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How to increase employee engagement

How to increase employee engagement

Leavey School of Business dean’s executive fellow of leadership Jim Kouzes explains how leaders can engage their staff

A recent survey of 2015 trends in global employee engagement found that the Middle East and Africa region enjoyed the second highest engagement levels worldwide, at 67 per cent. The report highlighted that “the best companies build and sustain a culture of engagement, led by chief executives who understand that employee engagement is not just a ‘nice to have’ but critical to achieving business results.”

We have consistently found that great leadership is the key to creating great workplaces. It makes a meaningful difference in people’s engagement at work and the performance of the organisation. The best leaders get more than three times the amount of talent, energy, commitment and motivation from their constituents when compared to others.

So how do leaders drive engagement? We have identified five key strategies that leaders demonstrate to ensure a highly committed, proud, motivated, loyal and productive workforce. In practice, we see engagement scores that are 25 to 50 per cent higher among groups with leaders who exhibit this behaviour more frequently.

Model the way

In order to model the way, leaders must be clear about their values. They must discover a set of principles that guide decisions and actions. They must find a way to express a leadership philosophy in their own words. This clarity of values and beliefs increases engagement for both leaders and their constituents. Leaders also practice what they preach. They show others by their actions that they live by the values they profess. They also work to establish agreement on shared values and standards, and then ensure that others adhere to the principles that have been agreed upon. It is consistency between words and actions that builds credibility. At the end of each day, ask yourself this question: “What have I done today that demonstrates the values that I hold near and dear?” This reflection will give you the chance to review your deeds, your communications, and the way you have spent your time.

Inspire a shared vision

Being forward-looking and having a vision for the future is the distinctive responsibility of leaders. According to our research, nearly three-quarters of respondents indicate that ‘forwardlooking’ is an attribute that they look for in a leader. But vision seen only by leaders is insufficient for generating organised movement. You must also get others to see exciting possibilities. Leaders breathe life into visions. They communicate hopes and dreams so that others clearly understand and share them as their own. They show others how their values and interests will be served by a long-term vision of the future. You cannot command commitment; you have to inspire it. To increase employee engagement, ensure you do not lose sight of the future by focussing too much on the present. You need to spend time answering three questions:

1) What is happening in our external environment that is going to affect us in the future?

2) Where do I see us in three to five years?

3) What can I do to make sure that we share a common view of the future?

Challenge the process

Every single leadership case study involves changing the way things are. Whether this involves starting a new business, dealing with unexpected economic downturns or technological disruption. Exemplary leaders are pioneers but they are not the only creators or originators of new products, services, or processes. In fact, it is more likely that they are not. Exemplary leaders are constantly looking outside of themselves and their organisations for new and innovative products, processes and services. Exemplary leaders do not rely on only a chosen few to provide ideas. They look for good ideas from anyone, at any level and in any function in the organisation.

Because innovation and change involve taking risks, exemplary leaders also create a climate of experimentation, the recognition of good ideas and support for those ideas. Mistakes and failures will be inevitable but they proceed anyway. Progress is not made in giant leaps. It is made incrementally.

Start by asking those you lead this question every week: “What have you done this past week to be more effective than you were last week?” Support innovation by encouraging them to set aside some time in their calendars for this purpose and assign people tasks that challenge them, giving them an opportunity to grow.

Enable others to act

Making extraordinary things happen requires a team effort. It requires solid trust and strong relationships. It requires group collaboration and individual accountability.

Focusing on serving the needs of others builds trust in a leader. The more people trust their leaders, and each other, the more they take risks. The more they make changes, keeping organisations and movements alive. Exemplary leaders nurture self-esteem in others. They make others feel strong, capable and confident to take initiative and responsibility. They build the skills and abilities of their constituents to deliver on commitments. They create a climate where people feel in control of their own lives.

To grow positive attitudes in the workplace and promote engagement, you should support developmental opportunities and experiences. These should build the competence and confidence of people in your workgroup – especially in relation to their next role or assignment. Listen carefully to what others have to say and demonstrate by your actions that their input is valued.

Encourage the heart

Leaders give heart by visibly recognising people’s contributions to the common vision. With a thank you note, a smile and public praise, they let others know how much they mean to the organisation. Leaders express pride in the accomplishments of their teams. They make a point of telling the rest of the organisation about what their teams have achieved.

To encourage the heart, make sure you genuinely care about what is going on. Spend time to learn what motivates each of your colleagues and that you are not just giving recognition for recognition’s sake. You have got to make sure that you link it with the values and vision that serve to guide people’s behaviour.

Great leadership = great workplaces = great results

These are the practices that people use when they are at their personal best as leaders. We draw this conclusion after analysing responses from nearly three million people around the world. Our research shows that exemplary leader behaviour makes a profoundly positive difference in people’s engagement and performance at work.

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