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How to Create an Engaged Workforce

By Dr. Alan Zimmerman

According to the Gallup organization, only 29% of the American workforce is fully "engaged" in their work. The other 71% have chosen to "quit and stay." Basically, they've retired but they haven't told the Personnel Department yet. And is that a problem worth addressing? You bet it is!!!

Think of it this way. If you ran a small business with 20 employees who were paid $50,000 each, your annual payroll would equal $1,000,000. And if 71% of your employees were not delivering a full hour's work for a full hour's pay, you would be squandering $710,000 each and every year.

That being the case, it would be almost impossible to stay profitable or stay in business. It would be as crazy as refusing to serve 71% of your customers each day or refusing to operate 71% of your machines each day. It would be a recipe for disaster.

So take a look around to see if your team mates are engaged or disengaged. And there's an easy way to tell the difference.

Engaged team mates focus on results. And if they don't get the results they want, they keep on fine tuning their performance until they achieve their desired results. They never make excuses. They never blame other people or outside circumstances for their difficulties.

By contrast, disengaged team mates focus on excuses. They've always got a reason as to why a job didn't get done or a job didn't work out. They're like the people Charles Schultz talked about in one of his cartoons. He said, "Life is like a 10-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we have never even used." Disengaged people ... quite simply ... aren't using all their gears.

There is good news, however. According to organizational consultant Betsy Allen, there is hope. There are four ways leaders can build an engaged and motivated team. I'll outline Allen's four points and add my commentary.

1. Connect
The greater the connection between the team member and the boss, the greater the engagement. Their relationship is key.

That means, as a leader, you've got to take time to listen to your coworkers. You've got to listen to what's on their minds and what's in their hearts. You've got to make yourself available for that kind of dialogue if you ever expect to build a climate of trust that builds a climate of engagement.

One way to do that is to ask "Brave Questions" and listen. That's what Casey Cropp from Fort Collins, Colorado did. He wrote, "I am a high school band director and have been using your 'BRAVE QUESTIONS' book to interact with my classes. All I can say is 'Thanks.' You've given me the tool I've been looking for in 26 years of teaching, a tool that helps me approach my students in new and more effective ways."

"Let me give you one example," Casey writes. "This past fall I was directing the orchestra for our school musical. One afternoon I had the opportunity to spend some time with the orchestra members, getting to know each other using several of your questions. We spent about an hour and a half sharing and bonding as a group, learning details about each other. I was given information about individuals that helped me to understand their needs and allowed me to work closer with them in the preparation of their music. Our trust level of each other went way up, and we became a team. The performances in October were astounding and I could not have been prouder of their growth through this time together."

So yes, ask more "Brave Questions," but make sure you listen to their answers. Just remember, leaders "take time" to listen. Managers "request your time" to have you listen to them.

In addition to asking "Brave Questions" and listening, confine your communication ... as much as possible ... to the face-to-face variety ... or least the kind variety. Be very careful of talking about someone who is not present. As William 'Biddy" Allen, a bus driver and the loving father of 7 children, often said, "When you speak of someone or about someone, you should speak as though they were in the room with you. The ears that you speak to today are attached to the mouth that could relay the message tomorrow."

A second way to "engage" your team mates is to give them ...

2. Challenge
In other words, people are seldom fired up and fully engaged when they keep on doing the same old same old. So it's your job to give your people the attitudes to embrace change and the skills to tackle new challenges. Give them new projects and give them training that ensures their success on those new projects. Let them shadow other employees so they learn how other positions or jobs are completed.

Indeed, our greatest progress has always come from engaged people who embraced challenge. As marketing consultant Harry Beckwith points out, "Our greatest blessings come from people who refused to be complacent, whether it was Beethoven or the Beatles."

He's right. As the 20th century educator and diplomat James Bryant Conant noted, "Behold the turtle: He only makes progress when he sticks his neck out." Or as author Frederick Wilson said so well, "Progress always involves risks. You can't steal second base and keep your foot on first."

If you're trying to engage your workforce more fully and more actively, you've got to give them some challenges that are worthy of sticking their necks out for. You've got to motivate them to get their foot off first base ... or the way we've always done it."

Of course that's not easy. That's why author David H. Free noted, "When people get very good at doing things a certain way, they become surprisingly inept at learning new skills when changing conditions demand it." With that second element in place, to build an engaged workforce, you must...

3. Communicate
Make sure the organization's vision and goals are so clear that anyone and everyone in the organization could speak them back to you. And make sure everyone at every level knows how his/her job is linked to the overall goals of the organization. Without that, it's almost impossible to fully engage your coworkers.

One way to do that is to communicate, communicate, and communicate that information in a variety of ways over a long period of time. Anything less allows the grapevine to take over, and the rumor mill almost always kills off engagement.

Another way to do that is conduct regular performance reviews. In today's fast-paced and highly competitive business environment, owners and managers frequently don't take the time to let their employees know how they're doing.

You must remember, it's only natural that your team mates want to know where they stand with you or the boss. Of course, they all would prefer a positive performance review, but even a negative performance review does a better job of maintaining employee morale than no review at all. When employees have to guess where they stand, they usually imagine the worst things or the wrong things.

It's kind of like the man who spoke frantically into the phone. He cried, "My wife is pregnant, and her contractions are only two minutes apart." The doctor asked, "Is this her first child?" "No," the man shouted, "this is her husband!"

Without a quantity of communication and a quality of communication, engagement will not happen. That was illustrated by the Wall Street broker who went duck hunting in rural Vermont. He shot and dropped a bird, but it fell into a farmer's field on the other side of a fence. As the broker climbed over the fence, an elderly farmer drove up on his tractor and asked him what he was doing."

The Wall Street broker, "I shot a duck and it fell in this field, and now I'm going to retrieve it." The old farmer replied, "This is my property, and you are not coming over here."

"The indignant broker said, "I know some of the best trial attorneys in the United States, and if you don't let me get that duck, I'll sue you and take everything you own."

The old farmer smiled and said, "Apparently, you don't know how we settle disputes in Vermont. We settle small disagreements like this with the 'Three Kick Rule." The broker asked, "What is the 'Three Kick Rule?'"

The farmer replied, "Well, because the dispute occurs on my land, first I kick you three times and then you kick me three times, and so on back and forth until someone gives up."

The broker quickly thought about the proposed contest and decided that he could easily take the old codger. He agreed to abide by the local custom. The old farmer slowly climbed down from the tractor and walked up to the broker. His first kick planted the toe of his heavy steel-toed work boot into the broker's groin and dropped him to his knees. His second kick to the midriff sent the broker's last meal gushing from his mouth. The broker was on all fours when the farmer's third kick to his rear end sent him face-first into a fresh cow pie.

The Wall Street broker summoned every bit of his will and managed to get to his feet ... Wiping his face with the arm of his jacket. He said, "Okay, you old codger. Now it's my turn."

[I love this part...] The old farmer smiled and said, "Naw, I give up. You can have the duck."

And finally, if good communication is the norm in your workplace, you've got to...

4. Celebrate
One of the time-tested motivators of people is appreciation. People want to be seen, heard, and recognized ... no matter how much they may feign indifference to such tactics.

In fact, I know many people who have changed jobs ... actually taking a lower paying job ... so they could work in a place where they are appreciated and their accomplishments are celebrated. Studies even show that people who love their jobs, as well as husbands and wives who are happily married, feel appreciated for what they do and who they are.

So I encourage you to take every opportunity to reward and recognize your employees. And low-budget, informal recognition is just as important as larger, formal reward programs.

PS: You can't afford to skip this fourth element. When employees feel unrecognized or under celebrated, they disengage. They tend to act out, explode in anger, take credit where it isn't due, or misrepresent something in hopes of getting the appreciation they crave.

In today's extremely difficult business environment, you CANNOT afford to have any disengaged employees ... let alone 71% of your workforce. Engaged employees are the secret to productivity and profitability. As Atlanta-based talk-show host Clark Howard wrote in one of his newsletters, the higher your employee morale, the higher your company profitability.

Action:
List three things you can do to increase the quantity and quality of communication in your company this week.

As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman has taught more than one million people in 48 states and 22 countries how to keep a positive attitude on and off the job. In his book, PIVOT: How One Turn In Attitude Can Lead To Success, Dr. Zimmerman outlines the exact steps you must take to get the results you want in any situation. Go to Alan's site for more information.

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