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CEO Insider

Is True Employee Engagement the New Leadership Mindset?

Staff Meeting

Picture this – a new process comes down from senior leadership.  Front-line employees roll their eyes and already know it won’t work.  A rush of emotions follows and then the question –

“Why didn’t they ask US?”

Some leaders do this when driving new directives.  Other leaders believe that getting employees to weigh in on an idea is a better alternative.  It can make an executive feel they “engaged employees” through this process.

Better Outcomes by Creating an Environment that Fosters Employees to Come Up with Their Own Ideas that Drive the Business Forward

Employees deal with processes or customer and business services that don’t work day in and day out.  Employees used to workarounds. Employees in this type of work environment become disengaged and just don’t care.  They start checking off the boxes of their daily duties and come to work just to collect their paycheck. In the quest to retain employees, companies miss the boat and employees leave for greener pastures.

In a truly engaging environment, employees are acknowledged and recognized for identifying a gap. In some environments, identifying a gap and coming up with an idea is a badge of honor.  What if this employee could enlist the help of other front-line employees, even those outside their own department that touch that gap? What if working on this gap together would build more interpersonal skills, expand their leadership mindset and increase their skill set?  What if all of this could be employee propelled?

When employees have a stake in the success of their idea, they are going to identify challenges faster that are holding the business back. Employees will ask for help faster in this kind of environment and will be eager to measure success. Would ideas come to fruition faster? Would ideas be tweaked more quickly so that business is impacted in a positive way?

When employees are happy their interactions with customers can drive company branding. Happy employees become a strong employer brand.  This type of environment can be fun to work in and that feeling can be infused into every employee interaction.

If this makes sense, why don’t more companies have this leadership mindset of true employee engagement?

There are several reasons why this may not be happening in companies:

  1. True employee engagement takes more time. People are extremely busy. No one has enough time in their schedule to tackle this.
  2. Driving employee engagement can become a full-time project or department.  Organizations can get weighed down with so much structure that it takes an army to move anything forward.
  3. Organically grown first and second-level leaders don’t have the skillset. These leaders were promoted because they were good in their previous job. The leadership skillset inside these companies can be greatly diluted so there is no traction.
  4. Ego – Some senior leaders believe they know best and that front-line employees are “just front-line employees”.
  5. Protecting Turf – Some leaders want to come up with all the great ideas so they can shine.  Some can be afraid of looking weak or being pushed out. Most of their day is built around protecting their job – not moving the organization forward.
  6. Lack of the right company leadership training.  If they have training, it is usually task driven like how to run reports or use the company CRM system etc. There usually is no training from a strategic perspective for first, second and third-level leaders – who greatly need this type of training and mentoring.
  7. Most employee engagement programs center around fun activities for employees. Companies have no systematic or methodical process to engage these individuals that builds their skills to move a business forward.

A New Refreshing Way

There is something refreshing about asking employees to find gaps and plug them or identify a new process or product.  This type of employee engagement can take the pressure off senior leadership to find solutions. When employees are able to identify gaps and put together pilot programs to test new solutions and product ideas, employees gain a personal stake in the outcome.  When this happens, employees become more engaged. This will help employees understand that business is a moving target and increase their leadership mindset.

A systematic and nimble process can help tap into ideas that can be tweaked until the process works and becomes a part of the fabric of the organization.  This type of environment organically helps employees deal with change easier. Employees will try new ideas and adopt new processes more quickly and with less emotional heavy lifting.

When employee’s ideas are applauded by colleagues or customers there is a sense of pride.  For those with no formal leadership titles, there can be personal validation because they are growing professionally – both in skillset and in professional maturity.  When this happens, it fosters more engagement and more ideas organically.

Want to multiple employee engagement?  Ask a few employees to put together a communication strategy keeping all departments up to speed. This way everyone gets excited.  This also naturally creates leadership transparency and helps the employees to trust leadership. Organically, this practice promotes praise between colleagues, which in turn naturally encourages more of the same.

Add a quick email from the C-level executive, VP or department recognizing the work on this idea and you’ve just added another log to the employee engagement warm fire that will encourage more people to participate. Add an update to the internal intranet, written by a front-line employee and you’ve added s’mores to the campfire.  Pretty soon, everyone wants to be around the campfire. This is the type of company where employees want to work and stay. This becomes a company where great ideas flourish because the very fabric of the organization is employee engagement.

Employee engagement is a leadership mindset, that can drive a chain reaction of success, impacting your company and employee branding, revenue, and bottom line contribution, all while reducing expenses.


Written by Vicki Brackett.

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Vicki Brackett
Author of The Leadership Toolbox and COO of Sinousia, Vicki Brackett has spent her entire career leading small, medium and Fortune 500 organizations through start up, turnaround and rapid growth scenarios. She specializes in process re-engineering and moving key performance indicators in the right direction, all while increasing employee engagement and retention. Vicki is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.
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