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Getting Real About Your Top Initiatives & Employee Engagement

October 28, 2015

What if you got very realistic about what employee engagement and investment means for your success at completing your top initiatives?

I frame that question as if you and I aren’t that realistic.  That may make you bristle a bit, or click the back button, but I’ve got something to help you be more successful as you move forward, so give me 2 more minutes and I’ll make this brief and boil it down to just 4 points.

  1. You’re probably aware of the various survey results on employee engagement, but just to set a baseline, let’s cite the 2014 Gallup results: ” Less than one-third (31.5%) of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2014… a majority of employees, 51%, were still “not engaged” and 17.5% were “actively disengaged” in 2014.
  2. If you have staff, I’m betting that when you launch or announce a major initiative or fund a project upon which your future depends, you’re expecting that people will buy in and work hard because it’s important.  This is how you think right?   On some level that is your operating assumption, if we look at your behavior.  But, please notice that it doesn’t translate or square up to what surveys, like the Gallup poll, are telling us.  Whoops.
    So which is it?   Is Gallup all wet, or are we in denial?  I’m betting as long as we are looking at someone else, we would easily conclude they are in denial because it’s more comfortable to operate as if everyone has bought in.  Translation: 1/2 of the people working for you are going through the motions, doing what’s needed to stay out of trouble, doing what’s required (to maintain), and they are not going to put a lot of extra effort into your initiative.  And in fact, approximately 1 out of every 6 of your employees (17.5%) is going to slow the process down and be an obstacle – either directly or by arguing, negative comments, or simply passive aggressive behavior.  Wow, that reality looks a lot different than everyone merrily buying in and working hard, doesn’t it?
  3. So let’s get even more personal.  If we strip away denial and see employee engagement for what it is, we realize that any major initiative  that gets launched is going to run into lack-luster effort and even active blocking.  E.g. you’re likely going to need to intervene and actively stay engaged to help any initiative along for it to have a solid chance of being successful.  
    But if we get even more personal, and look directly in the mirror, you’ll see that you and I, like most executives, get overwhelmed with so much stuff on the table, and as a result we don’t actively stay engaged.  Instead we adopt a sort of passive investor (buy and hold) approach.  We launch initiatives and then don’t actively stay on top of them.  I can hear you thinking it now, “That’s what my staff is supposed to do.”  Really?  Partially true, but inconsistent with what we know about employee engagement. 
    In fact, I often observe that executive engagement on launched initiatives can be even worse than employee engagement.  That’s right.  On any 10 initiatives we launch, we’re likely staying engaged with less than a third, passively monitoring over half of them and in fact are actually being an obstacle to getting things done on 1/6 of them because we’re not paying attention or are too slow to respond.   Not exactly the best recipe for success is it?
  4. There’s one more piece of denial we need to remove to help you be more successful.  Sorry if this is feeling like getting a root canal.  When you ask for status updates or view them written in something like ManagePro,  realize that your needs for a status update or aren’t quite different than the person creating the update.  You want to know what’s going on, or if you have to worry, or if you need to get more involved… the person creating the update may be writing to avoid your intervention, or just fulfill the need to create an update, or a host of other reasons.  Given that updates can have so many motivational drivers on both sides, push beyond the written or stated word in updates, so that you really do get an accurate sense of what’s happening on your key initiatives… it’s far too easy to be “managed”, and as a result we are late for interventions after the need actually surfaced.

Bottom Line:
Employee engagement realities represent three incredibly important data points to consider in order for you to be more successful going forward:

  1. Employees are not engaged as much as you would be comfortable believing or assume, and therefore more than half are not likely to extend the effort needed to achieve success on your top initiatives… so don’t launch and hope for the best, or monitor at a distance in staff meetings.
  2. Your personal engagement in the initiatives you launch is likely to be no better than employees, so “up” your level of engagement, and if you don’t have the time to do that, reduce the number of initiatives you are sponsoring.
  3. Be wary of accepting status updates at face value, it’s not good for your long term success.  Push deeper – it pays to get engaged.

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