What separates the best leaders from the rest when it comes to employee engagement?
Our research shows the best leaders communicate an inspiring vision and live it, value people and give them a voice. Here are seven of the 100+ best practices that leaders can use to engage people.
1. Set “top five” high-level annual priorities. Many leaders today are overwhelming the people they lead by trying to do too much. Both individually and as a team, set no more than five high-level challenging but achievable annual priorities that are aligned with your vision and mission. If you go beyond five high-level annual priorities, it will diminish focus and effective execution by tending to overwhelm those responsible for implementation. One day each week, review your weekly plans to see that they are aligned with your top five.
2. Know their stories. Take time to get to know the people you work with, especially your direct reports. Have coffee or a meal with them. Ask questions to learn about their lives and what’s important to them. Questions unrelated to work might include, “So you were born and then what happened?”; “What are your interests outside of work?”; and “Where did you grow up?” These questions typically open the door for you to ask follow-up questions. This will give you insights into how the people you work with are wired, including what they value at work and in their lives outside of work.
3. Help people get into the “right role.” Help your direct reports get into the role that fits their interests and strengths while providing the right degree of challenge. If you are not able to get them a role that is a good fit, consider responsibilities or projects you can assign them that fit well with their wiring.
4. Develop the habit of emphasizing positives. The psychologist Barbara Frederickson has found that individuals in the workplace are healthier at higher ratios of positive to negative emotions. Leaders boost positive emotions by providing affirmation and recognition. They should develop the habit of looking out for ways to affirm and serve the people they lead.
Do this by looking for task strengths and character strengths. Task strengths reflect the excellence of someone’s work. Character strengths reflect the way someone goes about his/her work. For example, a leader might affirm an individual by saying “Nancy, that was an outstanding website you created. The navigation design was easy to use, the writing was easy to understand and the color scheme was beautiful.” He or she might affirm Nancy’s character strengths by saying, “Nancy, I appreciate the way you persevered to make our new website happen. You showed wisdom and humility in seeking the ideas of others and applying the best ideas to the design of our new website. Very nicely done!”
5. Provide constructive feedback in a constructive way. When providing feedback to help someone improve, always communicate it in private, be respectful in your tone of voice and volume, and begin with three positive things you like about his/her work or character. After sharing the three positives, say “I believe you would be even better if … [insert what you want them to do or stop doing].” Kindness matters and the approach you take will affect how the person receives the feedback.
6. Provide autonomy in execution. Monitor progress and be available to help your direct reports, but refrain from “micromanaging” unless they ask for specific help. Favor guidelines rather than rules and controls, and let people know that you are available if they have questions or would like you to be a sounding board. This meets the human need for autonomy and allows people to experience personal growth.
7. Hold in-person meetings and regularly check in. – Good relationships are maintained by staying in touch. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill understood this. Historians have found more than 1,700 letters, notes and telegrams that Churchill wrote to his wife so that they would remain connected. Take a page from Churchill’s playbook. With your direct reports, stay connected by meeting weekly with them in person, if at all possible. If you cannot meet weekly, use “check-ins” — phone calls, e-mails, text messages — to help keep you connected. To stay connected with people who work remotely, regularly call or Skype them. Remote work can be lonely and people should feel you are on their team and want to help them achieve their potential. Besides work issues, inquire about how they are doing personally, too.
In future articles I’ll share more best practices to engage employees. If you are aware of an innovative practice that boosts employee engagement, email a description to me at mstallard [at] epluribuspartners.com and I may use it (with reference to you) in a future article and in my next book.
Michael Lee Stallard, president of E Pluribus Partners, speaks, teaches workshops and coaches leaders. He is the author of “Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity” (Thomas Nelson). Follow Stallard on his blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or on LinkedIn.