Currently, corporate engagement is at consistent lows. Dale Carnegie reports 30% and Gallup reports 32% of respondents are engaged at work. The rest of the respondents are either not engaged or actively disengaged. This is huge problem because we are not effectively utilizing two thirds of our work force. Engagement is a problem that can be solved but requires everyone in the organization to work towards the solution. Each person has an important role to play in creating improving engagement within the organization.
The Role of CEO and Executive Management (Executive Leadership)
The CEO and executive management need to ensure that the corporate mission, values, purpose, and culture are well defined and are in themselves engaging. The mission, values, purpose and culture should be concepts that people can rally around, easily understand, and apply to their daily work. In additional, the CEO and executive management have to ensure that the culture is actively being evangelized to new and existing employees. Finally, executive leadership needs to communicate openly and transparently with employees to build trust. Although, executive leadership is import, mid-level managers are the people who directly interface with your employees.
Middle management is directly responsible for providing leadership in the direction provided by executive management. Middle managers are important because they build relationships with the employees getting things done. And it is this relationship which is the most influential on employees. To improve engagement, middle managers need to understand people and to understand people middle managers need to understand human needs. According to Maslow, humans have the following needs:
As a mid-level manager, I am guessing that you are paying people enough to meet their physiological and safety needs. So I am going to focus on the other three sections of the pyramid: belongingness and love, esteem, and self-actualization.
Belongingness and Love
Mid-level managers can help their employees feel belongingness and love by the efforts you make getting to know each of the people you manage and your willingness to help each of the people that you lead reach their maximum potential. Start with understanding their career goals and aspirations. You don’t need to conduct an interview but take advantage of fortunate events. For example, if you are at their desk and notice pictures of their family, you can ask about how old they are, if they play sports, how they are doing in school, etc. If the person is wearing a team jacket, you can ask about the team, etc. Once you know of their interests then act on it. If an employee has displayed an interest in management then try to give that individual more responsibility and opportunities to lead. If everyone is interested in Pokemon Go then organize a team meet up at a Pokemon Crawl.
But don’t take the love thing too far, and you know what I mean. You are still their manager.
Everyone needs to feel important, acknowledged, and appreciated. It is sometimes easy to feel that you are just a cog in the corporate machine. Some people are afraid to speak up. Some people do really great things and managers forget to say “Thank You” and “Great Job!”.
Middle managers need to help employees improve themselves so they are take on more challenging opportunities. This may require sending them to training or working with them to go through free training online. You also need to help your employees set up career goals and track progress in completing those goals.
Middle managers need to be inclusive. If you notice that certain individuals are afraid to speak up then you can work with them individually. Then build them up so that you can actively bring them into conversations and group meetings as they progress.
Finally, middle managers need to remember. Remember what great things your employees did and give credit. Remembering to say “Thank You” and “Great Job” are just the beginning. Don’t forget spot awards and bonuses. Show off their great work. Let other managers and employees know the great accomplishments that your employees are doing. Getting acknowledgement for work well done is great but your best people know they are good and will often be driven by other things.
Our time on this earth is pretty short. People want to do something that makes a difference. For some it is doing something which makes the world a better place. For others, it is solving a hard problem which affects that employee. For others, it is a general purpose or career goal. Your job is to understand what makes your employee tick so that you can help that person on their path towards self-actualization or help them see that what they are working on is helping them move in the direction of their purpose. This may require you to “sell”. Once they are bought in, you also need to trust them enough to let them take control of their own destinies.
But the executive management and your direct manager are not the greatest influencer to your engagement.
Your beliefs and attitude are the greatest predictor of engagement. No matter what situation you are in, you are in control of your future. Make a conscious decision to see the glass as half full then commit yourself to making sure that you continually do proactive things to fill the glass back up so that your life is full.
The Importance of Over Delivering
In other words, always over deliver. For example, if you building a new application and need the PRD (product requirements definition) document to start, then see if you can get the partially complete document to start. Don’t wait for the final complete PRD. I see this a lot in large organizations. People saying they can’t start because some other dependent process in front of them is not complete. Yes, there may be changes in the PRD because it is not complete but by having an early jump on the work--you will be virtually guaranteed to complete everything on time due to your head start. It also important that you keep in constant communication with people. Taking the PRD example, make sure that you periodically communicate with product management to be promptly notified of changes and additions. Don’t get stuck in the organizational processes of your organization. Once you are over delivering on your current responsibilities then you can start finding time to work on other things that spark the fire inside of you.
Having Passion To Find and Solve Big Problems Facing Your Group or the Organization
Passion is something that is found in almost anyone who cares strongly about something or someone. It is the characteristic that separates those “just doing their job” and those that impact the organization. To have passion you got to strongly care about your company, the people within the company, and where the company is going. You got to be willing to go the extra mile.
You typically see it in people who walk into work in the mornings, see trash, pick it up, and throw it away (even through it is “not their job”). You see it in people who are will to share burdens by understand big problems in other groups and seek out the people in those teams to solve those problems with. You see it in the people pitching their ideas to the President of the company even if their role is not to pitch ideas to the president. You find it in people who are willing to call the CEO of a partner company when things are not going well with the existing lines of communication at the partner company.
No woman or man is an island. In order to develop engagement, you need to build strong relationships to other people and groups within the organization.
You have got to go out and talk to people. Ideally meet face-to-face but phone is a less preferred option. Email can be used as an introductory tool however you still need to meet face to face. And when you talk to people you have to be non-threatening and friendly. It helps to smile. It also helps to be transparent and open.
Remember people’s names and faces. Whenever you see them politely greet them and acknowledge their existence and importance by saying hello and genuinely asking how there are doing. Be ready to help them solve their problems by listening and then providing a solution or connecting them with others that you know who can help. As you get to know people and their roles you will be able to solve cross-organizational issues. Understanding what the big problems and issues are is the first step, knowing the people who can help you solve the problem is the second but getting others to buy into your solution is the final piece of the puzzle.
When you are trying to convince or get another group to work with you, you have to understand their point of view and help them understand how what you are proposing helps them. When people see you trying to help them you naturally become “friends”. As you build relationships within the organization, your ability to sway and influence increases because you can say things like “I already have the support of organization x, y and z. Your group is the final group to get on board to make this happen.” When you do this you will get noticed.
Putting Yourself Out There
Be willing to put yourself out there. You may face criticism by people who don’t understand (because according to Gallup and Dale Carnegie 68-70% of people are trying to do the minimum possible). You will face rejection but you will also face acceptance. If you are rejected, then you will be in no different a situation then you currently are but if you are accepted than you will be moving your career and engagement forward.
This article was written from my personal experience and perspective but you can apply it to almost any role in the organization.
Applying These Principles to Your Role
If you are an engineer and are not feeling engaged because of the technology or work you are currently doing, then take time on the weekends and learn a new language and framework that can do the job better than the current infrastructure and sell this to your manager. If you would like to develop something new instead of just doing maintenance, then think of a new stand-alone service or feature which could help the business make more money and then implement it. If you really feel strongly about it, then start it on your personal time. Once you have something working (where others can see the concept) you can pitch it to your manager and other senior managers.
If you are a QA resource, look at ways of automating manual processes to take the existing testing environment to the next level.
If you are a product engineer, develop the next product or feature the company needs without anyone telling you.
If you are a security engineer, seek out other groups which may need your help in reviewing their code for security vulnerabilities.
Engagement is everyone’s responsibility. With it, we can take our group and the company to the next level.