Friday, 19 July 2013 13:07

The Top 3 Ways to Engage Employees

The No. 1 reason why most people leave their jobs is the feeling they’re not appreciated.

According to Gallup research, what employees want most — along with competitive pay — is quality management. When they feel unappreciated and disapprove of their managers, they leave or join the growing ranks of the disengaged.

3 Steps to Positive Leadership

In 2005, Jerry Krueger and Emily Killham shared the results of Gallup research that showed managers play a crucial role in employee well-being and engagement—but the research didn’t study what managers specifically did to elicit positive responses.

That’s why Margaret Greenberg, president of The Greenberg Group, and Dana Arakawa, a program associate at the John Templeton Foundation, put the theory of positive leadership to the test. They wanted to know if managers who apply positive leadership practices have teams with higher project performance and employee engagement.

As it turns out, positive managers practice three leadership behaviours:

  1.     Use a strengths-based approach.
  2.     Provide frequent recognition and encouragement.
  3.     Maintain a positive perspective when difficulties arise.

None is an innate behaviour, but all can be learned.

A Strengths-Based Approach

There’s a reason why managers’ focus on strengths and weaknesses is so important. Most organisations are obsessed with fixing weaknesses. They conduct performance reviews, 360-degree assessments and the like to evaluate how well employees and managers are measuring up to predefined goals and competencies.

Managers are instructed to look at an employee’s assessed gap and coach for greater performance in areas of weakness. But such assessments usually pay only cursory attention to an employee’s strengths. Performance reviews and subsequent remedial programs focus almost exclusively on weaknesses.

Focus on What Works

Too many managers assume that employees need to be good at many things, rather than excellent in the key areas.

Recent studies have firmly established that focusing on what works, followed by a program to scale it to greater levels, is a more practical and efficient approach to developing people and their performance.

Managers who take a strengths-based approach help employees identify strengths and align their talents with their work. These managers don’t ignore employee weaknesses, but fixing them isn’t their primary focus.

Greenberg and Arakawa found that managers who focused on strengths enjoyed superior team performance, as opposed to managers who focused on weaknesses.

The Problem-Seeking Mindset

It’s not enough to wait for performance reviews and project completion to deliver feedback. Praise must be frequent, ongoing and specific to current behaviours—not vague or general.

Sadly, we’re predisposed to look for the negative: in ourselves, in others and for external events. We rarely scan our environment and ask:

  •     “What’s working right now… and how can we do more of it?”
  •     Instead, we look around and ask: “What’s broken—and how can we fix it?”

The problem-seeking mindset is one of the brain’s shortcomings, while also serving as a protective device to spare us from danger and making mistakes.

In Switch (2010), Dan and Chip Heath write about “finding the bright spots” in our work and lives. After extensive research, the two business school professors have documented how we’re wired to focus on bad over good.

It’s no wonder performance reviews and feedback are usually aimed at what’s not working. Yet, some successful individuals can override this brain tendency and focus on the positive, at least enough to create successful relationships both at work and home.

John Gottman, a psychologist who studies marital conversations, finds that couples who sustain long-term marriages use language that reflects five times more positive statements than negative ones. In fact, he calls this “the magic ratio” and claims it will accurately predict if a marriage will last. He urges managers to use a ratio of 5:1 positive statements in conversations with employees.

When Things Go Wrong

Managing long-term, multimillion-dollar projects that involve dozens of people and several workgroups is a complex challenge, and things are bound to go wrong. How managers respond to problems has a direct and measurable impact on both the employees and the project.

Researchers Greenberg and Arakawa asked employees:

  •     “When a problem crops up on my project, is my project manager able to help me come up with solutions?”
  •     “What steps does your project manager take when such a problem arises?”

Here’s what they found:

  •     Managers who maintain a positive perspective don’t turn setbacks into catastrophes.
  •     They don’t fly off the handle; they control their emotions.
  •     They recognise what’s within their sphere of influence (and what’s not).
  •     They see and discuss the problem as an opportunity.
  •     They provide a solution-oriented perspective.

Greenberg and Arakawa also discovered that managers who maintained a positive perspective when things went awry experienced greater project performance. Managers who scored in the top quartile for positive perspective (as reported by their employees, not self-report) had significantly higher project performance than those in the bottom quartile.

Reflect on how you as a manager and leader can implement positive leadership by practicing these behaviours:

1.      Focus on and work with people’s strengths.

2.      Improve the frequency with which you give praise and recognition.

3.      Respond with a positive, solutions-orientation when the going gets rough.


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