I recently read an article in The Onion that painted a frighteningly accurate picture of employee disengagement and dissatisfaction.
The headline was, No Machine Can Do My Job As Resentfully As I Can.
It portrayed an embittered office employee who spent most of his days despising and bemoaning his miserable lot.
“I seethe with the unbearable knowledge that this will be my sole livelihood until the day I die. Struggling to suppress the repulsion and loathing within, I drink before his morning shift just to get through the day, as I am the living, breathing sum of life’s screw-ups, heartbreaks, and regrets.
I am a deeply self-hating man who loathes every second of his working life. And after working at this unventilated shit-prison twelve hours a day for nearly twenty-five years, I have developed no skills other than that of silently counting down the minutes of each workday while cursing my misfortune.”
Relatable by the majority of the workforce? Big yes.
THE GOOD NEWS IS: Work doesn’t have to be legalized torture.
Contrary to popular conditioning, it is possible to create an environment where approachability, creativity and engagement can flourish. Here’s how:
1. Appeal to the heard mentality. All human beings want to feel: Valued. Needed. Wanted. Affirmed. Appreciated. Accepted. Respected. Recognized. Remembered. Taken seriously. Given a chance. Part of something that matters.
In short: They want to be heard.
Not just listened to – but also heard. Huge difference: One comes through the ears – the other comes through the heart. And if you want to strike a cord with that mentality, here’s my suggestion: Give your people the freedom to express themselves. Allow them the dignity of self-definition by creating a safe place where individual personality can shine.
You’ll find that by provide opportunities for constant individual expression; the overall culture of your organization becomes more human and more approachable.
Remember: Creativity is the ultimate expression of freedom. People who have permission to practice that engage. How do you assure that your people know their voice matters?
2. Humanize your doctrine. Most internal communication is a joke. It’s unreadable, unapproachable and usually a waste of paper. And every additional message people receive from their organization becomes another boring, overextended piece of uninspiring drivel they delete immediately or, at best, peruse passively.
If you want to deliver messages that cut through the internal clutter and arrest your people’s attention, you have to meet them where they are – but refuse to leave them where they are. It doesn’t have to be mind blowing – it just has to be heart flowing. After all, honesty trumps brilliance any day of the week.
Next time you send out some form of internal communications, ask yourself, “Is this beautifully readable or dreadfully uninspiring?” And it can’t just be what you think is interesting. Nice to know information isn’t always nice to engage information. As Kurt Vonnegut said, you have to be a great date for your reader. Is this message actually important to your people, or does it just makes the leadership team feel better?
3. Retain a strong emotional connection. Marketshare is useless. Mindshare is overrated. Heartshare – that is, the level of emotional responsiveness your work commands – is what matters. And your goal is to give people an emotion, a handle, to latch onto. That’s what enables their work to come to life.
My suggestion: Actually consider your people’s lives when you make decisions. Don’t start with the customer in mind – just start with the customer. As I learned from the aforementioned Jeanne Bliss, “We become emotionally attached to companies who consider our lives when they make decisions.”
Ultimately, companies that uphold the human spirit in all they do are more engageable, more approachable and more profitable. And organizations that create what their people will love – not just want – are the ones that stay alive. Just remember: People can get your knowledge anywhere. What you’re competing on is your sensibility. What you’re differentiating through is your humanity. What emotion are you selling?
4. Choose being real over being right. Your people would much rather have leaders who are real all the time – not right all the time. What’s more, if they know you’re willing to admit your ignorance, perhaps they’d be more willing to volunteer information about what’s really going on in the organization.
I’m reminded of what Southwest Airlines president Herb Keller once said: “If you create an environment where people truly participate, you don’t need control.” My suggestion: Instead of asking people to answer questions, invite them to question answers. Don’t worry. Developing a predisposition to compromise doesn’t make you weak or small – it makes you human and malleable.
It also makes you more likable and less of a pain in the ass to work with. As I learned in The Closing of the American Mind, “True openness means closedness to all the charms that make us comfortable with the present.” Learn to be less right and live to be more engaged. Will terminal certainty eat your organization alive?
5. Approach ideas with deep democracy. In the bestselling book on employee engagement, The Carrot Principle, authors Elton and Gostick explain that most employees don’t feel: (a) they have the right to share ideas, (b) that their ideas are valued, and (c) that sharing their ideas is even allowed.
Wow. There mere thought of this intellectual tragedy makes my stomach hurt. If I were running an organization, I’d make sure that good ideas had the chance to prosper, regardless of their origination. As a result, people wouldn’t have to assume that if they brought their idea to the top, it would die.
Come on. This story is sick of being told. Instead of command and control, try participate and surrender. Challenge your leaders to set up mechanisms for soliciting input from the people who matter most. This will help them see their own fingerprint on the plan and, let them know their words have weight and, as a result, allows them to take ownership of the idea. What are you afraid to listen to?
6. Uncover preexisting engagement tendencies. I once read in A Course In Miracles that inner peace is not something that we create, but something that already exists within us as a part of our true identity.
Human engagement is the same way: It’s not something you create – it’s something you excavate. It’s something you unearth. And if you want to do so with your people, you have to challenge them to matter. You have to help them get in touch with the personal why behind their work. Nothing is more engaging.
And, once you help people embed their flaming sense of purpose into everything they do, their daily work will be more engaged than Larry King on a Las Vegas vacation.
Look: People don’t need another schema to conform to – they need permission to bring their uniqueness to the table. They need you to give them a voice that says, “It’s okay and here’s why…” Is your engagement strategy a rigid methodology that demands homogeneity of beliefs, or a playground that gives people the freedom to develop in their own unique way?
REMEMBER: Nobody wants to dread going into work.
But disengagement is a product of organizational structure.
And if you don’t recognize, remedy and revisit these issues on a regular basis, nothing will ever get upgraded.
Your organization has the potential to become an environment where approachability, creativity and engagement can flourish.
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