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
Soon after a merger between two large organizations, our newly formed group was infected with infighting and chaos. I remember one group member constantly stirring the pot, continually criticizing our manager, team, and work. She never provided solutions. When something went wrong, she’d “dog pile;” jump on top, joining in to criticize others.
Her attitude began to spread; it’s like what happens when you put an apple and an onion in the refrigerator together. The apple, although initially sweet, will begin to taste like the onion if they are left together long enough. Bad attitudes are contagious. Anyway, everyone began pursuing selfish agendas, jockeying for position, which resulted in a disjointed and non-cooperative group.
We also suffered a credibility gap with our internal client. The new group wasn’t sure of our role and how we added value to the business. Our lack of clarity became a fog in our client’s mind.
I was very uncomfortable and unsatisfied with our circumstances. Then I remembered what the Bible says, “Where there is no vision, the people will perish” (Proverbs 29:18 King James Version). Meaning, people will experience chaos, division, unproductiveness, and scatter without vision. If there is an idea of a preferred future, people will thrive with direction, passion, and focus. They will experience the hope of a better tomorrow and accomplish great things.
Where there is no vision, the people will perishProverbs 29:18 KJV
Reflecting on the scripture, I grew even more discontented with the group’s interaction and knew something had to be done. I prayed that God would grant me wisdom and the ability to influence the team positively.
During a one-on-one meeting with my manager, I asked him if he had a vision for the group and what he wanted to accomplish. He said, “nope.” No surprise. He confirmed what I could clearly see; without vision, our team wouldn’t ever be productive, useful, or considered our client’s strategic partner.
We talked about the challenges the newly formed group was experiencing. I shared with him that I had a burning desire to make our new organization and the team a great place to work. To help be part of the solution, I asked him if I could help develop a team vision statement – articulate who we want to become, create an idea of our preferred future. He told me, “I’m no good at vision stuff and not sure it will help. But I’m fully supportive if you can help me turn the ship around.”
Over a period of weeks, I connected with my peers and asked them what was on their hearts and minds. I asked them if they saw the same challenges and problems that I did. Then, I asked them what they wanted to become as a group. They all told me they wanted to become a collaborative team, be valued as strategic partners, make a positive difference and deliver strong business results.
Based on their thoughts, we crafted the below vision statement:
To win the hearts of our teammates, customers, and consumers and positively influence our company’s future by:
- MOLDING world-class commercial strategies through distinguished collaboration.
- ENABLING exceptional execution that delivers winning results.
- BUILDING an authentic team that trusts one another and takes pride in its work.
- NURTURING and equipping our people to lead in the future.
- CELEBRATING wins frequently to build momentum.
Over time, we embraced the vision, and it made all the difference. The ship turned around. We became a collaborative, thriving team, valued as strategic partners, and delivered outstanding results.
Seven Steps to Develop a Compelling Vision
How do you change the game as we did? Follow our example and apply the below seven steps to develop a compelling vision.
- Start with prayer. I sought God’s insight, wisdom, and discernment on developing a vision.
- Look Inside. My passionate desire was to make our team a destination, a great place to work where people grew, produced superior results, and found meaning in their work. I envisioned a future where we were a collaborative team and considered an indispensable business partner.
- Take ownership. I approached my manager and asked how I could help. I intentionally volunteered so I could shape our team’s future.
- Define the problem. Our division and unproductiveness were a result of no vision; we didn’t know who we wanted to be, to be known for, or to accomplish; all undefined. We needed to become a team and then add value to our business partner, solve problems, inspire superior execution and become a trusted resource.
- Collaboratively develop a solution. Through the interviews, I listened to others, sought common ground, and understood where the team wanted to go. Through this process, the vision became shared among the team members.
- Gain Commitment. Partnering with my manager, I explained why we should pursue the vision and instilled a sense of urgency.
- Tell Stories. Every week, we shared examples of how the vision was being brought to life – allowing the team always to refer back to the bigger picture, share stories – learnings, successes, and failures. This simple act moved the words written on a page to being written on our hearts. The vision became real to us.
I’ll end with one of my favorite vision parables:
Three bricklayers are asked: “What are you doing?”
The 1st says, “I am laying bricks.”
The 2nd says, “I am building a wall.”
And the 3rd says, “I am building a cathedral.”
The 1st bricklayer has a job to do. The 2nd lays bricks for a living. The 3rd has a VISION and builds with purpose.
Which bricklayer are you? Do you aspire to move beyond bricklaying to cathedral building? Do you want to become a visionary leader? Follow the Seven Steps to Develop a Compelling Vision. If you do, you’ll lead well, positively influence your culture and change your world.
Want to discover more about becoming a leader others will gladly follow? Visit my website, prestonpoore.com, today!
Preston> Read More
Trust is the bedrock of every strong relationship.
Let that sink in…
Trust is at the core of all personal and professional relationships. With it, you can achieve great things with others. Without it, you’ll go nowhere.
Do you remember a time when the trust was absent or broken? I do.
I once worked with a group of people. Notice that I wrote a group of people– we weren’t a team. Our manager was a self-serving individual more worried about making a great impression with upper management. Again, notice that I wrote manager– the individual didn’t have a lick of leadership in her bones.
Our group was filled with discord and gossip. We lacked priorities and direction. Our roles weren’t clear. Our business partner didn’t understand or value our business contribution. We were distracted by an underperforming co-worker who created a drag on the group’s overall effectiveness. There was no recognition of our hard work, let alone a pat on the back for a job well done. Lastly, our business results didn’t meet expectations.
Trust was nowhere to be found. We were going nowhere.
After several co-workers left or were exited, I found myself the only one that our manager could rely on to get things done. The burden became very heavy. Combined with the suffocating environment, over-work, and lack of appreciation, I started to burn out.
I was doing everything I could to be a positive influence, but I was met with resistance around every corner. I began to lose hope that things would get better. I remember feeling broken and desperate. I’d come to the end of my rope and was ready to leave the company.
Then, I remember praying and telling God about my circumstances. I got the sense that I should hold on. I wasn’t sure what hold on meant or why. But at that moment, I resolved to take things day by day and not give up.
The next day was my birthday. When I arrived at work, my manager called me into her office and delivered the news. She told me that she was relocating to another city and that I’d have a new manager soon.
I can still recall the rush of relief that washed over me. What a great birthday present! I thought to myself—a new hope. Light at the end of the tunnel, and it wasn’t an oncoming train. I was instantly optimistic about the future.
A few weeks later, I was appointed to a new team and leader.
Yes, a team and leader – a huge difference.
Immediately, my new manager, Ron, came to visit and conduct my annual review. My former manager completed the review document before she transferred, but Ron’s responsibility was to facilitate the discussion. I was very apprehensive, thinking that Ron would let me go.
Ron held the review in his hand as we began our interaction. He told me that he disagreed with my former manager’s assessment, and he acknowledged the hostile work environment in which I’d suffered. Despite the circumstances, he said I was still recognized as a top performer; he believed in me and wanted me to be part of his new team. Ron set down the review document and said that what my former manager wrote didn’t matter now. Then, he asked me if I wanted a fresh start and invited me to his new team kickoff in Atlanta. I eagerly nodded yes and thanked him for inviting me.
Upon my arrival at the kickoff, I recall sitting around a conference table, feeling excited and reserved at the same time. I’d heard that Ron was a great leader and could develop strong teams. My experience made me doubt strong leadership and teamwork were possible. I needed to see the proof in the pudding.
And the proof began…
Ron went first by sharing his family, values, experiences, and passion for the University of Tennessee. He asked for volunteers (pun intended) to share something about ourselves with the team. As folks opened up, I was amazed at everyone’s vulnerability and the sense of personal connection. We laughed a bunch. It was a fun conversation, and I appreciated relating to the team.
Then, Ron transitioned to discuss his team vision. He handed out a paper that outlined the team’s values, direction, destination, and expectations. As a team, we discussed and aligned to the proposed vision. Then, he encouraged us to focus on others, not ourselves, to serve rather than be served. He emphasized teamwork, prioritization, fun, and most of all, trust.
I hadn’t been in a trusting environment for a while. It’d been dog-eat-dog for so long. But Ron’s approach inspired me to follow him and become a team player.
During the next two years, the words on the page came to life. The time was some of the most enjoyable and memorable of my career. Our team collaborated, built strong partnerships, had a lot of fun, achieved great business results, and I grew by leaps and bounds.
For example, we hosted the NCAA Final Four, where I chauffeured Derek Whittenburg, a member of the 1983 North Carolina State Men’s Basketball national championship team, to events, hung out with American Idol’s Ryan Seacrest, and attended a Maroon 5 concert with the team. To top it off, our business performance results were so strong that we won a Disney World incentive for all of our families. Because of trust, we achieved more together than we could have apart.
At the end of my time on Ron’s team, I sent him a note that said, “I didn’t think it was possible to work for an inspiring leader and trust others as I do now. You’ve restored my ability to trust. Thank you for believing in me and giving me a fresh start.” Ron’s been a friend and mentor ever since.
I asked Ron the other day about his memory of the circumstances and his role. He told me, “My view of the situation was that it was the team and each person who did the heavy lifting and hard work to make things happen. I only helped facilitate and enable great people to do great work together.” Again, this exemplifies his humility and leadership.
If you’re ever faced with an opportunity to build or restore trust, I recommend you:
- Be Real. Let others know who you are, your values and what you stand for. Share your dreams, passions, desires, goals, experiences, successes, and failures. Go first and let go. Risk vulnerability with others, and they will reciprocate.
- Establish Credibility. Be who you say you are. Ensure that the audio matches the video – your actions match your words. Do what you say you’ll do. Practice what you preach. Keep your commitments. Follow through. Earn respect by helping others solve problems, set direction, define roles and responsibilities, prioritize, make sound decisions, remove barriers and place the team’s agenda ahead of your own – put people first.
- Enable Collaboration. Create a trusting environment where people feel safe, failure and learnings are valued, opinions or ideas are openly shared, and folks must rely on one another. Help people reach their potential and, as a team, collaborate to achieve more than dreamed possible.
I’ve experienced what it’s like to trust and not trust. I flourished under a strong leader who taught me the value of building trust with others and the powerful impact on all relationships.
How about you? Are you trustworthy? What would your team, your family, or friends say? Does your team trust one another? How do you know?
Remember, trust is the bedrock of all relationships. With it, you can achieve great things with others. Without it, you’ll go nowhere.
If you are real with others, establish credibility, and enable collaboration, you’ll become a trust-building leader.
Want to discover more about building trust and becoming a leader others will gladly follow? Visit my website, prestonpoore.com, today!
Preston> Read More
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.