By Howard Stanten MPT, CPCC
With all the palpable inattention to the emotional component of employee engagement, it is no wonder that it remains stuck around 30% despite billions spent on the issue. Marshall Goldsmith wondered about this and puts forth an admirable reframe of the problem in his latest book, Triggers. Goldsmith argues that there is an overreliance on programs that emphasize what the company can do for the employee to improve engagement.
His approach involves asking the employee to take personal responsibility for his or her own engagement and get off the blame and complain hamster wheel. I greatly appreciate his approach and have used it in my corporate trainings.
And, Goldsmith leaves out what I believe to be a critical factor necessary to moving the employee engagement dial, the emotional stake of the employee. Within a relatively healthy corporate culture, the exercises Goldsmith offers to help employees take personal responsibility for their own engagement can be effective. However, within a corporate culture defined by silos, poor communication, and poor alignment around a shared vision and mission, the taking personal responsibility model will likely gain little traction.
As Harvard’s award winning change management guru John Kotter says,
“You need to show people something that addresses their anxieties, that accepts their anger, that is credible in a very gut-level sense, and that evokes faith in the vision… People change what they do less because they are given an analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.”
Yes, there is no doubt that the failure of employee engagement programs is in part due to not guiding employees to take more responsibility for their own engagement as Goldsmith suggests. And, taking responsibility needs to matter to the employee. If the employee doesn’t give a damn about all of this, nothing will change.
Again, Kotter adds some insight,
“Motivation and inspiration energize people, not by pushing them in the right direction as control mechanisms do but by satisfying basic human needs for achievement, a sense of belonging, recognition, self-esteem, a feeling of control over one's life, and the ability to live up to one's ideals. Such feelings touch us deeply and elicit a powerful response.”
Similarly, Daniel Pink, author of the best seller, Drive, argues that healthy organizational cultures are defined by the degree to which they offer employees, “autonomy, mastery, and purpose.”
Such a culture requires courageous leadership willing to get to the heart of what matters to their employees. This means sitting down with them and being vulnerable. Having authentic conversations that welcome their input. Extending trust. And, requiring strict accountability around expected performance.
Employees are people. People cannot be expected to take more responsibility for their own engagement in the absence of an engaging culture. And, that is the responsibility of the organization beginning with its leaders.
By Howard Stanten MPT, CPCC
Problems to solve are like reporters in the White House press corps, address one and thirty others start waving their hands. Only when the Press Secretary walks away from the podium, do the hands stop waving.
Certainly, as Steven Covey teaches us, there is value in attending to problems that are “Urgent and Important.” He also taught us that getting caught up in the “Urgent and Not Important” is a barrier to success.
Like the White House Press Secretary that lingers at the podium too long, if you stay focused on solving problems, you will become consumed by them. Being caught in what I call the “problem solving trap” disconnects you from becoming what Robert Fritz calls, “the predominant creative force in your own life.”
If we spend all our time living in a problem-solving paradigm, we become reactionary slaves to outside circumstances, choosing to address “Urgent and Not Important” problems in deference to creating the life, business, or organization we really want. Fritz goes on to explain, “A person adopting this strategy does not take action to create what he or she wants…(but) takes action only to reduce the pressure that is synthetically manufactured by visions of negative consequences.” “What we really want,” gets ignored as we spend all our time working to solve problems to avoid the perceived negative consequences of not solving them.
The path forward to getting what you really want for your life, business, or organization moves through Covey’s “Not-Urgent and Important” domain. Here, the more relevant question to ask is, “Am I being the predominant creative force in my life?” And, this is about making the conscious choice to spend some time with a blank page, take a stand for what you really want, and then start filling that page with choices that lead to action around what matters most.
Howard Stanten MPT,CPCC is an Executive Leadership and Professional