Engaging The Unengaged: Part 1– Some Facts

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In his book Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul ) CEO Howard Schultz writes,  Like crafting the perfect cup of coffee, creating an engaging, respectful, trusting workplace culture is not the result of any one thing. It’s a combination of intent, process, and heart, a trio that must constantly be fine-tuned.”

Employee engagement is now a critical factor in moving employees to “go the extra mile” in terms of their work effort. However, studies suggest that businesses seem to be at a critical tipping point in their ability to maintain engagement over time.

An illuminating new Gallup poll found that only 30% of all full-time workers in America are involved in, enthusiastic about, or committed to their work. In other words, engaged – and  70% of  all U.S. workers are not reaching their full potential. According to the study, one significant causal factor for employee disengagement is that employee’s hearts are not into their work.  About 18% are “actively disengaged,” meaning they’ve gone beyond just checking out mentally and could even be harming workplace relationships and colleagues’ accomplishments through emotional contagion.

This goes to the essence of engagement –  “Employees are engaged only to the extent that they are emotionally available to be so,” which ties directly to their willingness to go the extra mile for their company. This may seem obvious, but it is not—at least not to managers who are still focused on conventional managerial tactics as the solution in their attempt to create engagement. Traditional managers tend to apply pressure when they perceive disengagement, ignoring the reality of emotions and their effect on people’s abilities to be engaged.

Depending on the emotions that are triggered at work, employees will either be less available or more available to be fully engaged in their work.  The feelings themselves determine the path that will be taken.   Emotions are always present…and until the emotional component is addressed, employees cannot fully engage. This is the major missing link in many efforts to engage or re-engage workers.  Too many organizations and managers still go to the old employee perks goody bag to solve long-term problems with questionable short-term solutions. This is not to say that these incentives are wholly ineffective, but without substantive changes in employee relationships and cultural environment, they offer little more than temporary distraction from deeper problems. Continue reading

The First Step In Leading Others Is To Self-Manage

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How aware are you of how you talk to yourself as you go about your daily activities? Typically, most of us are focused on what’s directly in front of us – and not aware of our internal narrative.

Last week, after speaking about the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behavior to a group of managers, one member of the group approached me and asked, “ I see how thoughts directly affect what I eventually do, that how I talk to myself will determine my behavior, but…how do I manage those thoughts that have negative consequences in my life?”

My first thought was how can I answer the question and stay on point with the discussion at hand – What makes a leader outstanding?  I recalled a conversation I had with a CEO who shared his belief that the key to leadership was understanding that self-reflection was not an end in itself – but an ability to process the difficult, challenging and complex.

The question – and my recollection of the CEO’s experience helped to remind me that the first step in becoming an outstanding leader is being able to manage one’s internal processes through self-reflection. Self-reflection is the key to understanding the relationship between our mindset  and our internal voice.

Everyone engages in self-talk .  We all have an inner voice, but most of us don’t pay attention to the contents of our inner narrative. Outstanding leaders do. For example, not only are they aware of the “data points” in a discussion, they are also tuned into their internal process and external behavior. In other words, they’re self-aware and able to witness their experience in the moment.

Ask yourself, how many times during the day do I stop to pause and mindfully witness my experience in the moment? What beliefs and assumptions am I holding that may be limiting my performance and affecting workplace relationships? How much am I in touch with my needs and values and are they being satisfied? How do I act when they’re not?

These questions along with our emotions, attitudes, desires, hopes and our interpretations of external experience are the key elements that form our internal process – our personal mindsets. Continue reading

Offer Something Extraordinary at Work – Genuine Listening

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“There’s a big difference between showing interest and really listening.”      Michael P. Nichols, The Lost Art of Listening

Genuine listening in most areas of life is uncommon. In the workplace it’s rare. We’re too busy – so we think. We’re distracted and fragmented.  Sitting down for a non-task oriented conversation feels like just another bit of pressure.  Too often we just engage in conversation (more like just convey information) so that we can tick off another agenda item on our endless to-do list and move on.

Yet in nearly every interaction I have with people in the workplace, listening is identified as the most important skill in building trust and relationships.  Most people I work with say they need to become better listeners and they definitely want to experience better listening from their colleagues.

Often when I ask groups, “When did you last feel like someone really listened to you and showed genuine interest,” most say they can’t recall. Sadly, too many say never.

So why are we such poor listeners? What stops us from really tuning into others? Continue reading

Opening the “Heart” in Workplace Relationships

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We seek self-expression through our work and for many people, work is meaningful and satisfying.  But let’s face it – most of us have to work to make money. And while meaning may be a moot point for the majority of working people – how we think about our work and how we relate to the people we work with has a great deal to do with how we go about achieving results.

An informal poll that I’ve conducted with managers representing a diverse range of companies and positions shows that the average amount of time spent at work  is between 10-12 hours. No amount of productivity seems enough.

Overlay these long work hours with existing economic conditions, rapid technological changes, people doing more with fewer resources, high levels of anxiety and uncertainty in the workplace and you have a formula for isolation, disengagement and uncivil behavior. However, at the same time I hear comments that reflect a yearning for something more in the workplace than just a paycheck.

It has something to do with a desire for human connection. Continue reading

5 Things Leaders Are Not Taught, Part 2

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In Part 1 of 5 Things Leaders Are Not Taught, I wrote about how conscious leaders see the world. Their field of perception is broader.  They commit to a continuous process of learning and they resolve to see more deeply because they understand that they don’t have all the answers. There’s a moral courage that grows from this kind of experience – and a willingness to engage in constant introspection and self-correction.

With ancient roots, today’s brand of mindfulness is the new kid on the block. To be fair to most leaders, none of us were taught the skills of mindful awareness. These days it seems everybody’s writing or talking about it (I plead guilty). Google, Harvard Business School, the US government, even the military include mindfulness principles in leadership programs.

In her article, Mindfulness, Meditation, Wellness and their Connection to Corporate America’s Bottom Line, author Arianna Huffington writes, “Even a quick look at what’s happening in the American workplace shows it’s a seriously split-screen. On the one hand, there’s the stressful world of quarterly earnings reports, beating growth expectations, hard-charging CEO’s and focusing on the bottom line. On the other hand, there’s the world populated by the growing awareness of the costs of stress, not just in the health and well-being of business leaders and employees, but on the bottom line as well.” Continue reading