I believe most people want to be actively engaged at work. But what does it really mean? How do you stay engaged during difficult circumstances? Or just as important, how do you lead your people to be more engaged?
Disengagement is endemic in our society, not just at work, but at home as well. According to Gallup, 70% of all U.S. workers are NOT actively engaged. With a business climate as complex and chaotic as it is today, there is simply no way for an organization to thrive with only 30% engagement.
To address disengagement at the root, we must start with a good working definition of engagement. In the broadest sense, someone who is actively engaged acts with a sense of ownership and takes initiative to problem solve without being told what to do. They are committed, meaning their hearts are in it, and give discretionary effort. But that begs the question, committed to what? In the context of work, we believe there are three key commitments that are essential to this definition:
Mission (purpose and goals of the team or organization)
Team (a strong team is how we accomplish the mission)
Self (investing in my own development to prepare for the mission)
All three of these commitments are crucial to be fully engaged. When one is missing, engagement falls short. For example, to be active in the task but undermine the team subverts the mission. To be engaged with my team but focused on activities that do not advance the mission is to not really be committed to the mission. Likewise, if I am committed to the mission, that means preparing myself for success by working on my own development to bring my best to every task. We will unpack each of these in order.
Engaged with the Mission
This is the most obvious aspect of engagement. To be actively engaged at work means a person is committed to the success of the mission. Their heart is engaged, meaning they are emotionally invested and approach work with a sense of ownership. It is this commitment that leads to discretionary effort. In other words, an actively engaged employee is not just there to collect a paycheck.
However, the activity and energy must be directed toward the right priorities – those that are aligned with and advance the mission of the organization or team. Consider the person who signs up for every committee at work, or who works furiously on their own pet projects, but ignores the heavy lifting required to advance the mission. Activity alone does not define engagement. Rather, it is the right activity and right priorities combined with the initiative to act without being told what to do. Here are just a few of the signs of being engaged with the mission:
Takes responsibility for achieving expected results, with no excuses or blaming
Takes initiative and puts the mission and team first
Anticipates problems and acts proactively to find solutions
Makes constructive recommendations for continuous improvement
Asks clarifying questions and seeks the facts before reacting to a situation
Perseveres through adversity and change
Speaks up by sharing ideas and concerns in a constructive manner
Supports and leads change
Engaged with the Team
This commitment is less obvious and missed by many organizations. We have all seen the employee who excels at his or her work but is toxic to be around. In fact, it is all too common for leaders to make excuses for this person because they possess a particular area of expertise. However, to be “engaged” in the task but not engaged with the team is to not be actively engaged. Why? The team is how we accomplish the mission. Anyone who undermines the team by breeding dissension ultimately undermines the mission.
To be actively engaged with the team is to embrace the ethos, “If you fail, I fail”. Someone who is actively engaged with the team takes 100% Responsibility for the quality of their relationships and is proactively invested in building a strong team. Here are a few ways this commitment is demonstrated:
Takes responsibility for how own behaviors impact others
Builds high-trust relationships
Actively listens for understanding and demonstrates empathy
Honors commitments and treats others with respect
Speaks well of others
Engaged with My Own Development
Finally, someone who is actively engaged is invested in their own development. Preparation is key to success. To be engaged is to bring your best effort to every endeavor, but your best only comes through developing yourself. Actively engaged people are invested in their own development and work continuously at closing the gap between where they are and their true potential. They are not waiting for someone else to direct their development, but rather take initiative and embrace opportunities to learn and grow. Here are a few behaviors that distinguish someone who is engaged in their development:
Takes responsibility for own development
Acts with honesty and integrity
Admits mistakes and learns from them
Seeks feedback from others and acts on that feedback
Is an active learner
All three of the commitments above are embodied in the Team Trek 12 Behaviors of an Actively Engaged Person model and are related to character (i.e. habits developed through practice). It is character that determines what we do when no one is looking, how we treat people, the level of effort we put into our work and the degree to which we use our gifts and talents.
Where do these commitments come from?
There are two sides to the engagement coin. First, the leader has a responsibility to lead for engagement. This means modeling the way, influencing the heart, coaching the team to develop their potential, and building the right culture. Second, the employee has a responsibility to choose to be actively engaged. I believe this second part is what many “engagement programs” miss.
Most organizations, if they are concerned with engagement at all, focus exclusively on the company or leader side of the coin. This is a crucial piece of the puzzle, to be sure. However, when we ignore employee responsibility, we doom our culture change efforts from the start. In effect we are saying to employees, “You are a passive player in the process. It would be nice if you were actively engaged, but we really don’t expect you to be actively engaged.”
The principle of 100% Responsibility is foundational for building the right culture. It recognizes that each of us has a part to play and a choice to make. To change the culture, the individuals who make up the culture must take personal ownership for their contribution to the culture. Each of us, from senior leadership down to the most recent new hire, must decide, “Am I in or out?”
To succeed at transforming the culture; therefore, we must lead for engagement so our people want to be engaged, we must equip people so they have the right tools to produce results, and then we must expect everyone to take seriously their commitments to the mission, the team and their own personal development.
What happens when everyone is “all in” on these three commitments?
Everyone wins. Each of us wins individually. Choosing to be actively engaged at work and home is just a great way to live, and key to success and happiness in life. The team wins by being a part of a legacy of which everyone can be proud to be a member – a high-trust culture where those who choose to be exceptional thrive. Finally, the company wins because an actively engaged team is an agile team that is going to produce extraordinary results, setting the industry standard in quality, safety, productivity, customer engagement, revenue growth, and profitability.
Transforming your organizational culture is a journey that begins with gaining clarity. The Team Trek Culture Change Roadmap© can help you navigate the journey. The right culture fosters trust, creates engagement and exponentially increases the speed of the team and the results they produce.
Start mapping your own culture transformation:
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