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8 Actions to Turn Engagement into Action: How to Truly Empower People

Looking for trends is supposed to help us get an understanding of underlying issues. Gallop, the go-to for benchmarking employee survey stats,  has been reporting engagement rates in the low 30s since 2000. Based on this flat trend, isn’t it time we re-think engagement?

What is engagement? When we’re engaged we’re committed to taking action, on-the-ready, positioned – but not taking action. The tragic thing ill-equipped leaders and managers are doing is taking engaged employees and killing their mojo with red-tape, outdated policies, and take-all-the-glory egos. Every good employee that resigned or walked out of a company was engaged at one point. They were accounted for in Gallup’s 30-something percent. Then, the were de-motivated by submitting an idea that went into a black hole. Maybe they volunteered to take on a task and then were reprimanded for doing it wrong. Often, they did a great job at something and then weren’t given an ounce of credit nor shown any appreciation for it.

With these scenarios so prevalent it is no wonder Gallup’s engagement rating never goes up. We’re not looking at a static number of people who are not engaged. This is a cycle; the engaged persons last year are this year’s de-motivated and downtrodden dis-engaged. This happens over time and also overnight.

I once worked on a grant project, a big project that was even presented at a conference. When the time came for my director to sign off on it, he questioned its existence and forced a manager with lesser “ranking” to sign it. Like a switch, I went from engaged to disengaged. Once you’ve broken a person’s trust, you’ll have a long hard road ahead of you getting them back into the engaged 30%, and even more work to do to have them feeling empowered and taking action on their own.

So that’s how you can turn engagement into non-action. Turning engagement into action is even easier yet not often done. How is that done? By taking those engaged persons and setting them up to be empowered to make decisions and take action.

Here are eight actions that you need to take to make this shift:

  • Care and mean it. If you don’t care about the people you work with, employees, customers and other stakeholders, you should find another line of work. There are hundreds of ways to show that you care, even if you’re not a people person intrinsically.
  • Put support systems in place. If your employees and customers do not have the tools and options in place to make it easy to decide to work with you then they will eventually choose to go elsewhere. With the right support systems in place employees and customers can have the tools and information in place at the right locations so they can make good choices and not have to spend their valuable time pulling info out of you.
  • Start really listening. When an employee says they were late on a project because they didn’t have something they needed, don’t wait for them to ask for the thing. They may think they’ll get in trouble for asking. Just get it for them.
  • Start paying attention to your interactions across the organization. You have to be aware of how you’re treating people and not playing favorites. This takes a high level of self-awareness and self-discipline, especially for those managers and leaders who thrive off of being liked or being the center of attention. Even perceived favoritism will not bode well for your culture.
  • Set expectations around values. Help people make the right choices when you are not around. This might be the most important factor in empowering people to make good decisions. If they share your values, they will act as you do and instinctively know what is the right thing to do.
    Be the biggest cheerleader. You need to motivate your team and excite your customers. If you do not believe in the mission of your organization enough to jump up and down about it and congratulate team members who share your spirit, find work elsewhere.
  • Make continuous improvement everyone’s job. Leaders often leave training as a job for HR or something that only happens when a person is first hired. In order to empower people to make decisions, they have to be trained not only on the systems and software available to them but also about how you want them to operate. You need a system in place to get ideas for improvements and then to actually make them happen.
  • Make sure you’ve got the right people in the right roles. Just as I’ve mentioned that you shouldn’t be in charge if you’re not on board with the mission, vision, and values of the organization, your employees should also be aligned by values and skill.

Take these actions and you will not only find that your good people will stay longer and will work harder, but the culture will also perk up. When your employees are treated this way, they will treat your customers in a similar way. Empowerment is a means to better time management for all and more autonomous and confident workers. Having read this, I now hope that you won’t settle for engaged, but will take action to empower people.

I have a worksheet that accompanies this topic. If you’d like to receive it please email me at [email protected].

Laura Thorne is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is an organizational improvement consultant. She specializes in helping business owners and individuals to be more effective. Laura has over 25 years of professional experience and has had opportunities to work with some of the best and worst performing organizations. Read her posts here.

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