Do you remember life in 1990? Law & Order was on its first ever season; MC Hammer was telling us U Can’t Touch This as he danced around in Hammer pants; and the term employee engagement was first written about by William A Kahn1 (which, of course, you already knew.)

But, what does it mean for leaders and business owners in today’s workplace and why does it matter? Engaged employees don’t have to be told what to do. Because they passionately believe in what the company does and aims to achieve, they can be just as committed as if it were their own business.

Think of how a business owner behaves: They don’t tolerate problems, they solve them. They care about their customers, so they go the extra mile for them. They want the company to succeed, because if it succeeds, so do they. That’s how an engaged employee behaves. Now imagine all your employees being that way – that’s an engaged workforce.

But how do we achieve that level of engagement? There are three critical elements you need to put in place.

1.     Live your values

Regardless of where you are in the management hierarchy, when it comes to values, you can’t talk the talk without walking the walk.  All too often, employees receive mixed messages about company culture.  For instance, the policy may be that employees must use their vacation days, but that doesn’t mean much if you, as their manager, haven’t taken any leave for the past two years. Your team will take it as a sign that you expect the same from them and that taking time off will be held against them at appraisal time. Similarly, your message becomes empty words if you tell your people that customers come first, but in team meetings, you spend all your time discussing ways to cut how long each customer interaction takes. Live your values and let your people see you doing it.

2.     Create great relationships

The keys to great relationships are trust, empathy and good communication. They are as important with our work family as with our home family. You may recall that in my previous article I invited you to ask yourself this question: Do my people know they can give me honest feedback and speak freely, without negative consequences?   If you are not leaning towards a ‘yes’ answer, let me just say this. In my experience, when employees feel comfortable enough to have frank or meaningful discussions with their manager, they are much more likely to be fully engaged.

Healthy debate will always encompass passionately expressed, opposing points of view. Your job as a leader is to respect all input and consider it. Will it alter how you proceed? Possibly, that’s up to you. Should you choose a different direction, take the time to explain your thinking. Let your people know you’ve thought about what they said while you put forward your well-reasoned argument for the decision you have made. At the very least, those who disagree will feel listened to and, even if they don’t like it, they will go along with your decision.

Within every team I led in my corporate life, I encouraged ‘good’ conflict, diversity of thought, and free expression as it was what enabled us to find solutions and thrive whenever the VUCA would hit the fan.

3.     Instil Resilience

Wayne Dyer once said, ‘Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change.’ Training your people (and yourself!) to be resilient when things go wrong is a skill that will help them in every area of their lives.   Resilient people are better able to handle constantly changing priorities, upheaval, and uncertainty. This frees them to make balanced, considered decisions without being consumed by time pressures and feelings of overwhelm that so often derail their colleagues. Thankfully, resilience is a skill that can be learned and practised, not a genetically inherited predisposition. These are a few ways we can develop it.

  • Take a short time out between meetings to breathe deeply and refocus your mind.
  • Reduce the length of meetings – 90 minutes max.
  • Take breaks through the day by walking to the cafeteria or simply to another floor.
  • Celebrate successes. Take stock at the end of each day of what went well.
  • Use a mindfulness app to help you learn mindfulness practices (Headspace is my favourite)

The framework I have given you above – Values, Relationships, and Resilience – is what I use with my own clients to transform engagement in their workplace, and – on a personal note – it is how I created engaged teams throughout my corporate career.

In the next article in this series, I’ll examine something that every employee is looking for in their workplace.