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Employee Engagement: All About The Team

Employee Engagement: All About The Team

There is so much to learn from listening to others. Recently I met with some leaders at a company that uses regular surveys to gauge employee engagement. Our goal was to brainstorm next steps.

During a lunch briefing, our discussion began in what I fear is a traditional way of solving for engagement scores. These leaders were tasked with developing work area specific action plans. The group’s normal approach was to list out things the leader planned to do for their employees. (Key words here: “do for” their employees.)

Basically, the average action plan addressed this type of question: What more can I do for my employees in order to get them to be _____ (fill in the blank).

… To be happier.

… To be more satisfied.

… To be more engaged.

… To care more.

… To be more productive.

… To deliver better customer service.

… To be _______ (anything: fill in the blank).

There is much written about employee engagement; you can find ideas, suggestions, programs, tactics, and strategies all over the place.

I learned more from this 30 minute briefing than I have from reading through my collection of books and white papers on the topic.   A senior leader had been quietly listening to the discussion, and after a while asked if she could share a few comments. Of course, the group said.

She began by stating that she used to follow this traditional approach to action planning. She used to spend a lot of her own time and money to do and buy things for her staff. She had a long list of things she did for her team — so they would be happier, more satisfied and more engage. Her scores, she reported, did not change.

In fact, the more she did for the team, the more the team wanted from her. If she bought a bag of candy, they wanted two bags of candy. If she solved an employee’s problem with with a co-worker then the problem occurred again and the employee expected her to solve it again. If she adjusted a schedule due to an employee’s family need, then others on the team wanted their schedules adjusted. If she stayed late and covered for an employee then that employee wanted her to stay late and cover again and again.

About a year ago she came to the conclusion that all the things she was doing sent the wrong message to her team; she was coaching them, unknowingly, that the survey was all about her. And the more things she gave, the more her staff wanted. This was going  nowhere. Employees wanted more and used the survey to give their problems to their leader.

Her conclusion:

  • Giving more things to her staff was not a way to improve employee engagement.
  • Doing things for her staff was not a way to improve employee engagement.
  • Solving problems for her staff on her own was not a way to improve employee engagement.

This leader then changed the proposition. Her bullet points were very simple.

  • The survey measures the engagement of the team.
  • The survey is not about her as a manager, it is about the team.
  • The team gets to rate itself.

The survey, she told them, was not a manager popularity contest. It was a team self evaluation.

Of course, the director needs to provide opportunities for success, however, the team needs to choose to be successful. The engagement survey, she told her staff, measures the team’s evaluation of itself. The team reports how engaged it is. The team decides how engaged it wants to be. The team identifies areas needing attention and takes action to solve for those issues.

The leader provides support and resources and attention to the team. However, the leader does not do the team’s work.

Her key learnings were: take time to listen; make time to be available; provide opportunities; share support and encouragement; and, give praise and recognition. And, partner with the team.

While this director did many different things to connect with her staff, her key message was about “the team”. Results are dependent on the team. The team drives the outcomes.

What are you doing to “intentionally” drive employee engagement?

What can you stop doing “for” your team, and where can you partner with the team?

What opportunities are available for your team, and how do you support the team with these opportunities?

Does your team expect you to “do for them”, or to support them as they “do for themselves”?

How do you routinely support and praise your team’s efforts?

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Philip Espinosa partners with people to deliver value: People | Partnerships | Value serves as his tag line. As a strategic human resources leader, he believes that service starts with the customer. His book "Deliver Excellent Customer Service with a SNAP” helps others drive customer engagement using simple and consistent communication strategies. A second book titled "Focus On Your Success - 24 Simple Insights To Drive Daily Achievement" (ebook) helps working professionals view their daily choices through a different perspective. In addition to his writing, Philip works with strategic human capital initiatives and has delivered successful results over a career spanning more than 25 years.

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  1. Great article. I’ve had similar experiences. Some issue will always be the sore spot. It’s impossible to remove every potential problem. Remove the lowest hanging fruit, and you will have a new lowest hanging fruit! In addition to the excellent suggestions outlined in this article, I ask management to facilitate action planning sessions with their teams. “Here’s what you said on the survey. What can you do to fix it?” Engagement is a shared responsibility. Leaders cannot own the solutions, but they can share accountability with their employees.


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