I've been focusing a lot on engagement lately, whether that be employees or customers. Hey, people do indeed make the world go round! I want to focus this piece, though, on the impact of leadership on engagement, or the lack thereof. There is a deep connection between leadership and engagement that I want to explore.

Employee engagement is one of the hottest topics in human resources (HR) and the world of work. Companies all over tout that employee engagement is a number one priority. We know that engaged employees are aligned with the vision, mission and values of the company. They contribute and impact the bottom line. On the flip side of that, if employees don't trust the leadership of an organization, they will disengage. Disengagement is a cycle that can impact others in the organization negatively besides the individual employee involved. Leadership plays a major role here. If employees don't perceive leaders as credible, they won't believe or adhere to the message. Distrust the messenger and the message falls on deaf ears.

Leadership
Leaders, how are you building trust with employees? Do they believe their work matters to you? What are the specific actions that show them they matter? Do you understand, and are you listening to them? The biggest problem we find with leaders is that they are out of touch with what motivates people. They have big meetings about employee engagement and needs but forget to invite the employees. This ranges from lines of business leaders all the way to information technology (IT). To be perfectly honest, a leader has to be affected to be effective.

Leaders don't just control, but they have to give control to and empower employees. Also, true leaders create leaders. Leadership from an employee engagement perspective has to be judged on how many employees are engaged and empowered to lead.

Focus on recognition
Recognition is an important and crucial way to show people that they matter and that what they do matters. Recognition is not just a once-a-year thing based on some look-back performance review. It's a daily effort in engaging with employees to see how they're working and acknowledging their contributions. It's social. It's a full life cycle and continuum of interactions. You have to discuss what your work together means and listen to what their interests are. I'm not trying to be all "Kumbaya," but it's these little things that go a long way—and it's more than talking but showing people they matter. Recognize them in the ways that matter most to them.

The technology angle
In this era of consumerization, users have become their own IT and media publishing department. They use whatever tools they want to get their jobs done. They create rich media content, including video for things such as tutorials, and publish it to others freely. They share and work with others in real time. This free flow of collaboration, content creation and publishing that people enjoy in their personal lives is brought into the enterprise. IT and business leaders have to rethink technology investment and implementation strategies and focus them around people and how they work. Leaders have to listen and be totally involved in providing the right technology tools for engagement and collaboration.

The leadership issue in organizations is not new. It includes the relational way management deals with employees all the way to the technology tools selection that supports how people work. These things aren't separate. Enterprises have to join engagement initiatives with recognition and the technology tools that people need to get their work done. The focus really has to be on people and making sure they are empowered and engaged. That is true leadership, measured on how connected and engaged the people in the organization are.

Dave Smith is the research director and lead analyst for collaboration at Aragon Research. Previously, Mr. Smith was a research analyst at Gartner, where he covered collaboration and web conferencing. Follow him on Twitter @DaveMario.

 

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