How to finally solve employee engagement
Wednesday, April 07, 2021
This article first appeared in Real Leaders.
Businesses today are rightfully concerned over the crisis surrounding employee engagement. The situation has become pervasive: Employees are not engaged! They don’t care about their work! They’d rather be at the beach! Wouldn’t we all? But engagement goes beyond companies’ PTO issues.
We toss around the word “engagement,” but what is it? High employee engagement has a few standout elements: genuine connection, commitment to one’s role and workplace, and a willingness to go the extra mile to achieve the mission.
High employee engagement is a great aspiration, but the first step to fixing the engagement problem is realizing it can’t be solved by changing the workplace into something more similar to leisure time. Ping-pong tables and free lattes aren’t the solution to a disengaged workplace culture. In fact, disengagement isn’t even the core issue. Disengagement is the consequence, not the problem.
You can’t fix the consequence of a problem without fixing the problem
You don’t increase engagement by setting out to increase more engagement. You can only increase engagement by increasing trust.
When a workplace dynamic involves unclear strategy or communication, polices that lack compassionate, inconsistent follow through, or unethical behavior, of course disengagement will result! These issues are all part of a low-trust culture.
Without trust, employees won’t feel safe enough to share new ideas. Without trust, employees aren’t motivated to be loyal or to bring their best to work. Without trust, employers take advantage of remote work. Increase trust and innovation will thrive. Increase trust and output, retention and productivity will go up. Increase trust and you will gain a culture where employee flexibility can be mutually beneficial.
Higher engagement is the natural outcome of a high-trust culture
The most common reason people give for wanting to work for an organization is trusted leadership. Unlike the nebulous “engagement,” trust is simply the result of consistent, intentional behaviors repeated reliably over time. Trust is a learnable and immediately actionable skillset.
While certain aspects of trust are built over time, you can start the process any time and the impact will be felt immediately. Every time you make and keep a commitment, you increase trust. Every time you make an authentic connection, you increase trust. As trust levels grow, engagement will automatically follow.
3 strategies to kickstart trust
Start by implementing these three practical strategies to begin to build a foundation of trust in your organization:
1. Confront reality. The biggest barrier to solving the engagement problem is that most leaders don’t realize that a problem even exists. The first thing leaders need to do is confront reality, and then help their team to do so as well. The reality is that everything is a trust problem.
Your accountability problem? It’s a trust problem. Your lagging sales numbers? Also a trust problem. And engagement? Definitely a trust problem. Consider starting by measuring trust as the leading indicator with a tool like the Enterprise Trust Index™. Recognize for yourself and your people where the real problems lie.
2. Identify the root cause. Learning the root cause of an employee engagement breakdown can be painful. If you think you have a leadership problem, think about where, at the core, a lack of trust might have caused the leadership problem. Dig down to see how trust directly relates to your key issues by diagnosing where it started and which aspect of trust (from the eight pillars below) was lacking.
3. Build upon the 8 pillars of trust. Since the root cause of a problem is always a trust issue, you need research-based, actionable tools and frameworks that are applicable right now. Focus on building these eight pillars in your work and life to see a measurable change in engagement: Clarity, compassion, character, competency, commitment, connection, contribution, and consistency.
Imagine your people performing at their best, getting measurable results, and taking pride in their work. A high-trust culture gains genuine, lasting employee engagement and establishes a business that makes a measurable impact.
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