To build and sustain high engagement, a leader needs to do these five things to attract and retain good people
With the Great Resignation well underway, business owners are increasingly grappling with the question of how to build and maintain high employee engagement, recognising that this is critical to attracting and retaining good people.
Over the past two decades, while leading dozens of businesses across three continents, I’ve developed a simple, five-point framework – the Leadership Star – that has helped me and other leaders at all levels to build high engagement. In many cases, this has led not only to better staff retention but also higher profitability, customer satisfaction and productivity. While each aspect of the Leadership Star has important nuances, the overall framework is simple and can apply to any business. To build and sustain high engagement, a leader needs to do five things:
· Provide context
· Give clarity
· Clear the way
Genuine care is the foundation of high engagement. Highly engaging leaders show they care for their people as individual human beings, rather than as a collective human resource. They recognise that care is an action word, by:
· Taking an interest in each individual as a person, not just what they do or their position in the hierarchy
· Demonstrating empathy and compassion, by offering emotional support during both work and personal challenges
· Meeting individual needs or constraints, and adjusting expectations when possible.
Highly engaging leaders show that they care about their people’s development and growth. They do this by:
· Understanding each individual’s abilities and aspirations
· Giving honest feedback and advice
· Investing in training and development resources
· Taking risks on people
Highly engaging leaders also care about results. They set high standards, offer encouragement, and deliver tough love where necessary. This is because a team that consistently achieves stretching goals is proud and confident in its capabilities, and therefore is more likely to be highly engaged.
2. Provide context
Highly engaging leaders help people find meaning in what they do and connect their daily work to their own values. To do this, engaging leaders:
· Explain the organisation’s purpose (the why of the organisation): What outcomes does the organisation seek to deliver, and for whom?
· Explain the organisation’s priorities as it seeks to deliver on its purpose
· Demonstrate their personal commitment to that purpose and the priorities
· Help people see how their individual roles support the purpose and priorities, and ideally how their work aligns with their own personal values
· Constantly communicate and reinforce the purpose and priorities, especially when making key decisions.
3. Give clarity
To build and sustain engagement, leaders need to ensure people know what’s expected of them, in several respects:
· Role clarity: Good leaders help people understand the purpose of their individual role and how they are expected to contribute as a member of the team. This helps them to spend their time on the right things and work effectively with colleagues to deliver high-quality results.
· Goal clarity: People need to know what outcomes are expected — what good looks like, and what great looks like. This helps them focus their time on the right things, while a small set of stretch objectives can encourage creativity and a growth mindset that helps build engagement.
· Behavioural clarity: In a highly engaged culture, everyone is clear on the organisation’s values and understands how those values translate into what behaviour is expected, and what behaviour isn’t acceptable.
Great leaders ensure that people get regular feedback on both their performance and their behaviour, reinforcing good results and allowing people to course-correct where they’re off track. Ideally, that feedback allows people to understand both absolute performance — how they have performed against their goals — and relative performance — how their outcomes stack up in the broader organisation.
It’s also important that people are clear on the consequences of their performance. The best leaders make sure that individuals are recognised and held to account for their performance. And where consequences relate to breaches of behavioural standards, it’s important that these consequences are public so that the organisation can see the leader’s commitment to the values.
4. Clear the way
Once people are clear on what’s expected of them, leaders need to be proactive in helping knock down the barriers that hold people back. This means:
· Asking what’s getting in the way, whether through physical constraints, financial or resource limitations, lack of knowledge, emotional or cultural barriers or political issues.
· Identifying barriers that employees may not see, by talking to customers, suppliers and employees, and by digging into the details of processes.
· Taking action to remove those barriers, whether through direct decisions and resource allocation or by empowering teams to quickly surface and resolve barriers to success.
Few things inspire loyalty and engagement more than seeing that your boss really does want you to succeed.
The final step in engagement is to recognise individual contributions and success, creating a powerful feedback loop for performance and engagement. In highly engaged organisations, recognition is a fundamental aspect of the culture, and operates at several levels:
· Frequent and periodic: Leaders frequently recognise day-to-day efforts, while also celebrating major milestones such as the quarterly or annual results.
· Top down and bottom up: Rather than relying solely on a top-down programme, highly engaged organisations use both peer and team-leader recognition programmes to reinforce gratitude and pride among employees and strengthen the emotional bonds within teams.
· Informal and formal: While financial (e.g. performance pay) and non-financial (e.g. awards nights) recognition is important, the best leaders also use informal approaches to create recognition that has an emotional impact. From thank you notes to personal gifts to new development opportunities, leaders can be creative — so long as the recognition is delivered in a way that is authentic, relevant, and personalised to the individual in question.
· Individual and team: Recognition programmes need to celebrate team performance as well as individual achievement. In most organisations, there are many unsung heroes whose roles may not allow them to stand out as individual achievers, but whose experience and efforts are nevertheless critical to the organisation’s success.
· Focused and fair: Who gets recognised — and for what — sends important messages to the organisation about what really matters to the leaders. Likewise, employees look closely at the signals embedded in recognition programmes: The relative value provided for performance versus behaviour, and the actions that are taken (or not taken) on people who fall short.
I’ve personally used these principles to build high engagement in both my business and not-for-profit activities, across major corporations and within small front-line teams.
Apply the five Cs — care, context, clarity, clearing the way, and celebrate — and your business, no matter what industry you’re in, will have little to fear from the Great Resignation.
Brian Hartzer is the former CEO of Westpac and senior executive at RBS and ANZ, and author of The Leadership Star: A Practical Guide to Building Engagement (Wiley).
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