7 Steps to Engage the Disengaged
“It’s a sad fact but the majority of employees are not engaged and haven’t been for a long time. In 2016, only 33% of employees in the United States were engaged, and employee engagement as a whole increased only 3% from 2012-2016…Gallup’s research compared companies from the highest and lowest quartiles of engagement levels…The study showed that those companies in the highest quartile experience 17% higher productivity, 20% higher sales, and 21% higher profitability among many other positive metrics resulting from higher engagement levels.” source
Why are ~70% of employees disengaged?
Because their leaders are disengaged.
Why are their leaders disengaged?
Because their leaders are disengaged. If you keep asking why, you can trace the root cause of all this disengagement all the way to the top leader’s lack of engagement. He/she may or may not be very engaged in managing, but they aren’t engaged in leading.
To engage the ~70% who are disengaged, focus on the root cause (the leaders), not the symptom (the followers).
7 STEPS TO ENGAGE THE DISENGAGED
- FOCUS ON THE ROOT CAUSE: The absolute root cause of disengaged team members is always a disengaged top leader who is focused on managing, not leading. Management is not a bad thing. We must manage things and processes. But, we should lead people. However, leaders who aren’t required to lead are always free to take the shortcut and use their authority, title, and position to manage their team which ensures they will disengage their team. If leaders at a lower level are disengaged, meaning they are focused on managing people as they manage things and processes, they are being allowed to do so by the top leader (again, always the root cause). You may not be the top leader. So what can you do? Start leading and “stop the bleeding” wherever you are. You are the top leader for your team. When they look up, the first thing they see (and feel) is you. If you lead others and they are disengaged, for that specific group, you are the root cause of their disengagement. Your leader may be allowing it, but you are causing it.
- DO MORE THAN IS REQUIRED: In most organizations, “leaders” are hired and required to manage everything, not to lead anything. That’s why most titles end with “manager” not “leader.” How do you know if you were hired to manage or to lead people? That’s easy. Does your organization have a formal leadership development initiative that includes you being a part of it regularly and consistently? If not, you’re only being required to manage (things, processes, and unfortunately people). The leaders above may hope you lead, but you’re not being required and developed to lead. If you are enrolled in leadership development sessions, you’re being required to manage (things and processes), and you’re also expected and hopefully required to lead (people). What do you do if your leaders don’t require you to lead others? Lead yourself well and require it of yourself. Ultimately, we are responsible for choosing to lead and determining how we will lead. High impact leaders at all levels always look in the mirror, do more than is required, and take responsibility for their team’s performance regardless of what is or isn’t happening above them.
- REQUIRE “LEADERS” TO LEAD PEOPLE: Remember, managing people disengages people; leading people engages people. Managing people requires authority and competency. Leading people requires character and competency. If you lead leaders, do you require them to lead people or to manage people? Regardless of your title (Owner, President, Vice-President, CEO, COO, CFO, CTO, Manager, HR Mgr., Director, Superintendent, Supervisor, Team Leader, etc.) if you’re not intentionally developing yourself with the intention of developing those who report to you, your actions are conveying that leadership of people is not required. It doesn’t matter what you say. It does matter what you do. Leaders of people at any level are also intentionally growing and developing themselves whether it’s required or not. Then, they pass what they’re learning to those they’re leading whether it’s required or not. Their personal actions clearly convey their personal expectations to their team. Abraham Maslow said it best, “If we’re not modeling what we are teaching, then we’re teaching something else.” Sending someone to training and development classes, seminars, or conferences without ever attending them yourself, is teaching one thing and modeling another. We are always teaching what we’re modeling, regardless of what we’re teaching. Leaders influence others to lead people by first modeling how to lead people themselves.
- BELIEVE IN THE LEADERS: Unless leaders believe the leaders who report to them can engage their teams and believe their leaders are responsible for engaging their teams, they won’t require their leaders to engage their teams. As a leader, if I don’t believe in and engage those who report directly to me, why would I expect them to believe in and engage those who report to them? I might wish and hope they would believe in them and engage them, but I wouldn’t require them to do so. As a leader, how do you know if you have fallen into this “management of people” trap? Again it’s easy. If the leaders who report to you are disengaged and/or have disengaged team members day after day, week after week, month after month, and those leaders are allowed to continue working for the organization, they obviously are not being required to believe in, engage, and lead their teams. As a leader, you have co-signed and approved their choice to manage their team. When someone is required to lead and chooses not to lead, they are terminated. They are not allowed to continue working, given annual raises, promotions, and pats on the back for a job well done.
- INVEST IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF LEADERS: As Warren Bennis stated so well, “Failing organizations are usually over-managed and under-led.” Leaders who are managing people, including other leaders, do not invest in people beyond what is required. In “over-managed and under-led” organizations, competency development is usually, but not always, required and character development is seldom, if ever, required. These “under-led” organizations tend to hire people, including leaders, for what they know (competency). However, they tend to fire people, including leaders, for who they are (character). Often I ask leaders, “When people are terminated, is the most common reason a competency issue or a character issue?” The most frequent answer is, “A character issue.” Then I ask, “Where are organizational resources (time and money) invested when it comes to developing the people: character development or competency development?” The most frequent answer is, “Competency development.” Where’s the problem? Many things that only require common sense to understand often require uncommon sense to actually do. Common sense is never enough.
- DEVELOP THE CHARACTER OF THE LEADERS: Disengagement is not about a competency issue at any level. Disengagement is about character issues at every level. When those on the front lines are not engaged, don’t waste your valuable resources (time and money) conducting a survey to find the answer. Here’s your answer at no cost, and you will have it in one second instead of weeks or months: The leaders are not engaged. High impact leaders already know this and always bypass the employee surveys that will only tell them what they already know. How do you engage the leaders? Instead of investing your valuable and often limited resources on surveys, invest them in helping managers of people become leaders of people. If you don’t know how, that indicates you are currently a manager of people, not a leader of people. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It means you don’t know what you don’t know. The key questions you must answer for yourself is, “Am I humble enough (character trait of high impact leaders) to admit that I don’t know what I don’t know? Am I curious enough (character trait of high impact leaders) to want to know what I don’t know?” If you can answer yes to these two questions, Ria and I are happy to help on many fronts. (Note: Call me on my cell at 334-728-4143 and let’s discuss how you can make it happen (character trait of high impact leaders) from wherever you are. I will also list some unique blue-collar resources at the end of this article for self-development.)
- DEVELOP THE CHARACTER OF THE LEADER’S TEAM: The leader’s team may be other leaders who are at a lower level on the organizational leadership chart or they may be front line, entry-level team members. Either way, high impact leaders of people know this truth: It’s much easier to lead and engage people with strong, intentionally well-developed character than it is to lead people with weak, accidentally developed character. Again, this is common sense. However, it’s not common practice in “over-managed and under-led” organizations. High impact leaders of people know the value of developing the character of those they lead and they know how to develop the people because they were first intentional about developing themselves. How do you grow an organization? You grow and develop the people. How do you grow and develop the people? You grow and develop the leaders.
Note: For many unique developmental resources for the blue-collar workforce and those who lead them, please visit BlueCollarLeadership.com and be sure to review the “Special Offer” at the end of this article. For everyone else needing leadership development support, please visit TopStoryLeadership.com.
WARNING: THE REMAINDER OF THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS A BIT OF LEADERSHIP TRUTH.
“Leaders attract the teams they deserve.” ~ Mack Story
Like a surgeon’s scalpel that cuts deep, this article is intended to help, not hurt. However, I learned long ago, “If the truth hurts, it probably should.”
I’m sure there may be some humble leaders who look in the mirror and feel a bit more responsible for their team’s lack of engagement. That may hurt a bit. But, the mirror is a high impact leader’s friend. It’s where the root cause of all of their problems can be found. The mirror is also where the solutions to all their problems can be found.
Leaders always attract the team they deserve and eventually, sometimes instantly, repel those they don’t deserve.
What does this mean?
Low impact leaders who say they can’t get “good” people don’t have the character and leadership ability to attract and/or retain “good” people to their team and/or their organization.
Their team and/or organization is filled with disengagement, turnover, frustration, bad-mouthing, lack of communication, distrust, and many, including leaders at all levels, who are doing the minimum to keep their job. This environment doesn’t attract “good” people or high impact leaders. It attracts people, including leaders, without many options because people with options will be attracted to better led organizations.
High impact leaders understand those on their team or in their organizations are simply paid volunteers who don’t have to come back to work tomorrow. With this understanding, these leaders are always adding value to their team members in an effort to engage and retain them by using organizational resources to intentionally grow and develop them.
Because they value and respect the people, high impact leaders are valued and respected by the people. Their team and/or organization attracts great people, even many who may already have good jobs at other organizations and many other options. They attract these great people because the people on the high impact leader’s team are engaged, feel valued, are happy to be there, and are intentionally spreading positive “word of mouth” advertisement about their leaders and the organization.
“A turnover or engagement problem at the bottom is always an indicator of a leadership problem at the top.” ~ Mack Story