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One of the many myths of leadership is that leadership is in charge — that they have the power to steer the ship, hire as needed, fire when required, and wear great shoes. There is some truth to this, but in reality, the employees are the ultimate arbiters of organizational success. The simple truth is that if they are not on board with leadership — not feeling the love — they will only support leaderships’ objectives in a minimal way. They will do as little as they can over as long a timeframe as they can, and in this hyper competitive world, that is no way to live. Let’s take a moment to reconfigure the politics of power and see things as they really are.

Organizations ride on the backs of their employees, and it is those employees who will take you to the destinations you seek — or not. The bottom line is that it is up to them, because leadership can’t do it alone. They can get rid of their current workforce and hire another one, but chances are the end result would be the same. Without a change in leaderships’ attitudes, the new workforce wouldn’t support organizational objectives either. If the old workforce wasn’t feeling the love, the new one would soon feel the same way. What we need is engagement.

Employee engagement is an interesting concept. It does not necessarily mean being happy, though happiness is a part of the equation. It does not mean working like a dog, though going the extra mile to meet organizations objectives is almost always required. Employee engagement, as defined by Custom Insight, is the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organization, and put discretionary effort into their work. 

I can say with great confidence that employees will only begin to care about what the organization wants after they are convinced that the organization cares about what they want. If you think that employees will be engaged simply because you pay them, then you’ll be unpleasantly surprised. Our research shows that employees need to feel appreciated and that comes from your actions as a leader, not your words. Employee engagement is complex; boomers mix with millennials, values clash, and the new up-and-coming generation also wants a say. To get started, here are three employee engagement initiatives that are good jumping off points.

  1. Invest in your workforce: Everything from succession planning to professional development can make employees see that you value them, and it gives them a real stake in the future of the organization. Employees need to move away from an “us vs. them” line of thinking. It has to go from their company to our company.
  2. Walk the floors and say hello. James X Mullen said it best in his wonderful book entitled The Simple Art of Greatness. Mullen speaks of getting out of your office and getting into theirs. Spend a bit of time walking the floor; say hello, ask a few questions, and thank people for their efforts with a smile and a pat on the back. Really, is that so terribly hard? (Harvey MacKay says the same thing in his epic book entitled Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive) Honestly, can you be in business without having read these books?
  3. Do a survey: Do you want to know what your people think about their managers, their customers, how employees are treated, how they see their future, and how they perceive leadership? Have a professional come in and do a survey. It’s a great way to discover what people are thinking and feeling within the organization, and an excellent stepping off point towards fixing what is broken. However, here’s a word to the wise — if you do the survey and do not take action to fix anything, you will anger the workforce as they struggle to understand why you wasted their time.

There are, of course, other things one can do to invite commitment (notice I said invite, not command), but this is a very good place to begin. The bottom line is that even the worst, truncated, and toxic workplace environments can be fixed if you truly decide that is what you wish to do. (As an aside, the best workplaces can only benefit from getting even better, but that is an article for another time.) This improvement will not come in a day or in a month or perhaps even in a year, but if you do the right things in a way that is consistent, your efforts will pay off, and you can still be the one person there with the really great shoes.

 

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