Perhaps the most daunting leadership challenge facing businesses today is that of disengaged employees. According to Gallup, a staggering 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged. The difference in financial outcomes achieved by highly engaged enterprises is equally staggering. Gallup studies show that companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share!
Why is the problem of disengagement so pervasive? Some suggest it is simply a manifestation of human nature, that human beings are inherently lazy. Others think it correlates with the generations, that Traditionalists (those born before 1945) are by nature more engaged than Baby Boomers, who are more engaged than Gen Xers, who are more engaged than Millennials.
In searching for a root cause for disengagement, we shouldn’t blame things on what we conclude simply can’t be fixed. This is, in my opinion, an abdication of leadership. Rather than wringing their hands, successful leaders must address four critical elements to turn the tide on employee engagement:
Does your organization have an environment that is conducive to high engagement? The Conference Board recently released its report C-Suite Challenge 2018: Reinventing the Organization for the Digital Age. According to the report, CEO respondents are largely focused on “the creation of innovative, customer-centric, and inclusive workplace environments within their organizations.” Such environments invite engagement. Some of their common characteristics have been described by Professor Kim Cameron of the University of Michigan as the “heliotropic effect.”
The heliotropic effect is the tendency of all living things to lean toward the light, toward that which is energizing and life-giving. It has been proven that people learn faster, remember more, and perform at higher levels in positive environments. Dr. Cameron says, “Strategies that capitalize on the positive tend to produce life-giving, flourishing outcomes in individuals and organizations.”
Leaders should assess the environment of their organization. Is there a pervasive sense of optimism irrespective of whether the current situation is good or bad? Is there a prevailing sense that as a team, we can and will succeed together? Is there a tolerance for mistakes coupled with a “can-do” attitude toward solving problems? Is there an absence of blaming and contention?
If not, the heliotropic effect probably isn’t present in your company. It takes significant effort to change to an environment of positivity, including an admission on the part of leaders that they, themselves, are contributing to an environment unconducive to high engagement. Transforming to a heliotropic environment must begin with leadership!
To succeed in business, we recognize the necessity to manage multiple variables, including money, equipment, customer relations, operations, competency development and maintenance, and an endless array of policy and regulation compliance. These are the nuts and bolts of business, and they are all important.
However, none of these are the core of any enterprise. People are the most important element in any organization.
The attitude of leaders, then, must reflect their compassion, caring, respect, and gratitude for the people with whom they work, including employees, suppliers and customers. This attitude can be demonstrated without any loss of intensity regarding the achievement of business outcomes. The challenges and stresses of daily high performance don’t go away; heliotropic leaders just approach them with an unfailing, caring focus on their people.
To get higher employee engagement, leaders themselves must engage at deeper levels with their constituencies. They must seek opportunities to interact with employees. They should strive to know what is happening in their lives—their interests, hopes and desires. This should not be invasive but should reflect sincere interest in each individual.
As leaders come to know their people better, they will understand not only who they are, but what they can become. That will provide the foundation for helping employees to learn, grow and engage in ways meant just for them. Leaders will not give up on those that struggle, but will continue to help and sustain them., working as facilitators of growth and development of their people.
Stay the course. Disengagement didn’t develop overnight, and it won’t be solved with a quick fix. However, as leaders strive to transform to a heliotropic environment, develop a people-centric attitude, become more personally engaged as facilitators of employee growth, and patiently walk their talk, employee engagement will improve. When it does, so will productivity and profitability.
Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses.