What can you, as a senior leader, do to increase employee engagement in your business?
If you're anything like the chief executives, directors and senior leaders I meet on a daily basis, this question is high on your agenda. And rightly so, because employee engagement – or its absence – is having a massive impact on your organisation's success.
So, what can you do to engage your people? Here are four sure-fire methods that any senior leader can implement.
These are basic – you might even feel they're a little bit too nursery-school/kindergarten for a senior leader such as yourself. But I can assure you, my experience shows that you probably aren't doing these four things nearly enough. One of the reasons is that they are so basic you're overlooking them.
(1) Get out of your office
What's the number one mistake that senior leaders make when it comes to engaging their people? They don't leave their seat/workspace/office often enough.
They're too busy, they don't know what to say, they talked to people last year – does it really need done again? (Okay, that last one is a little tongue-in-cheek – but only a little).
You matter more than you realise to the people who report to you, and the people who report to them, and the people who report to them.
Senior leaders' willingness to interact with the people they lead is a major driver of employee engagement.
You can't interact effectively if you stay in your office day after day. And nobody believes that a senior leader is shy, so you really can't afford to use that as an excuse – even if you are!
And don't put off getting out and about until you have the time to do so. That will never happen. Instead, schedule time in your diary for this just as you would for a Board meeting. Making time to interact with the people you lead is equally, or maybe even more, important.
(2) Listen without being defensive
When you get out and about, you're going to engage with people by asking questions and finding out what matters to them.
In their answers, they're going to say some things that you don't want to hear and you'll feel your hackles rise.
If you want to encourage people to be honest with you – and let's face it, getting half-truths or misinformation is pretty pointless – then you need to avoid getting defensive when you hear tough messages.
If you give off even the slightest sign that you don't like what you're hearing, people won't be open with you.
(3) Share information openly and 'with heart'
Most people in the organisational hierarchy believe that senior leaders know more than they're telling and that this is REALLY IMPORTANT STUFF. Most senior leaders believe that they are communicating everything they possibly can.
In my experience, senior leaders are far too reluctant to share information that matters, fearing that the people they lead will respond negatively. In fact, the opposite is true – not sharing simply leads people to believe that the execs are hiding the stuff that matters to them.
In recent research amongst engineers in a utilities company, we asked how they wanted their leaders to communicate with them. Here's a sample of their answers:
- “Give us an authentic message.”
- "Don’t craft the message too carefully or use formal language – it loses heart and spirit; becomes too clinical and controlled."
- "Have an honest conversation with us."
How honest are your conversations with the people in your organisation?
(4) Respect people's feelings
I have worked with business leaders around the globe and psychometric testing indicates that many succesful leaders are logical, systematic and practical.
However, everybody – however logical, systematic and practical they may be – has feelings and are vulnerable, even if they hide these under the logical, practical, 'no-nonsense' exterior.
Therefore, as a senior leader in any organisation, when you are out and about, respect feelings and vulnerabilities.
Following points (2) and (3) above will help with this, as will making sure that you avoid belittling or undermining people's questions, comments and ideas.
Senior leaders need to build employee engagement as a key part of their leadership role. This means interacting well with the people they lead at all levels in the organisation. It's easy to overcomplicate this and so miss these four simple actions at the heart of engagement:
- Get out of your office
- Listen without being defensive
- Share information openly and 'with heart'
- Respect people's feelings