Employee engagement is the responsibility of leaders. This isn’t an empty proclamation — according to Gallup, managers account for as much as 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. So supervisors need to deliberately make increasing engagement one of their job duties.
Check out the techniques these leaders use to keep engagement going strong for themselves and their team.
Give Them Something to Aim For
Reid Craig, founder of Little Ms. Crate, knows that it’s easier to engage with goals that you help create. “While I was the VP for a global solutions team at a software company,” he tells us, “I discovered that taking my team off-site for a one- or two-day-long strategy workshop left me feeling more motivated, excited, and proud of my team than anything else did. I would prepare a simple list of six to seven meaty topics to kick around and then send that list to the team and ask for additional topics ahead of time.”
“Once the session started, my main role was simply that of facilitator,” Craig shares. “I would introduce a topic, grab a marker, and stand at the whiteboard to jot notes as the team kicked it around. The ideas, process innovations, and strategies that we collectively created always impressed me. I would then just press them to devise some concrete ways to make sure we acted on those ideas — KPIs, MBOs, and the like, and then leave it to the group to decide who would take ownership of that initiative and be responsible to communicating it to the rest of the company, tracking our agreed-upon KPIs, and representing that initiative in the context of whatever other changes or ideas came up.”
This goal setting exercise motivated Craig as well as his employees. “Seeing my team so focused on their own continuous improvement, watching them collaborate with each other and watching certain individuals gravitate to natural leadership positions within the team always left me feeling incredibly proud of the team I’d built and inspired to be the leader they deserved.”
Elisha Lowe, managing director of Cosmetic Surgery Aftercare Services, also uses goals to keep her employees engaged. “I lead a team of 10 women, 2 of which are responsible for sales. My sales team and I set 90-day goals, which we review weekly. In sales,” she notes, “motivation is key.”
Lowe makes the goals engaging by making them concrete. “Recently I started making goal road maps with my team. It helps us visualize how we get to goal what resources we have available and what we need to be successful. It’s a quick planning activity that helps to reignite my passion and spark creativity. My team likes the activity because it’s simple, quick, and it opens us up to what's possible in the course of achieving our 90-day goals.”
Refocus on the Mission
Salvatore Musco, executive director of Martial Promise, shares a tried-and-true method from his 30 years of experience in managing instructors: reconnecting to the organization’s higher goals. “Burnout occurs when you’re too long focused on the job and not the mission. For us, that job is teaching karate techniques to people who don’t practice enough. The mission, however, includes struggling to avoid the extinction of our traditions amid a tidal wave of sports and commercialism.”
“Every job is a connection to glory,” Musco says. Whatever your industry, you can find a greater goal for your work.
Fake It Till You Make It
Sometimes you have to keep employee morale up even when you’re not feeling it yourself, as entrepreneur Larry Stybel shared. “I had a job as CEO of an organization and I saw it could go bankrupt. My mission was to find a stronger organization to acquire us, declare victory, and move on. Personally, I was depressed. But I was the symbol of the organization. I kept telling myself that I must honor my role.
“And the requirements of the role were to act positive and to give team members hope . . . even when I personally was in despair.” It wasn’t easy, but Stybel notes a specific advantage: “My experience as an actor was very valuable. And I encourage leaders to look at the theatricality of leadership.”
And in the end? “We did get acquired.”
Help Others . . .
Author Ray White, C-level executive with over 30 years of experience, recommends “spend time helping a team member.” Yes, this is good for your employee’s engagement, of course, but it benefits you as well. “As leaders, most of us are motivated by helping others be successful. Sit down with a team member and find a small way to help them have a better day. The difference we can make with a small gift of our time can be a huge reminder of why we are passionate about leading and helping others.”
. . . And Ask for Help Yourself
One last piece of advice from Giles Canter of LeaderMeter.com: it’s OK to admit that you need help sometimes. “I believe one trap managers and leaders fall into is that they think that because they are the leader, that they have to be superhuman,” he says. “The reality is that leadership can be one of the most thankless, draining and difficult jobs around. However, it can also be one of the most gratifying.”
When things get tough, speak up. “[E]very leader has days where they just don’t feel like it. Thankfully, you are not the only leader on Earth. There are many other great leaders to be able to learn from and be encouraged by. Find other leaders that you respect. Ask someone to mentor you. Find out how they deal with burnout. We were never meant to walk this road alone. But sometimes we try to do just that.”
It’s not easy to be responsible for maintaining the engagement of both you and all the employees you lead. But it’s one of the greatest responsibilities leaders have. And, hopefully, learning from others’ advice will help you know what to do even on days when you struggle for inspiration yourself.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.
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