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Employee Engagement: Who’s Leading?

Mar 20, 2012 12:27:16 PM

Everyone is talking about Employee Engagement these days, as they should.   Based on numerous surveys, employee engagement is at an all-time low.  We know the impact of low employee engagement is lost productivity, higher attrition, increased expenses, and according to Gallup, costs American businesses $300 billion a year.  But whose responsibility is it, the employee’s, management’s, or both?   I asked the question of my LinkedIn community, What one thing would you suggest to improve employee engagement during 2012?   The majority of their suggestions pointed to management.  While I agree that managers and organizations play a critical role, we must also look to ourselves and what part of our own engagement we are accountable for.  We own the life that we create and that means both in and out of work.  Ultimately, we decide if we want to sit in the corner or join the party.

While I’m looking forward to sharing the suggestions on the organizational side (watch for my next blog post) I decided to start with the individual’s role in employee engagement.  The more I researched how individuals can take personal responsibility for their own engagement at work, the more I saw a link to leadership principles.   This makes perfect sense because being a leader means being proactively engaged in creating destiny.   It comes down to three basic concepts:

  • What do I want and need for myself
  • What does the organization need that I have to offer
  • What am I willing to give?

The first bullet has everything to do with understanding one’s own unique talents, gifts, values, passion, purpose, and mission.  I used to see this very one dimensionally.  What I have come to know is that this is multi-dimensional and constantly shifting depending on what is happening internally and externally.  I recently had dinner with an old friend who I had not seen in several years.  We talked about the journey of getting to know yourself over and over again as you age.  That feeling of looking in the mirror and not recognizing the face that looks back at you.  To remain fully engaged, we must never stop looking in the mirror.  When I pay attention to what excites me and what bores me, I find that what I value is at the root of those feelings.  Who I am at the core is the same, so when I pay attention there is a rediscovery and remembrance of who I am, but in truth at different times I hunger for more or less of some pieces of myself.  My skills have grown in some directions and atrophied in others.   Who am I now?  I’ve come to believe that staying engaged means holding the question of who you are and what you need.  It is taking care of yourself first, because when you do there is so much more of yourself to give.

As I listen to the organizational system that I am part of, bullet two asks me to pay attention to how I can serve what is needed.  Aligning what I have to offer with what is needed in the system is like taking a telescope and dialing it in to first focus on myself, and then out to observe the bigger picture.  In-out-in-out.  What do I need to feel successful, happy, fulfilled?  What does the organization need to be profitable, achieve objectives, and meet shareholder expectations?    What do my colleagues need from me; encouragement, honesty, mentoring, feedback?  What do I need from them; input, acceptance, the benefit of the doubt, tenacity.  Engagement means listening carefully and often to the state of the state. When we check out we lose touch with how things are becoming.  That disconnection leads to a lack of engagement and connection to the system you are a part of.

Finally, I make the decision, what am I willing to give?  No matter how much pressure my manager puts on me, there is no one else but me who decides.  I don’t decide just once, I decide over and over again, day by day, and minute by minute.  Others can support me in becoming more aware of who I am and what motivates me, they can point me in the direction I should go, and they can support me in developing a path toward success.  They can hold me accountable to some level of activity and even results.  Yet even then, I ultimately determine if I will live up to my full potential.  Will I give you 50% of what I am capable of, or 80%, or 100%?  I always choose, either intentionally or unintentionally, that the buck stops here.

Here is the part that fascinates me: my level of engagement is some complex dance that I do with myself and with the organizational system that I am part of.  I can decide to dance a Salsa, or a line dance, or an intricate ballet with a troupe of other dancers.  Or I can stand against the wall and wait for someone to ask me to dance.

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Deb Siverson

Deb Siverson is the owner and founder of Xponents. She completed her Masters in Organizational Leadership from University of Colorado-Boulder. Deb is the author of the book, "The Cycle of Transformation: igniting organizational change through the leader coach."

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