Have you ever noticed that sticky notes easily fall off a flip chart? One possible reason for this is that the adhesive is not applied correctly. During a design thinking session, I learned a hack that could be useful – if you rotate the sticky note 90° and place it on the surface with the adhesive strip in a vertical position, it should hold its position much longer. Don’t believe me? Give it a try and see the results for yourself!
What’s a sticky note got to do with employee engagement? Although many organizations mean well by emphasizing employee engagement, the improvement plans and initiatives don’t stick long-term due to leadership or organizational changes; organizational flux may negate workplace improvements, or new leaders may deprioritize engagement.
But what if you turn the sticky note 90° and approach employee engagement differently? Based on my experience leading multiple engagement teams or initiatives, I’ve observed four employee engagement phases and two ways to make it stick.
Let’s begin with my working definition of employee engagement – the level of discretionary effort one is willing to put forth based on the relationship with their manager and the work environment.
Employee engagement directly affects business performance, and its influence on productivity, retention, customer loyalty, net income, and shareholder return is well-documented. Bottom line: The higher the level of employee engagement, the more successful the business will be; conversely, a low level of engagement will lead to unfavorable results.
Gallup’s findings this year are shocking: employee engagement has dropped to a record low of only 32%, meaning that almost 70% of employees are not engaged with their work.[i] This is an especially concerning figure when considering that 18% of employees are actively disengaged, meaning they are actively unhappy and potentially undermining their colleagues. This is an unsustainable situation for any organization.
If an employee engagement emphasis is the Holy Grail and is proven to drive positive results, why does it seem so elusive? And why do only 25% of companies have an engagement plan?[ii]
Maybe it’s due to leadership’s revolving door or the ever-evolving corporate restructuring. A wise man once told me that a new CEO or president’s only growth throttle was to undergo a merger/acquisition or reorganize the company.
I experienced the impact of new leadership and relentless restructuring firsthand. In my former company, I faced a constant sense of being up for re-election during my 20-year career. It felt like being a member of Congress, where I had to campaign for re-election every two years. Despite the challenging circumstances, I was able to survive 11 election cycles.
Based on where I was in the election cycle, my engagement level ebbed and flowed. I experienced what it meant to be highly engaged – to trust my managers and peers, to feel valued and that I made a valuable contribution, and to flourish in a positive work environment. I’ve had leaders that believed in me and involved me in meaningful work. On the other hand, I’ve suffered dreadful managers where I became disengaged and felt demoralized. I’ve learned from both; what to do from the inspirational leaders and what not to do from the rest.
I’ve also had the opportunity to lead employee engagement teams comprised of committed volunteers; one group drove a complete turn-around, and the other catalyzed a move from good to great. Lastly, I’ve directly managed teams where morale and engagement were low and helped turn them into high-performing teams.
Whether individually or leading a team, I’ve experienced the birth of new organizations or teams, the eager drive toward positive engagement, and delivering extraordinary results, only to be stopped in our tracks by a leadership change or organization restructure.
The Four Phases of Employee Engagement
As displayed in the chart, I’ve observed four Employee Engagement phases, including rewiring, results, rumors, and re-org.
- Rewiring phase. The new organization is announced, people are assigned new roles, and the rewiring and how things get done (i.e., how water flows through the pipes) typically takes six to eight months. Employee engagement lurches higher, but productivity is low.
- Results phase. Once the organization understands its vision, mission, and how it works to get things done, results materialize. At some point during the phase, upper management determines there is a need to focus on employee engagement. Committees are formed, charters are written, macro-level strategies are developed, and tactics are deployed. Employee engagement peaks with the proper emphasis, and productivity is high.
- Rumors phase. Changes in an organization are inevitable, and people begin to speculate. Surely enough, consultants are engaged, and HR representatives huddle in meetings. Employee engagement ebbs and productivity recedes.
- Reorg phase. The phase is filled with posturing, anxiety, and fear no matter how management roles out reorganization communication and timing. People sit on their hands and wait for the news about their job. Once their job status is determined, people exit immediately, while others stay and apply for open roles. It’s cold. It’s hard. Engagement emphasis stops. No wonder employee engagement is at its lowest point, and productivity is minimal at best.
Then the process starts all over again. In my estimation, organizations will never reach their potential if stymied by relentless instability.
Moving Toward Sticky Employee Engagement
Recently, a senior executive asked me about my Employee Engagement experience and if engagement can be improved long-term. I shared my thoughts on the above four Employee Engagement phases and clarified that it is indeed meaningful. However, durable engagement improvement depends on two factors.
First, the organization must sustain its “results phase” and continue progressing toward the vision and mission while empowering, energizing, and enabling employees. If the results phase is prolonged, the organization can reach its full potential, whether financial, innovation-based, or customer satisfaction.
The second part of the solution is to focus on “micro-leadership.” Recall my definition of employee engagement: The level of discretionary effort one is willing to put forth based on the relationship with their manager and work environment. The manager and direct report relationship is foundational. If the connection is strong, the organization will flourish. If weak, the organization will flounder.
To create sticky employee engagement regardless of the organizational circumstances, we need to develop leadership skills at the micro level, between managers and direct reports, where the rubber meets the road, including:
- Expressing empathy. Understand others, ask questions, listen, stand in someone else’s shoes, and show others you care for them.
- Building trust. Do what you say you will do, let others know who you are, share your values and what you stand for.
- Instilling purpose and meaning. Help associates understand why their roles exist, how their contribution adds value, and what success looks like.
- Coaching and developing. Conduct 360-degree assessments to identify strengths and skill gaps, create capability plans, hold frequent development discussions, and help others reach their potential.
- Appreciating and encouraging. Ensure associates know that they are valued and make a difference. Lift them during adversity and lavish praise when they succeed.
Lastly, I leave you with another question: What if you don’t focus on employee engagement?
Think about it.
Without an engagement focus, your organization will find itself in a doom loop. Morale will suffer, you’ll be surrounded by mediocrity, and your company will lose its competitive edge. Your customers will find alternate solutions. Your organization will drift into sameness and may go under. Not a pretty picture.
Be assured that investing in employee engagement will pay dividends.
Morale is an Organization’s Best Friend
Speaking of morale, I recently read an article in The Wall Street Journal about the lessons learned thus far from the Ukraine-Russia war. The author wrote, “The importance of morale to military success isn’t a new concept. More than two centuries ago, French emperor, Napoleon said morale was three times as important as the manpower and equipment on the battlefield, in a remark sometimes translated as: ‘In war, moral power is to physical as three parts out of four.’ Ukrainian troops, convinced of their moral cause and knowing they were fighting for the survival of their families and their country, beat back Russian forces who were involved in what they were told was a special military operation’.”[iii]
If you have morale, it will be your organization’s best friend.
To make employee engagement stick, I encourage executive management teams to recognize the need to stabilize their organization and develop effective leaders. If they do, they’ll reach their potential and deliver extraordinary results.
To learn more about how Preston can help your organization or team, visit prestonpoore.com.
[iii] “The Conflict in Ukraine Offers Old-and New-Lessons in 21st Century Warfare,” Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2023> Read More
Last year, I was preparing to launch my new book, Discipled Leader, and build my leadership development platform. While it was an exciting time and a dream coming true, I felt overwhelmed and lacked direction. I was in unfamiliar territory. It was my first rodeo. I’d never published a book before, let alone start a business. It seemed to be a daunting task.
Poet John Donne wrote that “no man is an island.” Meaning I couldn’t accomplish something extraordinary on my own. Success would require the help of others. I knew that I’d only reach my potential with wise counsel and support. And if I reached my potential, others could reach theirs as well.
“No man is an island”John Donne
That’s when I got the idea to develop a Personal Advisory Board (PAB). I discovered the concept in the Wall Street Journal about how successful business executives surround themselves with trusted advisors to help the business executive develop and accomplish their goals.
The Latin phrase is correct, vident oculi quam oculus – many eyes see more than one. I set out to create an inner circle that would assist in navigating unchartered waters and help me reach my potential. But I wasn’t looking for “yes” people, those only patting me on the back and telling me what I wanted to hear. I sought guidance, not validation. I wanted to surround myself with people who would push me, ask probing questions, give feedback even if it’s hard to hear, provide creative input, offer a business perspective, and signal watchouts. I needed folks who could help me solve challenging problems and make complex decisions. Lastly, I desired individuals that had experience with my chosen path; they’d gone before me. I wanted them to share their successes, failures, and learnings. Ultimately, tap into their wisdom.
There’s one other reason I wanted to develop a PAB. I crave positive affirmation. But when I receive it, I can easily get big-headed and begin to think I’m all that. Pride creeps in, I get puffed up, and I tend to take credit for things that go well or blame others when they don’t. I know my weakness, and I can become arrogant without an external party pointing it out to me. My egotistical and self-absorption bent made personal and professional accountability a must. I had to stay grounded and remain humble.
So, I began recruiting PAB members. In the initial communication, I shared with them why I was starting a PAB, what I was trying to accomplish, and then invited them to participate in something bigger than themselves. If they’d joined me on the journey, they’d be able to shape the outcome.
I recruited six original members that agreed to serve for 12 months, two women and four men, including a former NFL player and corporate executive, a head pastor, an internationally renowned composer, a healthcare consultant and seminary student, and two best-selling authors that own speaking/training small businesses.
I began monthly, ten-minute, one-on-one meetings with the PAB members. Our initial meetings were clunky, but we slowly got the hang of it. Before the sessions, I sent an executive summary, including activity updates and areas where I needed feedback.
They’ve helped me make many sound decisions, provided creative input, offered penetrating feedback, and encouraged me when I was down. I couldn’t have done it without them. Ultimately, my book launch was successful, and my platform continues to evolve.
The other good news is that each PAB member renewed for another 12 months. We’ve even added another member, a former beverage industry executive, and leadership coach.
So, do you want to start a PAB? Here’s what I recommend…
- Define your why. What are your business or initiative’s purpose, contribution, and impact? I recommend using the following Why Statement: To (contribution), so that (impact). For example, “To engage and inspire people, so that people are motivated to do something creative every day.” Writing a Why Statement will help you distill your thoughts and articulate them to others.
- Design your ideal board member profile. Imagine what your perfect board member would bring to the table. What complementary characteristics, skills, or experiences will an individual contribute to your journey? Do they have a thinking style different than yours (e.g., strategic, creative, analytical, critical)? Do you trust and respect the individual? Will the potential board member openly share feedback, ask hard questions, encourage you, give advice, pray with you, support your effort? Is the person influential and well-connected? Do you share similar values and faith? What will you have gained from and given to the participant a year from now? Answering these questions will help you think through the ideal board member.
- Identify candidates and recruit. Based on your ideal board member profile, begin thinking about your circle of influence and connections. Look across your friends, colleagues, mentors, and broader network for potential candidates. I identified a list of people I believed would want to partner with me for my initial PAB. Then, I sent an invitation email to the candidates with my Why Statement, what I hoped to accomplish, why I identified them as potential candidates, and how they’d make a difference. I invited them into something bigger than themselves. If the individual was interested and wanted to learn more, I’d set up a follow-up Zoom call to share more details.
- Manage time expectations. How you view time is a mindset. Are you asking the advisors to spend time with you or invest time with you? If you invest in something, you’ll experience a return, directly or indirectly. If you approach the requested time as an investment, people will be more open to supporting you. And be upfront about the time investment you’re requesting. I asked folks for a 12-month commitment. It takes time to develop an effective process and productive sessions. I found that almost everyone is willing to invest a 10-minute, one-on-one, monthly appointment to help. Lastly, I highly recommend that you honor the time commitment. Be concise and be done. Do your best to stay within the scheduled time allotment. If you are in deep conversation, ask permission to extend the appointment or schedule additional time. Time is the most precious resource we have. Respect others’ time, and they will appreciate it.
- Send a pre-meeting executive summary. Before every round of PAB meetings, I send an executive summary of what I’ve accomplished since the last meeting, plans, feedback requested, decisions I’m considering, or problems I’m trying to solve. I’ve found that the executive summaries prime the discussion pump and give the members something to respond to. I advise the PAB members that I’ll reach out individually to set up the next one-on-ones. Then, I move to text and converse with the PAB members to schedule time.
- Conducting the session. This is the fun and value-creating time. I always ask if the PAB member received the executive summary and if they have any specific questions. This is where the conversation can go in many different directions. Caution! Sometimes a PAB member doesn’t have immediate questions or feedback. If this is the case, I’m prepared to give a brief update or ask a question related to PAB members’ skills, experience, or interests. Be sure to summarize the key takeaway to the advisor and discuss potential next steps. I always recap the key takeaway during the next session and provide a progress update. Listening and acting will demonstrate to the PAB member that you value their insight. Lastly, always ask how you can help the PAB member. You want to create a reciprocal, mutually beneficial relationship. Not only receive value but return value.
- Rinse, refine, repeat, recruit. Like I said earlier, the process may feel a little clunky as you start out. Evaluated experience is the best teacher. Reflect on each round of one-on-ones. What worked, didn’t work, and what can you improve? Apply your learnings to refine the overall process and PAB member experience. Lastly, keep scanning your network for potential PAB members and cultivating relationships. Anticipate that people will eventually rotate off your PAB, and you’ll want to have a pipeline of people to fill open slots.
One of the best things I’ve done is create a PAB. The members shaped my mission, influenced my thinking, and molded my approach. They’ve helped me navigate unchartered territory, solve perplexing problems, and make sound decisions. Even better, they feel they’re engaged in something bigger than themselves, something extraordinary.
I agree with John Donne; we aren’t islands. We can’t do it alone. We need others on this journey we call life. How about you? Do you have a dream, vision, idea, or a burning passion, but you’re unsure where to start? Surround yourself with a PAB, meet your goals, and watch your dreams come true.
Want to learn more about becoming a leader others will gladly follow? Visit my website, prestonpoore.com, today!
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The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. (Proverbs 16:9 ESV)
I’ve struggled with the paradox of my life’s role and God’s providence, the understanding that he wisely and purposefully governs our world and engineers all circumstances. With a fatherly hand, he sees to it that his will is done. I also struggle with the tension between my planning, making decisions, acting, and knowing that God controls everything. Does my work really matter? Can I be a positive influence on my business, community, and church?
I’ve always been wary of these phrases:
- “If you don’t like the circumstances you’re in, go make new ones.”
- “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.”
Many leadership experts espouse the belief that we can take control, make changes, and grow, and that the results are up to us. That’s the tension within me. Maybe it’s within you as well. I believe people can do all these things, but the Bible teaches that God is responsible for the outcomes.
So, what are the alternatives?
I may think that, if God controls everything, one option is to sit back and passively observe. Let things play out on their own. Stick my head in the sand and not get involved. What happens then?
Entropy sets in—the natural tendency toward chaos, disorganization, randomness, degradation, deterioration, disorder, and erosion. Things move toward disorder without our involvement. It’s like watching someone drown although you have the means to save them yet choosing to look away and leaving the rescue up to God.
Another option is to take matters into your own hands and make things happen. Just do it. But when you race ahead of God, you’ll find that your choices, actions, and results end up being suboptimal. Often, you’ll crash and burn.
The best option is to actively participate in God’s purposes. Collaborate with him. Wait on him, gain his insight, understand what he wants to accomplish, seek his direction, and then move when prompted.
As you surrender your heart to God and seek his guidance, you will begin to act as a catalyst to transform, innovate, and positively influence the world around you. God will work in you and through you to:
- bring chaos into order
- empower you to lead in times of crisis
- solve impossible problems
- make wise decisions
- move people and resources toward reaching their potential.
If you seek God and place him at the center of your decisions and plans, he will guide you and establish the work of your hands.
Consider: Are you actively participating in God’s purposes? If not, why not?
Do you want to learn more? Visit my website, www.prestonpoore.com.
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Imagine you’ve accomplished something great – it may be a job promotion, closing that seemingly elusive deal, or winning the improbable election, and now you’re on top of the world. It took blood, sweat, and tears to get where you are. You’ve earned it.
The problem for many people is that when they get to the top of the mountain, they fall off the other side. Why? One word: Pride. They become conceited, thinking their success was all their doing, and they can do no wrong. They start to feel self-important, develop a sense of entitlement, and stop listening to others.
Relationships are broken, teams are destroyed, and organizational potential is capped because of pride. So, how do you handle success and avoid the pitfalls of pride? If you want to learn the answer, I invite you to continue reading…
For every 100 people who can handle adversity, only one can handle success. Why?
The Bible says, “The purity of silver and gold is tested by putting them in the fire; The purity of human hearts is tested by giving them a little fame.” (Proverbs 27.21 – The Message)
Success reveals your character. When you achieve great things, become rich, famous, or powerful, you begin to think that you’re “all that.” You are prone to become vain and scornful as you soak up the glory. But pride comes before a fall.
So, how do you handle success? How do you avoid becoming arrogant and not falling? Here are eight ways to manage fame, prosperity, or victory and self-reflection questions to help evaluate your character…
- Acknowledge. Know that God’s the one that’s gifted you and provided the opportunity to do well. Transfer honor to God. Point people to the gift giver, not the gift. Regarding success, do you acknowledge God’s provision privately and publicly?
- Humility. Be modest, self-effacing, and unpretentious. Keep quiet about your achievements and allow others to point to you. If your win came at the expense of someone else, be empathetic to their loss or taste of failure. Regarding success, are you keeping your ego in check by not showing off, understating your accomplishments, and continuing listening to others?
- Gratitude. Express appreciation to God for your success. Value God and all that he’s has done in your life. Lift a heart full of praise and worship to Him. Regarding success, do you express your gratitude to God?
- Respect. Think highly of your family and friends. Treat them well. Be trusting and trustworthy. Don’t forget those closest to you are often the ones who helped you get where you are today. Regarding success, has your respect for those around you grown?
- Alert. Be watchful for anything that may blemish your reputation. Stay on your toes, guard your heart, and avoid temptation. Regarding success, are you on the alert for anything that will stain your character and discredit your accomplishments?
- Enlarge. Be diligent to improve yourself continuously. Don’t rest on your laurels or become complacent. Look for ways to grow yourself and others. Innovate, take risks, learn something new. Aim for greatness, not mediocrity. Reach your potential. Regarding success, have you stopped learning, become distracted, and settled for being average?
- Generosity. Invest your time, talents, and resources to benefit others. Be selfless. Go a step beyond expectations. Regarding success, what steps have you taken to be kind, attentive to others’ needs, and giving?
- Accountability. Keep your life on track by putting appropriate public and personal controls in place. Open yourself to at least one person you can trust and allow them to ask tough questions about your secret thought life. Let them probe and be honest with your answers. Check your motive. Without accountability, you may fall into unethical or immoral behaviors and, ultimately, into corruption. With it, you’ll remain in check, maintain your integrity, and continue to build upon your success. Regarding success, do you have someone you meet with regularly, allow them to ask you tough questions, and are honest with yourself?
The Bottom Line – If you transfer the praise of others to God, you’ll remain praiseworthy.
Do you want to discover more about becoming a grounded and inspirational leader? Visit my website, prestonpoore.com, today!
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I’m a disciple of Christ and an executive at a Fortune 500 Company. In my blog, The Discipled Leader, I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work.
As a certified coach, speaker, and trainer with the John Maxwell Team, I help others grow their relationship with Christ, develop their leadership skills, and understand how they can make a positive difference in today’s chaotic world.
Let me help you reach your potential.
I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work. I invite you to subscribe to my blog and learn how to develop Christlike character, influence your culture and change your world.