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The title of this post captures a genuine (albeit vague) request for help from a manager I met with the other day.  The next day I sent over something of a generic brain dump of ideas/perspectives/tips etc. to get him started.    Although it would have been great to know more about the specific challenges he’s facing so I could have customized my advice, I have to say, it was fun to challenge myself to quickly come up with a relatively short list of things that I think are non-negotiables – especially #1!

Here’s my list…send me yours!

  1. Immediately buy this poster for your office – if you remember this simple wisdom, the rest of this list will sort itself out in the end
  2. Thoroughly assess your current state – leverage interviews, surveys, skip meetings, roundtables
  3. Learn from any internal success stories, locate your evangelists, identify toxicity
    • Who has found a way to succeed right now.  What are they doing?
    • Who has enthusiastic energy that is dying to be tapped?  How can they be leveraged?
    • Who are the key influencers?  Are they on board?
    • Who is poisoning the well water?  How are they being sorted?
  4. Articulate a team vision and brand – start with ‘Why’ – keep it simple and measurable
  5. Establish a process by which senior managers can participate in both talking through the vision and determining how the organization will get there.
  6. Establish expectations – what behaviors do managers need to demonstrate to walk the talk, what won’t be tolerated in the culture/environment, what will be celebrated, how will the team see the vision and brand come to life in the environment?
  7. Communicate
    • With consistent messages and multiple platforms (pay particular attention to how leadership is positioned)
    • Leverage your ‘Why’ statement generously, reinforce the brand
    • Be radical – put the people slides up front!
    • Make it conversational and create a leadership brand within the brand – assure all managers are leveraged
    • Ensure managers have the tools they need to stay on the same page – good intranet site for resources, talking points as required etc.
    • Make sure your evangelists and influencers have the right messages to propagate
    • Encourage two-way communication and follow through on it
    • Create platforms that demonstrate what teams/individuals can teach one another
    • Don’t create a platform or process that can’t be sustained for the long-term.
    • Constantly assess what’s working and what’s not

There’s an old quote, variously attributed, that goes something like “Age is mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”   Sadly that’s how many managers seem to feel about employee engagement, as in ‘Employee engagement is mind over matter. If you don’t mind…”

To that point, a friend of mine was recently volunteered for a project that began with the team lead stating that although they had to get busy on pulling together a pretty big piece of work, and it had to be a ‘quality’ piece of work at that, in reality it wasn’t going to mean anything at the end of the day.  You see, explained her manager, no one receiving the work really cared.  They were just going through the motions.   In other words, it was yet another futile corporate exercise that they, the manager included, had no control over.  But hey, they were in it together!  

I tell ya, this kind of stuff makes my head hurt.

Needless to say this manager’s honest (albeit negative) kickoff made it pretty tough for the team to deliver this project with any sense of urgency or dedication to quality.   The team thought – “Well, if they don’t care, why should we?”    Good point.   

I’m told in the end they did an alright job, but I can’t help but imagine how much better it could have been if the conversation had kicked off with a discussion on the value this work would add to the organization?    I’m going to guess much better.   And who knows how that ‘much better’ work could have been leveraged beyond its original remit?   So sad.

Obviously in this instance, the manager allowed their own sense of frustration to trickle down to the team and, well, that’s just not OK.   After all, not only did the work suffer, but it was a real missed opportunity to create greater employee engagement within that team.   Good leaders don’t do that.  Good leaders make their employees feel that they, and the work they do, always matter.

My point is, lesser leaders who ignore opportunities to raise employee engagement at every turn are making a big mistake.  They don’t see that by acting as though employee engagement doesn’t matter, they’re basically saying their employees don’t matter.   And at the end of the day, all human beings want to feel they matter to those they are in relationship with.  If we don’t feel that, where is the motivation, or the inspiration, to be better?    And as an employee, where would you rather work?   

SO if you’re a team member and you get caught in a spot like this, push your manager to help you understand how your work will contribute to the bigger picture – in other words, engage yourself.  Believe me, you’ll be happier.   And if you’re a manager, remember… don’t ever (ever) miss an opportunity to engage your team.   If you do, you may not get many more chances to get it right! 

April 2011
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