Look up employee engagement stats and you will largely find depressing results: more than half still hate their job, are disengaged, and/or want to leave; too few managers are interacting in meaningful ways with their people. You’d think we’d have learned this lesson by now, but we haven’t, and it’s largely because we still think in terms of silos and roles rather then teams and interdependencies. And as long as there are silos and separate roles, there will be us and them, zero-sum thinking, and “every-win-for-you-is-a-lose-for-me.”
One of the most often overlooked aspects of engagement is the role everyone plays in engaging, connecting with and inspiring one another. Yes, a lot of managers suck; they’re failing to treat their people with respect, or to provide the necessary resources, support or even the encouragement necessary to thrive. And yes, some environments are simply toxic and must be abandoned. But for those that aren’t toxic, but still not great, it’s worth remembering: change isn’t a one-way street handed down from above. Granted, leaders set the stage, but we are the actors on that stage. We are the ones around the water cooler either contributing to negative talk, company bashing, complaining about certain individuals, or worse, disagreeing with such behavior but walking away or remaining silent.
What makes leaders effective is their ability to inspire action on the part of those they lead. And since we are all leaders, we have that ability to affect the environment, to change the dialogue, to counter a negative momentum and inspire engagement.
We often measure engagement by the individual’s performance against the tasks of their role, but what if we asked this: Are they actively affecting the culture around them? Do they inspire a team culture, support their peers, speak truth to leadership? Are they speaking up when they hear others disparaging the company or other people? Do they understand the cultural goals of the company and actively help others to understand, experience and live them?
That’s engagement — not with respect to a job, but with respect to the larger whole. And before you think I’m placing all the responsibility on the shoulders of the staff and relieving management of their responsibility to be kind and build culture, realize this is a measurement from the bottom rung clear to the top. Next week, we’ll talk more about the leader’s side of things.