Ask Root: March/April 2014

We’re asking our managers to do a lot and giving them the training we think they need. However, we’re worried that maybe we’re asking too much of them. If you were to pick one area that is the most critical for managers to be good at, what would you suggest? 

Managers, by their very nature, are problem solvers. While that quality served them well up to this point, it’s important that they make a shift from solving problems themselves to helping their people come to the answer on their own. They can do this by changing the way they coach and develop. Rather than offering solutions right away, they can engage and empower their people by simply asking questions and allowing people to evaluate options and determine the best way forward on their own. Making this shift offers two big rewards. First, managers have more time! This happens because they are no longer spending a big percentage of their time solving problems for their people. Second, and most importantly, their people are more engaged and contribute at a higher level since they came up to the solution on their own, rather than being told what to do.

What are some of the top reasons that lead to a disengaged workforce? How do we move the needle with this group? 

If we had to summarize the leading cause of disengagement in one word, it would be: disconnects. In our experience, disconnects = disengagement. Disconnects can manifest themselves in many ways, all of which build barriers and walls to engagement. Here are some of the most common disconnects we come across in our work:

  • At the organizational level, employees can become disconnected from the mission and purpose of the business. This loss of connectivity to the unique value that the organization provides its stakeholders can diminish the pride of purpose that employees bring to their work. Making sure employees at all levels feel the visceral pull of an organization’s purpose and can connect their work to it is a powerful way to prevent disenchantment and disengagement.
  • Within the team environment, employees can sometimes get disconnected from their place on the team. When they lose this sense of belonging at the team level, employees often lose a clear sense of the value they provide and the “esprit de corps” that is so critical to creating motivated and inspired employees. The leaders and managers closest to the inner workings of the team must ensure each individual feels like they are on the “A” team and is an equally valued contributor to the team’s success.
  • Finally, employees can become disconnected at the personal level when they lose the balance between mind and body. In this era of rapid change, constant connectivity, and 24/7 demands, it is very easy to let physical and spiritual well-being slip to the backburner. Unfortunately, the demands of business dictate that optimal engagement can only be derived when the mind and body are operating in perfect synchronicity.

We use a variety of meeting/methods to communicate strategic initiatives to employees – leadership meetings, town halls, monthly peer-to-peers, webcasts, conference calls, direct email – and we still have low engagement scores. How do we get our employees to understand what it is we’re communicating to them?

The first question you need to ask yourself is: “What are we trying to accomplish?” Is it for employees to understand the strategic initiatives you’re communicating to them, or to actually be engaged in them and understand their role in bringing them to life? There is a difference. I assume, like any well-meaning organization, you want to accomplish both. How you go about this is critical. While the methods you mention may make an impact to some degree, most of them seem like an attempt to “tell” employees what is important to your leadership instead of focusing on what employees are curious about. It is also important to provide the appropriate and safe environment (typically in a small group) for employees to engage in discussion and feel encouraged to share their perspective while learning about the why, what, and how of your strategy.

The second question to consider is: “What are we really measuring?” Is it an important measure for the business? Does anyone really care about your engagement survey other than HR? While everyone wants engaged employees, you might consider questioning what comprises your survey and focus on the key people measurements that are critical to their role in bringing your initiatives and strategy to life.

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