For most organizations employee engagement is not just about the majority of employees but also about leadership teams. This is the greatest challenge, because if you have a disengaged leadership team you have no chance of engaging employees. The reasons why are clear:
- Employees look towards their leaders for direction – if they are not interested no amount of communication efforts will change that
- You need to change process to change behaviour – unless you put in place systems and processes which force the behaviours of leaders to change, any attempt at change management will fail
- What gets measured gets done – clearly if the systems are focussed on something other than the focus of your engagement strategy there is no incentive for the leadership team to change
Now we should all remember that change is hard, and it is scary for individuals, no matter what level of leadership. The other point is that just because someone has made it to a leadership role that does not mean that they have the skills to engage their teams. People generally learn from role models and whilst people might be technically brilliant at their role and achieve outstanding results they may not bring out the best in their teams.
Here a few ideas of how process can change behaviour and therefore achieve employee engagement at all levels:
- Focus on the leadership team and put in place a process for them to engage their teams. In one organisation the leadership team was unsupported of a new software system that was going to be introduced, and all communication with staff was left to the IT area. By making one simple change and requiring the business leaders to find out how the system will work and impact on their area they have the confidence to speak about it. Then put in place a simple format and support them in designing a brief presentation on the system to their teams. Like a sports team, one win and momentum and enthusiasm increases but you need to make sure that they feel “safe” about taking this step and don’t set them up to fail.
- Build on this momentum by identifying business decisions that need to be made and hold the leadership team accountable. Bottom line is that once they feel that they have ownership they will be more comfortable and confident talking about changes. By letting all team members know what is happening, what the focus is of the leadership team on the changes and what decisions they are focussing on will require the leadership team to come on board.
- Open communication channels so that team members feel confident to ask questions about changes and make sure you provide real answers. So again put in place a new process whether this is a dedicated email address, formalised team briefing process or regular change updates. Most importantly it is not only two way communication but across communication talking with their peers and conveying the merits of change.
Without change in process there is no formal reason why behaviours will or should change. The only way employee engagement at all levels will be achieved is when something in the way they reach decisions, do their work or are measured changes and requires them to behave differently. Change communication on its’ own will not achieve the level of employee engagement that brings about sustainable change.