My consulting journey came from over 20 years of experience working at a fortune 100 company, but not as an executive in a corporate office, not as a business unit manager, not in marketing, and not in human resources. Instead, I was a blue-collar line worker in a food processing plant, doing everything from packing product, stacking skids, driving a forklift and tearing down equipment for sanitation on Friday nights.
Because of my unique vantage point and experience, I’d like to share how to bridge the gaps in order to help companies maximize employee engagement to leverage business results. The answer lies in the power to create. It starts with the leaders creating the right Environment where Engagement and Empowerment drive business results.
Leaders at every level have an enormous amount of power to shape their environment. Shaping the environment happens consciously or unconsciously through the mindsets, beliefs and behaviors.
In my early days at Kraft Foods, I worked in the pasta plant. On a good production day the work was tedious and consisted of standing for eight hours on a concrete floor watching product fly by, picking off the few rejects and sweeping the floor after a big mess.
Howard, our business unit manager was well-respected because of his extremely high work ethic. Howard was always there on every shift, from first to third. Everyone wondered if he ever slept. Howard didn’t believe in taking breaks, talking, laughing or anything else that would make the tedious job a little more tolerable. In fact, he didn’t even believe in allowing chairs in the plant, so he created a no-chair policy. “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean,” he would say.
As a result, anytime the coast was clear, we worker-bees would “sneak a sit” on the table used for weighing product. When Howard came walking through the department, employees would swiftly jump off of the table and commence to sweeping the floor even if the floor was spotless.
Howard was a good example of a leadership mindset where being busy is valued more than results. It’s easy to look at this and laugh at the absurdity of it all. When things were running smoothly, standing produced no better results than sitting. When there were productivity problems, there was no time to sit anyway. The point is that this leader, by his own belief system, created an environment where employees snuck around to grab five minutes of relief. A leader’s mindset and belief systems influence the environment, for better or worse.
Action: Develop leaders to see the bigger picture. Focus on the end result and then make decisions and policies that work in favor of getting the best end result without sacrificing trust, relationships and productivity.
Engagement has made the list as one of those commonly used buzz words that is often misunderstood and misused.
In No-Drama Leadership, I define engagement as the symbiotic relationship of value-for-value. In other words, employees are eager to share their gifts, offer ideas, and give value back to the organization, while the organization provides the structure and environment for those things to occur.
Engagement is not static. What works today may not work tomorrow. Engagement is a dynamic phenomenon, which leads to what I call the Engagement Paradox.
The Engagement Paradox
Engagement problems occur when people grow. What engages an employee at one point in his or her career will shift as he or she grows, or as new priorities emerge. If it seems that your people who were previously engaged have lost interest, perhaps it is because your culture does not offer opportunities to expand and grow. Many of the lower level positions such as administrative, housekeeping, and food service keep people in a box, making the assumption that these employees are not interested in advancement, growth or opportunity. I believe these areas offer some of the biggest opportunities to help employees grow within the company.
Employees won’t tell you that they want to be noticed and acknowledged, or that they have desires outside of what they are currently doing. Sometimes they don’t even know this about themselves. Perhaps you are thinking that employees should take responsibility for their own growth and their own engagement. I agree. However if the environment does not support these mindsets and behaviors it simply won’t happen.
Action: Create an environment where employees are expected to speak up, and take responsibility for gaining opportunities that leverage their unrealized talents. Acknowledge employees who take initiative, or who give valid ideas that contribute to business initiatives and results.
Whether it’s office gossip, employee disagreements, or insubordination, every single behavior in the workplace is an expression of power, or an expression of powerlessness.
When we do not understand the impact of powerlessness on our personal and organizational lives, we contribute more drama to the very problems we are trying to solve. The key is to create a productive workforce where people recognize their choices and feel empowered to take responsibility.
On the manufacturing floor, all it took was someone stealing someone else’s chair for full-blown drama to erupt about which person had seniority and what was fair before tattling to the supervisor, interrupting his workflow.
The employee who stole the chair saw no other choice but to take someone else’s chair, and the one whose chair was stolen could see no other choice but to tattle.
In reactivity, the supervisor told the complainers if they didn’t like it they could “Find another place to work,” right after explaining why there was no budget for new chairs. The conversation always ended with sage advice about the two choices always available: “Like it or lump it.”
Until people recognize their choices, they simply react to the drama that’s capturing their attention at the moment, and then they look for a supervisor to fix the problem and, in the process, waste time and lower productivity.
Leaders are the catalyst for creating a culture of empowerment; a state of personal responsibility that is the outcome of recognizing choice instead of reacting to old programming. In fact, you cannot be responsible unless and until you recognize your choices.
Lots of time and energy is wasted when no one, including leadership, sees any viable alternatives. Developing leaders who model choice-abundance rather than choice-poverty can transform drama to empowerment.
Action: Listen to language that indicates choice-poverty, for example: “That will never work,” “That can’t be done,” or “There are no other choices.” Replace the language with, “What are our options?” and “What is possible here?”
There is an old Eagles’ song, “Already Gone,” with a verse, “So oftentimes it happens we live our lives in chains, and we never really know we have the key.” Could this also be true organizationally?
We have the mission, the vision and the values. We have the talent. We have the clients and we deliver value. Leaders who focus on the three E’s, Environment, Engagement and Empowerment create a culture that honors people and drives business results.
What are your thoughts on these three E’s? Can you share a unique vantage point on maximizing employee engagement? I invite your thoughts and comments below.