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Unleashing empowerment

In the second of a three-part series, change-management expert Andre Labonte, who is a guest lecturer at Bermuda College, writes about the importance of keeping employees engaged.

Recently a senior director at a US-based global information technology and services company attributed their high employee engagement to selective hiring, continual internal communications, and manager autonomy: “It's hard to transform people from non-engaged to engaged, so hire really well. Give them messaging a million ways till sundown, and give them a degree of freedom to figure it out. Empower them to do the right thing.”

When it comes to using engagement as a tool there seems to be a running theme in how successful organisations use their most important multiplier to best effect. If you've made the right hiring decision you've gotten the equation off to a good start and now you need to value your employees' potential and the work they do.

In part one I introduced Rob Markey, author of The Ultimate Question 2.0, and head of Bain & Company's Global Customer Strategy and Marketing Practice who believes that “the only way to have consistently really high levels of customer loyalty is to have a workforce that is so enthusiastic, creative, and energetic that you outperform competitors in service delivery, execution, and product design”. Markey says to do that, “you need to put employees in a position where they can be successful in creating high levels of customer loyalty and where they get the pride in knowing that they've made someone else's life better”.

Engagement obviously then depends on the relationship between employees and management. The importance of hiring for the future cannot be overemphasised. Getting the right people ‘on the bus' as Jim Collins said in his book Good to Great is an essential component regarding organisations, teams and more importantly individuals in aligning corporate strategy and organisational direction. Collins sentiment finds some similarities with the work of David MacLeod and Nita Clarke regarding management's direction and strategy's importance as key components for corporate engagement. However Collins goes one step further in boiling down organisations complexities into simple ideas that answer three basic questions regarding empowerment.

• What can we do best?

• What is the economic denominator that drives our business?

• What do our core people care passionately about?

Engagement's Three P's

By asking those questions it's obvious in Collins' view that at their core passionate employees are intrinsically motivated ones. Passion is a requirement to fully leverage a tacit knowledge skill set.

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, and chairman of the board of Solar City believes organisations should actually hire (and promote) based on raw talent, not experience. Musk has said he doesn't care that much about a graduate degree, college degree, or even a high school degree — just raw talent, personality, and passion.

To make sure he got the people he thought he needed at SpaceX and Tesla he would interview all potential employees himself! Essentially what business pros like Markey, McLeod, Collins and increasingly many others believe is that your people can be your ultimate competitive advantage. In my own research and writings I've termed that state of engagement as an employee being ‘plugged in' to the organisations ethos. Plugged-in employees take their roles personally, they wear them like a coat of arms. They actively look for ways to improve their and their company's situation by continually scanning the horizon for faster and more effective ways to do their jobs. I describe the three P's of engagement as Personal, People and Passion.

So were we to strip away the essentials of what needs to happen in order for companies to perform as top-level enterprises here in Bermuda or elsewhere we could probably come up with our own engagement checklist which would undoubtedly include many of the attributes previously mentioned. Here's a brief list I've accumulated from many of the leaders I've spoken to and interviewed but it's definitely not an exclusive or exhaustive one. Most organisations and engaged leaders would want and need to add several of their own in order to tailor the checklist to suit their specific needs.

• Hire the most talented people you can find.

• Give great guidance on an ongoing basis matching ‘passions to people'.

• Provide crystal clear communications between people and leadership and do it consistently.

• Act with integrity in everything you do.

?• Don't be afraid to make a mistake… or admit when you've made one.

• Mentor, mentor, mentor.

Engagement Unmasked

We've already talked of the importance of hiring ‘talent' and not just skill sets and also about the significance of having passionate people on board. When we look at communications it's one of the things everybody talks about but most organisations don't do very well. Harvard University professor John Kotter in his book Leading Change posits that organisations, generally speaking, handle communication and communicating change in particular very poorly. Kotter insists that typically leadership under-communicates by a factor of ten what needs to take place.

It's not that most don't communicate at all it's just they don't do it enough. His mantra seems to be when you think you've over-communicated something to your organisation …. just keep on going. Your team have a lot going on and you need to make sure an important message doesn't get lost in the background noise of the everyday.

Hiring the best and brightest however can be a double-edged sword. Smart employees see through deception. We all know it's difficult sometimes to not give full information in a business setting. A business's survival often requires information to be kept private. However outside of occasions where information getting into the wrong hands can damage an organisation it is imperative that truth and integrity in dealings between organisational leadership and those entrusted with creatively pushing the company forward is prevalent throughout.

Trust is probably the most important component of engagement. Nobody within an organisation gives their all for someone they don't fully trust. It really is as simple as that. You may not particularly like your manager, and you may not want to hang out with him on the weekend but in order to reap the rewards of engagement he has to be someone you can trust.

It's the same for organisational leaders. They need to be seen as walking the walk or you won't believe their message, and they won't sway the corporate direction or yours. There is even some evidence to suggest that constantly having to keep your guard up may affect your ability to concentrate and perform.

It's called ego depletion and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow says that exerting self control in one task can have a debilitating effect on subsequent tasks, essentially becoming a motivational sink hole.

In part three of the Engagement Deficit we'll explore the trust/honesty issue further as it provides a good segway into our final two items …. failure and mentoring.

Andre Labonte is a technologist; he has an MA in Leading Innovation and Change from York St John University and has lectured change management, innovation and leadership at the Bermuda College. Andre is a member of the Association of Change Management Professionals and can be contacted at andre.labonte.bm@gmail.com

Plugged in: engaged employees have passion to do the job well that leverages their skills

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Published October 27, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated October 26, 2015 at 9:13 pm)

Unleashing empowerment

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