Something struck me today as I was paging through the Sunday New York Times Book Review; it nostalgically listed the top summer beach reads of ten years ago, 2003.
The year itself is what gave me pause as it is the year that my beloved car was born, a car that I continue to care for with kid gloves, patting it ever-so-gently on its ever-so-slightly-cracking dashboard while urging it to (please) press on until the odometer gets to 250,000. (We’re currently at 160,000, the car and I, and climbing slowly…) I do the few simple things that will keep it running: change oil routinely, rotate tires, get it tuned up when needed. In return it serves me well, despite its age.
Some things that get old are just fine. We don’t always need the latest or the greatest or the newest.
Which brings me to the subject of today’s blog: “Employee Engagement.” Over the last ten years we’ve been abuzz about the topic, and by now it probably feels more like an old M*A*S*H rerun than it does the latest episode of Mad Men. You’ve seen it before and it’s comfortable, like a woolen sweater in winter. You know how it turns out, where the laughs will be, and the tears (when there are some). But that doesn’t mean it still isn’t worth paying attention to, that it still doesn’t have something to say. For me, employee engagement’s kind of the same thing. The core message is about leaders making sure they are doing the right things so the right people stay in the right places doing more right things. And that’s a message that, while it might be old, is well worth revisiting again and again.
For me, it’s really about three important behaviors that have been around for quite a while now, behaviors, or ways of being, that leaders inherently know and that don’t need a shiny wrapper or that new car smell.
- Listen: A top contender for why employees leave or stay (and how much they are engaged in their jobs if they do stay) is whether or not they feel heard. This is even more important than whether a particular idea gets implemented. Employees want to feel, to know, that their ideas are heard, understood, and considered in the grand scheme of the business. Leaders can learn a lot from their employees if they make the sustainable choice of listening—really listening—to hear what those around them have to offer. Oftentimes they have a lot to offer.
- Empower: Empowering employees to make independent decisions within the scope of their roles and expertise reaps huge returns. When employees are encouraged to make decisions, to make mistakes, and to learn from those mistakes, they will want to contribute even more. Another important benefit is that leaders who delegate and trust their employees to do the right thing, develop employees who will model those same behaviors across teams.
- Delegate: Many leaders are in their positions because they became expert in something before they became a leader, and then were rewarded for that expertise with a promotion that included managing others. And now they need to delegate, to share some of that expertise by both mentoring and empowering others. It’s hard to give up that feeling of being the expert, but you must. One person can’t do it all and, if your core purpose as a leader is to be in service to your employees’ development, then handing over the tasks that are nearest and dearest to you is a smart thing to do. You’ll benefit by gleaning more time to focus on other things and by gaining your employees’ trust; your employees will benefit by learning and growing—two things that will keep them engaged and loyal to their jobs.
Perhaps over the next ten years we’ll see new, innovative ways to help employees stay engaged in their jobs; I hope we do and, if so, I know they’ll join these three tried and true behaviors that, no matter how many miles we put on them, will continue to be foundational and to sustain their value in our leader/employee relationships.
What other ways do you think help sustain employee engagement?