Create the cultural conditions for engagement with The Engagement Cycle

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Leaders today know that employee engagement is the key to high performance, so let’s look below the surface and see what’s really involved in creating an engaged workforce. One definition of engagement includes both the aspects of emotional involvement and commitment. You will want to keep those two aspects in mind as you continue to read my comments on this critical subject and understand why “heart” matters so much when it comes to engagement.

How Disengaged Are We as a Culture?
Study after study indicate that employees are dramatically disengaged. Published statistics show that somewhere between 50% and 80% of the current American workforce is just going through the motions of completing their work tasks. It is only by understanding the root causes of disengagement that we can begin to take action to create stronger engagement.

Disengagement causes, at best, a toxic and, at worst, a dangerous work environment. This toxic environment is riddled with fear: fear of losing something, fear of standing out, fear of losing reputation, and fear of making a mistake. Quite rationally, people do things to protect themselves from what they fear. Usually that is to pull back and disappear into the woodwork, not making waves and keeping their heads down.

How Did We Become So Disengaged?
Sure, there are external conditions and pressures that affect an organization’s culture, but in the end it is the way the leadership of an organization responds to these pressures that shapes an organizational culture by modeling the behaviors that employees will mimic.

Organizational wisdom instructs us that leadership sets the tone, pace, and expectations for the organization. So, it’s imperative to look first at the role that leaders are playing, consciously or unconsciously, in creating the internal conditions that lead to employee disengagement.

After reviewing the current literature on the subject of engagement, including various proposals for strategies and actions to promote engagement, what I still see missing is an exploration of the role of heart.

Why Does Heart Matter So Much When it Comes to Engagement?
Engagement is the individual and personal experience of feeling connected to another individual, team, or organization. Equally important is connection to whatever it is that the relationship exists to serve. In traditional business terminology, that could be a shared mission, goal, or objective.

People have four basic needs that must be met in order to create the cultural conditions where they are motivated and willing to engage, stay engaged or re-engage.

  1. Connection. People have a need to connect with other people. We are social animals and our need for affiliation is primal. Employees want and need to feel connected to, and to trust, their colleagues, especially their direct supervisor.
  2. Expectations. Without clear and understandable expectations (vision, mission, strategy, key objectives, and core values), and a personal understanding of their individual role in creating success, employees are confused. When confused, they tend to flee or freeze rather than take action, and behave tentatively in everything they say or do. Clarity around expectations is a pre-requisite for inspired, positive action.

How do we get clarity around expectations? By answering these basic questions:

  • Who are we as an organization?
  • Who are we here to serve?
  • What products and services do we supply our clients?
  • How do our products and services impact our clients’ lives?
  • How do we best serve our customers?
  • What is my role in providing these products or services?

The thoughtful answers to these questions, when understood at a deep and personal level, create the context for positive feelings toward colleagues, teams, and organizations.

  1. Feedback and Coaching. For people to learn, grow, and optimize contribution, they need feedback: what’s working, what’s not and suggestions for change. Almost all coaching conversations address the dynamics of change. Consequently, a great coaching conversation must include discussion of what performance elements (beliefs, behaviors, or actions) need to be added, which need to reduced or eliminated, and which need to be sustained and continued. Including an appreciative inquiry approach to the coaching conversations is critical as well, in order for the Coach to discover what has worked successfully in the past for the individual being coached, and to explore how to expand those techniques to produce even more positive outcomes.
  2. Support. For people to take personal risks they need emotional support. i.e., they have to feel like someone has their back. Providing the necessary support requires the Coach to deliver an individually-tailored cluster of behaviors that can only be identified through a coaching conversation. Once that support is in place and felt by those taking individual and collective risks, trust, collaboration, and accountability are all bolstered.

The Engagement CycleTM 
All the concepts discussed so far are depicted in the following diagram of The Engagement CycleTM — the series of steps through which an organization can enhance engagement. Starting at the top of the cycle we presume that “I” want to engage with “You” to create an outcome of “inspired, passionate performance”. The “I” represents the supervisor, manager, or leader acting as coach and the “you” represents the colleague/coachee in the conversation.

Engagement Cycle

The first thing “I” must do is to be present to in order to connect with “You” at an emotional level. That simply means that you and I need to feel positive rapport toward one another, a sense of connectedness, and some significant amount of trust and respect, and this is normally the outcome of a well-executed coaching conversation.

Rotating to the right around the cycle, we create connection when “I” bring my compassion and humility to our interactions – and “I” take care not to judge “You”. If I am understanding and accepting of you and your challenges, you will feel seen, heard, and respected. My tone and demeanor are critical.

This leads to the next step during which “I” demonstrate my compassion and respect for “You” by listening patiently. As you begin to feel seen and heard, you begin to develop trust and openness in our interactions because you feel safe. You experience me as accepting and compassionate.

With your newfound openness, you find your inspiration to express creatively your ideas, engagement, and passion for our work together. Our relationship has been transformed so that your work is then transformed.

So, it is a deeply interpersonal cycle – one that must be initiated and sustained by leaders of the organization.

Now it is time to ask yourself how many of these steps are you using effectively, and how engaged your leadership team is with one another and the teams they have the privilege of leading. It all starts at the top.

How Crane Consulting Works With The Engagement CycleTM
Crane Consulting teaches The Engagement CycleTM and all its requisite skills in our Transformational Coaching workshops. While employees may be intellectually stimulated with ideas, challenges and opportunities, their human connection between people must be strong or people will eventually disengage. Without rapport, feedback is just noise. Once these skills are learned, the process becomes sustainable so that transparency, safety, and sincere gratitude become incorporated in the very human experience of participating in modern-day organizations.

What do you think about the engagement cycle? What can you add? Please comment below.

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Tom is an international consultant, facilitator, author, and speaker who specializes in assisting leaders in creating high-performance through the development of high performance coaching cultures. He works with all levels of leaders and their teams to embrace coaching as a primary method of communication designed to enhance both individual and team effectiveness in achieving performance objectives. Tom’s book, The Heart of Coaching is focused on changing a leader's mindset from the “BOSS OF people” to the "COACH FOR people." The premise of the book is that a performance-based, “feedback-rich” coaching culture will more effectively support an organization's business strategy, and lead to higher and more sustainable levels of performance.

Prior to founding Crane Consulting in 1995, Tom was vice-president of Senn-Delaney Leadership (widely known as culture-change experts) for eight years and consulted with clients engaged in strategic culture change. Prior Tom worked in financial planning and project management roles with Solar Turbines, a division of Caterpillar. He has a bachelor degree from Purdue University and an MBA from Drake University.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Mark A. Hernandez

    Tom, Big Gracias for the post.

    Love the Engagement diagram. I also love how the conversation on the diagram all stats with “I” – where I firmly believe all transformation begins. I had the privilege of going to Guatemala with the John Maxwell Team and we taught on Transformation Leadership but the focus was on “The Transformation Begins with Me”.

    When we as leaders begin from the space as servants who have the glorious opportunity to inspire, challenge, and equip people to become all God created them to be – that completes the engagement cycle. For me, the challenge is also Multiply the process so Multiply both passionate servant leaders who the continue the Multiplication and Engagement process.

    Regards,
    mark