Employee Engagement: What Successful Government Leaders Do

What do government supervisors say they do when they want to motivate staff members? Okay, I didn’t ask ALL government supervisors, only about 50 from a variety of departments and agencies.

First, what is the cost of poor and good engagement? Gallup states that poor engagement has resulted in “70 percent of American workers “actively disengaged” and are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and less likely to be productive. Currently, 52 percent of workers are not engaged, and worse, another 18 percent are actively disengaged in their work.

Gallup estimates that these actively disengaged employees “cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity.” That’s a lot to be said for disengagement. We know this because we too have often been disengaged from our work and we know people who are currently disengaged at work.

With that in mind, I set off to understand what supervisors or leaders at any level do to increase employee engagement by asking a simple question, “What is your go-to technique in engaging staff?” Here’s what they said:

1. Create a value chain. A senior executive at a large government financial institution said it simply: “Smile and talk to people about the impact of their work.”  We spend 40+ hours a week at work – people want to feel significant and their work is valued.

2. Build trust. A supervisor at DHS stated that he builds trust through three primary mechanisms: 1. Set a clear and compelling vision for where the team is expected to go along with clear expectations; 2. Empower others and let them know they can act without always asking for permission, though keep supervisors informed; and 3. Demonstrate the behaviors wanted in the office by being a role model.

3. Leverage strengths and develop needs. Developing all staff members is important to developing trust and capability of the team. Developing staff also gives them something to work towards. The ideal world is to develop staff members for current and future needs. However, it’s not always possible to promote someone from inside your office. That said, it shouldn’t stop their development and potential use of skills elsewhere in the organization. As a Defense Department supervisor stated, “Developing people doesn’t necessarily mean they will stay with me, it does mean they will learn, grow and give more while they are here.”

4. Create A vision and align that vision. People want to know what they’re working for and how they fit in. Each person needs to know the unifying core vision and to believe their work is connected in achieving something that matters. Equally important and critical is alignment. One supervisor at the Commerce Department said, “I’m more engaged when I understand how my work fits into the overall goals of the organizations and how my decisions impact these goals. Why shouldn’t employees feel the same way?” To that point, supervisors must be able to create and align work to the organizations visions and to the unit goals and objectives.

5. Share leadership. While not everybody gets to make the decision, we can share leadership by involving people and then empowering them to act. One manager stated, “Empowerment means more than just turning someone loose, it’s also about giving the supervisory support that helps them make the right decisions and to act with confidence.”

My Insights

The link between engagement and organizational performance is well documented. The more engaged a workforce, the more they are motivated. When motivation increases so does commitment, which results in the greater use of discretionary effort, an increase in retention and greater ownership of the organization’s issues.

I was grateful to have had the opportunity to talk to so many people. I’ve come away with four distinct take aways that integrate the task and relationship behaviors of leadership:

1. Line of sight: Link everyone’s roles and responsibilities to the “line-of-sight goals” and then clarify the roles so people know their responsibilities. This also means empowering people to make the decisions to get the job done.

2. Recognition and inclusion: People recognize that decisions have to be made, however they want to be heard and have had the opportunity to influence others.

3. Opportunities: People want to know that their current skills are valued and they want to actualize their potential. Create an Individual Development Plan (IDP) that provides a road map for growth, leadership development and hope.

4. Being real: Model the behaviors you want. Get to know the people in your office at a personal and professional level. Start with your own willingness to share your story.

In Closing

We often say “our people are our greatest resource” and I believe it. We also understand the pivotal role supervisors and our coworkers play in allowing us to actualize ourselves at work to be the best we are and can be. Do your part, engage others and help them believe and feel that their contributions are significant, they have the power to influence, they belong and they can develop and learn.

Andrew Rahaman is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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