Five Ways Leaders Build Engagement

Despite the considerable efforts over the past couple of decades the statistics around engagement remain woefully low around the world. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace, year after year the number of “engaged” workers falls somewhere between one in five, or one in six. A similar portion of the workforce reports in as “actively disengaged” with the remaining roughly two-thirds of employees identifying as “not engaged”, all at an estimated cost of several hundreds of billions of dollars per year in lost productivity. 
Team leaders do more to influence engagement than broad company policies because engagement occurs at the team level and nothing impacts it more than the relationship between manager and employee. Here are five practical actions a team leader can take to increase engagement levels on any team. 
1) Right People, Right Seats
In the book, Traction”, Gino Wickman emphasizes the importance of getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats, and getting the wrong people off the bus. It is a metaphor about attracting the right people and assigning them to roles where they fit best. The smaller the team, the greater the cost when this does not happen. Here’s a brief video explaining a simple but powerful exercise to get this right.
2) Prioritize Proper Training
Very few would argue with the importance of ongoing training and development. It is a select few, however, who actually make it happen. Typically teams get swept up in the busy-ness of doing work, perhaps believing they will “do training” when things slow down. It is rarely something that easily slips into the proverbial cracks, though. Leaders with the most engaged teams understand that growth is a powerful motivator so they build time into the schedule for training, allocate budget dollars and find simple ways to weave learning into the fabric of the culture. 
        CFO: “What happens if we train them and they leave?”
        CEO: “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”

#3 Emphasize Purpose
Engaged team members gravitate to meaningful work and thrive on the connection between that work (especially if difficult) to a greater vision, purpose or objective. Are you simply building a house, or converting a plan to a family’s dream home? Are you renovating a commercial space, or contributing to our nation’s economic engine by helping entrepreneurs create jobs?  
In his book, Drive author Dan Pink describes the three main intrinsic motivators we all share – mastery, purpose/meaning and autonomy. His research found these three drivers to be far more powerful than even monetary or other external rewards for producing results. Check out this short video animation of the book summary
#4 Check-In Frequently
Feedback should be real-time, frequent and future-focused. Recent research by The Marcus Buckingham Company confirms the vital role played by the team leader in fostering engagement and that no action improves it more than frequent check-in’s with team members. Watch more.
#5 Create Dialogue About Engagement
Rather than shying away from discussions on engagement, talk about it frequently and transparently. It is not simply a “trick” for the company to squeeze more work out of people. Engagement is good for the individual, too.  Who wants to operate on a team where it feels like there’s no meaning in the work, where your strengths and talents are underutilized and where there is no opportunity for growth? 
To create conversation and awareness around engagement consider routinely surveying your team on these eight key drivers (Answer ranging from 1=Strongly Disagree to 5=Strongly Agree). Track your scores over time and discuss your current reality openly while collaborating to identify actions you can take to improve.
    • I know what is expected of me and my work quality.
    • I have the resources and training to thrive in my role.
    • I have the opportunity to do what I do best – every day.
    • I frequently receive recognition, praise and constructive criticism.
    • I trust my manager and believe they have my best interests in mind.
    • My voice is heard and valued.
    • I clearly understand the mission and purpose and how I contribute to each.
    • I have opportunities to learn and grow both personally and professionally.

The steps for improving engagement aren’t complex, they simply must be prioritized, which means engagement must be a core function of the team leader’s role.