HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsBosses, put aside your egos to engage employees

Bosses, put aside your egos to engage employees


It has been said that the greatest asset an organisation possesses is the human resource.

HR TALK with Paul Nyausaru

However, the question that comes up is: To what extent are organisations tapping into this valuable resource?

This takes us to the area that we need to focus on this week, employee engagement.

It takes a systematic route for an organisation to fully embrace employee engagement and this route we want to explore.

Basic engagement

This is a level where there is the use of motivational factors that have been used for decades, such as clear direction, good supervision, empowerment, career development, open communication, recognition and creating a great place to work.

Such initiatives all involve doing something for employees. For instance, when employees complain about poor working conditions they are defending themselves against having to admit that they feel undervalued disengaged and have a low sense of self-worth.

Fixing these elements just pushes employees to look for something else to blame.

Poor working conditions don’t exist in “great places to work”, but ownership is still concentrated in the managerial ranks, so nothing fundamental has changed.
Employees leave organisations with a feeling of frustration often citing slow career progress, but it just might be their feeling of powerlessness that is really at fault.

Employees as suppliers of services

This level of engagement it requires a culture that encourages employees to think of themselves as running their own businesses, as suppliers of services.
Most organisational cultures, being paternalistic, take far too much responsibility for developing people.

There is always need for employees to learn to see their supervisors as customers and be trained on how to market and develop their organisation for themselves.
Such business development involves being proactive to keep abreast of the needs of key internal customers and thinking creatively about additional ways of adding value for them.

A culture of engagement, at this level, requires supervisors to treat employees as supplier-partners and to encourage a feeling of ownership over as much of the organisation as they want to take upon themselves.

To become effective suppliers of services, employees need training and support to offer more solutions and be less dependent on supervisors to spoon-feed them.

Engaging leadership

This level of engagement requires a deeper culture change because it asks managers to fundamentally reframe how they see their roles.

It goes beyond the second level of engagement by encouraging managers to be more proactive in seeking input from employees but it also puts more pressure on employees to do more thinking and be less content to merely follow directions.

This level entails shifting from heroic, transformational leadership to a more engaging model, where managers move from being solution-generating goal scorers to facilitators, catalysts and coaches.

To achieve this level of engagement requires managers to give up some of that they most love doing: immersing themselves in substantive organisational issues and solving challenging strategic problems.

It is not enough to ask employees how they might solve their own work-related problems.

Employees who are interested in a deeper level of engagement need to learn more about organisational strategy so they can be drawn into higher level discussions about fundamental organisational direction.

This is a harder level of engagement to achieve because it deprives managers of some of the ammunition they use for their own career success.

In future, they need to be rewarded for team success more than for their own great ideas and decisions.

Beyond ownership to passion

The final level of engagement involves an even more significant culture change.

Now, instead of viewing employee ideas merely as good suggestions, their contributions are reframed as bottom-up leadership.

Greater confidence is thus required of employees to challenge their bosses while managers need to develop more receptivity to being challenged.

This move engages employees by making them feel a stronger sense of providing direction to the organisation, or at least a small part of it.

The feeling of showing leadership can create a stronger sense of ownership than can merely making a suggestion.

It is one thing to encourage employees to develop and promote a better way, but the motivational icing on the cake is to see such initiatives as leadership — bottom-up thought leadership.

The culture change required to fully implement this level of employee engagement entails recognising that much of executive activity is really management, suitably upgraded as a nurturing, supportive, coaching function.

On this view, executives only show leadership when they too promote a better way.

When executives operate in facilitative mode, using engaging questions, they are really using a managerial technique, not showing leadership.

The challenge for executives, if they want to achieve such a passionate level of employee engagement, is to relinquish their monopoly on leadership.

They need the humility and emotional intelligence to shift their identity to one where they call themselves executives who only occasionally show leadership.

Making such a major mind shift requires executives to put aside their own ego needs and see the potential for employee engagement of sharing the leadership load.

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