When asked what impedes their engagement, employees invariably mention leadership integrity and communication. By leadership integrity, they mean that their leaders are not setting an example of what they expect from their followers. There are lots of examples of this: a contemporary one is leaders taking calls or answering messages on cellphones in meetings.
A more timeless example is leaders not behaving in accordance with the values of the organisation that they lead. An example of this that I experienced recently was an executive harshly criticising the company’s clients in colourful language while one of the company’s values is client-centricity. Another was a website brief that included: our vision statement and all that s**t.
Communication tends to be interpreted as, or limited to, telling employees where the organisation is going, how it’s going to get there, and their role in getting it there. But that’s the easy part – what employees are frustrated about is not being listened to.
An example of this is feedback from an employee conversation where a machine operator admitted to not helping a less experienced colleague fix his machine even though he knew what was wrong with it. He stood and watched as technical support was called and did not intervene even though the repair took far longer than it needed to. When asked why, he said: “I wasn’t asked – we are never asked”.
Another example is a group of employees pointing out that the system they are required to follow is inefficient – that if they were only asked for their experienced insights they would be able to improve it, thereby reducing their frustration and increasing efficiency.
Getting feedback is obviously a good idea but all too often it simply doesn’t happen.
And often when it does it’s a box-ticking exercise: feedback is invited but then ignored, which is just another example of a lack of leadership integrity. In fact, it makes the problem worse: asking for feedback and then ignoring it is worse than not asking for feedback.
The problem is exasperated by social media connectivity. Employees are used to having their say ‘out there’, which creates an expectation ‘in here’. Accept that part of the ‘in here’ is employees talking to each other, which they have always done, but now they are empowered by digital connectivity – call it the water fountain to the power of digital connectivity. This means that a lack of leadership integrity is exposed quickly and impactfully.
Fortunately, this connectivity can be used to more effectively cascade employee engagement communication, so use it.