engagement with effective rest and recovery. Let employees exercise autonomy in designing their work to make the best use of each employee's unique work stride, pace and rhythm.
5. Only race day matters hurdle
Hurdlers build for a championship day, but at work we need to focus on sustainable training. Fall in love with getting incremental improvements as everyone develops a healthy growth mindset. Take inspiration and encourage progress with the "aggregation of marginal gains" or improving everything you do in engagement by 1 percent.
6. The premature finish hurdle
Sometimes runners slow down just as they are about to cross the finish line. Keep engagement flowing during the end of the day, end of the week and end of the year. Stop thinking you are done before the race is over.
7. The double finish hurdle
A recurring theme in my work is to focus on the double finish. Know the finish line or result you want to achieve while also knowing what you may need to finish or end before you begin. We will not master powerful change engagement without mastering transitions.
8. Thrown for a curve hurdle
A unique feature of the 400-meter is that part of it involves going around a curve while running strong yet encountering hurdles along the way. Know that in our work on engagement, we will encounter curves and bends. Anticipate these curves and how you will jump over them. Because employee engagement is human, it never simply follows a straight line.
9. The stumble-recovery hurdle
Occasionally, runners trip or stumble over a hurdle. Don't give up—all is not lost. The best definition of a professional I ever heard was a person who does their best job even when they don't feel like it. Life and work is never about never falling; it is how you pick yourself back up and carry on.
10. The looking-around hurdle.
Runners are sometimes tempted to look around even if they are in the lead. At times, this results in being caught from behind. Don't worry too much about benchmarks and how others organizations are doing in your industry. Keep your focus on where you work, benchmark your own progress and strive to improve engagement where you work.
Before you race off into the next phases of engagement at work, contemplate the 10 hurdles. Determine which ones are relevant to you and your organization. Develop a training plan, and a strategy to deal with the hurdles. Then lace up your shoes for a great race toward successful work and engagement.