The most important element of engagement within a workforce is choice. And the only way to provide choice without affecting productivity is with strong leadership.
People don’t leave organisations, they leave bad leaders. Even the most flexible company, with systems and processes designed to allow teams to work when they want and where they want, will become an unsustainable prospect for the employee whose manager constantly questions, belittles and lacks trust.
It’s not enough to create procedures. It’s not even enough to lead by example (although that is essential). When it comes to effective engagement, it’s essential that positive leadership traits are instilled in managers across the board. It must be an organisational goal to create a culture where trust flourishes and suspicion is stamped out.
Positive leadership consistently promotes and celebrates success and looks for constructive and positive ways to tackle negative issues. Evidence shows that presenteeism can be just as big a problem as absenteeism, and pressure to perform enticed by bonuses, perks and the promise of future promotion can breed mental and physical health issues that will manifest themselves further down the line.
Instead, the focus should be on recognising the small successes which make up the bigger picture, and then asking how each individual can move on to the next stage. People need to be stretched, not pushed, and they should be supported to achieve what they’ve been employed to deliver in a way they are comfortable with.
People are presented with a dizzying array of channels of communication in every area of their lives. In the last 10 years alone, we’ve moved on from MySpace and internet forums being the preserve of the young and the geek, to grandparents on Twitter and fake news pushed on Facebook influencing elections. Thanks to social media, we’re bombarded with carefully curated images that shape opinions and influence choices. Rarely is an individual asked what they want: rather, they are served ads and content.
Amongst this constant and unrelenting noise, the biggest benefit a leader has when it comes to engagement is the ability to ask questions and listen to the answers. What does the individual want? What problems are they having? What are their aspirations? How can they be supported in achieving them?
Of course, there must be parameters. Without rules, chaos ensues. But the best leaders are those who have the ability to flex their style to meet any given situation, and this applies to the manner in which individuals are communicated with. Whether it’s a daily two minute call to check in with the part-time homeworker, providing training for the older member of the team to fully embrace the company social media policy, or staging a glitzy celebration day once a month for the sociable frontline workers, it entirely depends on what works for the people who deliver. Give them a choice, and they will respond positively.
An organisation whose leaders ask questions about the role, the challenges and the future aspirations of every individual, who listen to the answers and deliver on promises is an organisation with a fully engaged workforce.