Imagine a group of 5-year-old children who have signed up to play soccer although none of them have any real experience with the sport. Their coach wanting to focus on the basics, spends all practice time reviewing the rules of the game, mostly how important it is not to touch the ball with their hands. How will these children respond on game day? It is very likely they will stand away from the ball with their hands in their armpits – afraid of the ball. If the ball comes near them, they will move out of the way for fear that if they get too close to the ball they will make a mistake. Visualizing these children standing on a pitch with their hands in their armpits afraid of the ball, you are seeing what a disengaged employee looks like, afraid of making a mistake, they stay away from the real work at hand. If your organization is similar to most other organizations, then this accounts for nearly 70% of your workforce.1
Employee Engagement is the optimizing of productivity and employee satisfaction, which results in better organizational performance and reduced staff turnover. When trying to create a more engaging work force, it is useful to understand some of the underlying root cause of this disengagement: the culture directly, and the leadership that creates and sustains this culture. Let’s examine how organizational culture and leadership can create disengagement and show the type of leadership you need to create the culture that will result in your organization maximizing both productivity and employee satisfaction.
The above example of children staying away from the ball, as they are afraid of making a mistake, is not only descriptive of disengagement, it is descriptive of passive cultures. The more your organization has a passive culture, the more disengaged your work force. In passive cultures employees do not believe their effort makes a difference, good performance goes unrecognized and poor performance is punished. In this environment, taking risks to improve performance has no upside but only a potential for a downside if it generates a mistake. At the extreme, employees show up and dread every moment of work.
These cultures emerge in organizations as a result of the two fatal flaws of leadership, overuse of command or overuse of consensus. When leaders overuse command it is an indication of an aggressive culture. These cultures are based on the belief that they are right, which builds arrogance, which drives the need to micromanage. The employees who are micromanaged start to develop the belief that their effort makes no difference at all, which leads to a passive culture and employee disengagement. Aggressive cultures cannot exist without passive cultures being part of it. The more the leaders attempt to drive performance and productivity, the more the culture resists the change. This combination of aggressive and passive cultures is frustrating for both leadership and employees. Leaders get frustrated with the lack of initiative and passion from the employees. The employees are frustrated with the way they are treated. Productivity is moderate and employee satisfaction is low.
The second fatal flaw of leaders is the overuse of consensus. Here the leader is striving for consensus in all decisions attempting to minimize conflict and maximize employee satisfaction and hoping that productivity will follow. This is generally a result of leaders under¬standing how damaging micromanaging can be, so they avoid providing any direction at all. This lack of direction and lack of decision-making on the leadership perspectives give the employees the feeling that the organization is without concrete goals and objectives. This lack of direction or goals, forces the employees to view the rules, procedures and processes as the real guiding force of the organization, not the leaders. This creates the fear of making a mistake mentioned above and the resulting passive culture and employee disengagement. Leadership that overuse consensus get a moderate amount of employee satisfaction with very low productivity.
To create employee engagement, you need leadership to create a third culture, a constructive culture that reinforces a belief that each employees effort can make a difference and maximizes both productivity and employee satisfaction…
Stay tuned for “Employee Engagement: How to optimize productivity and employee satisfaction” – PART 2!
1 Engagement, Wellbeing, and the Downturn Jennifer Robison, The Gallup Management Journal – August 2010