Employee engagement secrets aren't so secret


“It’s about them, not about you,” I told an executive recently. He had all the technical skills and experience the company desperately needed to turn a poorly performing plant around. As his executive coach, I was going to help him with the people side of the business. Like many bright, talented leaders, he lacked some of the subtle savvy required to get cynical employees to follow him. 

Here are some of the basic rules of engagement, for any leader who struggles with some of the same battles. While the following may seem like common sense ideas, they are mistakes I’ve seen leaders make. Common sense isn’t always so common. 

Care about them as people-not just a cog in the wheel of production.

Make people around you feel good about themselves and their abilities. Don’t hog all the air time in casual conversations—ask your employees’ about their families and other interests. You’re the boss, so an employee will listen politely, unless you draw the person out and really care about what they have to say.

Never miss an opportunity to tell people how they contributed to the goal.

People love to hear that they are smart, talented, contributing members of the team. In athletics the goal is obvious, but in business, the goal can be invisible to people on the team. Shooting baskets with a blindfold on would be a dull game indeed. Yet, for many people, doing the same routine day after day can feel the same way. Show people how they contribute to the final score and they will take more interest in taking better aim. 

Let people bask in their accomplishments-even the small ones.

When someone accomplishes something, don’t just pat him on the back; ask him to give you the details about how he accomplished it. Let him relive it and bask in the glow of the outcome. Not only will it rekindle motivation and passion, it will give you a glimpse into the strategies and actions of each employee. 

Don’t compete with your staff--you’ve already won.

Some managers are so competitive, they have to be best at everything—and let everyone know it. They can’t resist the opportunity to one-up people. They went to a better school…they already know the answer to that problem…they caught a bigger fish on vacation.  What they don’t realize is that, by virtue of their elevated status, they are already in a superior one-up position. When they boast to their employees it only makes them look insecure or arrogant. Great managers let their employees shine and keep their mouths shut about their own accomplishments. 

Take the criticism but share the credit.

Some years ago, I heard a plant manager say to a customer, “I’d like you to meet Ralph. He’s the reason for your poor quality.” This same manager was always first in line to accept any praise that came from corporate headquarters. Another plant manager I know accepts responsibility from corporate headquarters when results are down, and then turns to his team and says, “Let’s turn this around.” When results are positive, he points to his team and gives them the credit. Which manager do you think will have the best long-term results? 

First, you are a teacher.

People want to learn and try new things. They want their actions to move the organization in the right direction. The best way to get that information is through their manager. The day-to-day coaching and guidance that comes from a patient teacher is worth a year full of seminars. Add to that a teacher with high expectations and a drive for results, and you will have a powerful combination of motivation and high performance. 

Engage people’s hearts and their minds.

Before I made a career transition into the business world, I had the misguided notion that business people worked in a world of facts and figures, where emotion and personal connection had no place. How wrong I was. Good leaders must connect with people before they can get them to embrace a change, provide great service to a customer, or beat last year’s production goals. That means asking employees for their opinion, explaining the reasons for making a change that will affect their jobs, or involving them in solving a problem they are closest to. 

No matter what business you are in, or what goals you want to achieve, realize you are in the people business first. 

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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