An engagement strategy doesn’t always get to the heart of the problem

Employee engagement is a “must-have” leadership skill. I have worked with many leaders who have made great efforts to put in place a culture which gets the best out of people. Even with the best engagement strategy in place, their efforts simply weren’t enough. Indeed many organisations invest much time and resource into their engagement strategy.

In my experience, there were times, even when a company is doing well, a constant thread of discontent existed across the team. Mostly I put this down to human nature. There are positive people and negative people. I even found times when the team and organisational results were high. When leaders were celebrating their successes, employee engagement indicators were low. There wasn’t a corresponding “high” in the way employees were buying in or not to the success of the business.  In one scenario, an organisation won accolades for leadership excellence when the engagement index for staff was actually sweeping the bottom of the industry league tables. Obviously, the criteria for leadership excellence were missing some vital ingredients in engaging and enthusing their people.

Common problems

I’ve found there are three common problems. If leaders don’t tackle these problems then they will not understand why results are not even better.  Even if they have made great efforts to implement an engagement  strategy there will be no improvement made. At first glance, most leaders and managers would probably deny these problems are alive and well in their workplace. Denial can stem from a lack of perspective, given their proximity to the problem.

These three problems, if not tackled, can sabotage any engagement strategy and motivate people:

Lack of Drive to Excel

This syndrome often occurs when organisations are getting reasonable results. It’s a little like living with an old and trusted cooker. As long as it’s working and cooking tasty meals, then there’s no need to change. Once the old cooker breaks down, you start to look around to see what’s available.  Then you realise your oven was “in the dark ages” compared to the brilliant new technology available. You realise how much time can be saved with technological advances.

Many organisations are still “cooking on gas”, in their minds, but they haven’t caught on to the many brilliant possibilities that exist if they decided to raise their game and invest in something new.  In a nutshell, the organisational culture is resistant to operating outside of the established comfort zone, which would have been forced had results been poor or disappointing. Results which were “good enough” didn’t leverage sufficient motivation to change and achieve even better results.

Believing in Average Ability of their Employees

Some 5 years ago, I applied to win a place in a local Academy for my son. In those days, Academies in the UK were few and far between. This particular school was amazing. At that time, results showed it was in the top ten schools in England. The school didn’t have formal feeder schools, so each one of its 190 odd intakes of pupils was by an application. They were and continue to be 2 – 1 oversubscribed.

In my ignorance, I expected the school to favour “bright” children, given its amazing results. What I found, still makes me wonder. The school intake policy includes an obligation to take in pupils from the whole spectrum of “ability” from children who had “special needs” to those who were nearing genius status. The bulk and the majority of children had to be sourced from average to below average results. It worked out at about 70% of the pupils were average achievers when they arrived at the school.

When the head was asked about how they managed to get such amazing results given the mix of abilities, he told the silent parents that unlike other schools, they truly believed that everyone was capable of excelling and so from that believe they got the best out of the vast majority of their pupils.

What I have seen in many organisations is a similar syndrome to that which most schools suffer, unlike the Academy. The general belief in the average ability of a large percentage of their employees which resulted in a self-fulfilling prophecy, i.e. they produced average results in the main.

Lack of Internal Customer Service

I have seen many organisations have great outcome related to external customer service policies and strategies. They have plans to engage people with the organisational “big picture”, “mission” and they hold focus groups and ask people constantly how they can make things better, but they continue to ignore the internal relationships between peers, teams and departments.

Insufficient attention is paid to internal relationships, contribution ethos, innovation, values and helpfulness within an organisation. This is all about internal customer service. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with a friendly rivalry between teams if their starting line is that they always act “for the greater good of the organisation”. It doesn’t matter how much effort is put into engaging, planning and rewarding people, if the relationships aren’t designed to “serve” each other as internal customers, excellence is never going to be achieved.

Including some well-needed perspective to lift your team out of their comfort zone, help foster self-belief in your people and get your internal customer service to work brilliantly must be part of your plan if you want to be brilliantly successful.

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