It’s all in the culture
Leadership without engagement is only an egoistical trip. As organisations strive towards the need for higher performance, there is no shortage of leadership development programmes being peddled as the next best thing that will bring about breakthrough performance.
While it is important that individuals are trained to lead, but do they have what it takes to engage with their team?
The challenge of creating an engagement excellence is one of sequence rather than substance (most of us know what is the right thing to do but are we doing the right thing at the right time?)
Stage 1: Culture setting
“There is a persistent disconnect between what we profess and what we practise.”
In my many conversations with CEOs and organisational leaders, there is hardly anyone who is unable to articulate his or her aspirations for the future.
In fact, most of that “vision” would have been captured in a set of corporate communications programmes.
However, there are three practical considerations to set these “visionary aspirations” in the right perspective:
- Has the “vision” been translated into workable organisational development strategies?
- Has the “vision” been crystallised into specific key results where non-delivery is not an option?
- Has the “vision” been accurately linked to the type of change efforts required?
Hence, the first step towards creating a culture of engagement excellence requires a consultative process with senior leaders whereby their aspirations are reframed into practical, operational and measurable frameworks.
Without this first vital step, organisations inevitably end up putting the cart before the horse.
Stage 2: Culture alignment
“When something goes wrong, we spend more time blaming than fixing the problem.”
Once the organisation’s vision is culturally set, the next step is to align daily policies and leadership practices into a set of consistent experiences.
For example, if a company prides itself in saying “we are a listening organisation” but there is hardly any feedback time allotted during the weekly department meetings – what this does is to create more “blame-hotspots”.
This is the fundamental reason why most change initiatives fail. Too much effort is spent on crafting the belief statements and not enough focus is invested in the creation of consistent experiences.
Without this alignment between belief and experiences, employees tend to be sceptical towards the rollout of any engagement activities because they are convinced that the culture of the organisation must be felt at the grassroots level.
Here are two questions to assess the cultural alignment of your organisation:
- Are employees department-focused (“I take care only of my own backyard”) or organisational-driven (“I will do what is good for the reputation of the organisation as a whole”)?
- Are employees’ feedback taken seriously (especially feedback on managerial behaviour)?
Stage 3: Culture coaching
“Managers are not taking ownership for engaging with their employees.”
It is interesting that the state of managerial leadership today is reflective of the state of parenting. Consider this – parents today are generally too busy to personally engage with their children.
So, who ends up picking up the slack? Well, it is the babysitters, enrichment centres and other child minders.
The opposite of ownership is not abandonment (parents still want to care for their kids), rather it is outsourcing (parents still want to maintain an air of respectability, i.e. “Since I am not personally involved, I will get someone else to do it”).
So it is with many managers today. If they have issues with their employees, then it is the role of the HR (human resources) or training department to take over and “fix the problem”.
While it is true that HR and trainers play a role in employee development, it is the regular interaction with the direct supervisor which captures the heart and mind.
Here are three self-reflective coaching-based questions for the manager:
- In the past seven days, have I recognised any of my employee’s contribution?
- Am I creating opportunities whereby my employee is able to do what he or she does best every day?
- Do I know the unique talents of my employees so that I am able to make right job placement decisions?
Stage 4: Culture motivation
“It is so hard to please employees nowadays. How does one create both satisfaction and productivity?”
A few generations ago, employees were largely concerned with “bread and butter” issues – coming to work represented a simple motivation – make enough to make ends meet.
However, in today’s context where employees do not have to worry very much about their three square meals, the challenge for engagement takes on an added perspective whereby organisation leaders are now looking to feed not just the physical needs of the employees but also their “soulish” aspirations.
Here are a few examples of how motivation of today’s employees is contrasted with the motivation of employees of the past:
- The need for conversations rather than just communication.
- The need for inspiration rather than just instructions.
- The need for purpose rather than just profits.
As productivity pressure increases, organisational leaders would be wise to also increase the pace of engagement excellence.
An increase in productivity with a corresponding increase in engagement excellence leads to a performing organisation without a soul, i.e. without that sense of energy that creates sustainability and significance.
When it comes to matters of loyalty, retention and commitment, it takes more than just a barrage of competency programmes to get the message across. What is required is a cultural priority to capture the hearts and minds of every employee.
This is excellence that truly matters.
Originally published in The Star’s MyStarJob pullout on 4 October, 2014.
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