How often do we see it that the results of an employee engagement survey come out, and one of the main messages is that your leaders aren’t engaging enough. Whether this is due to poor communication, not managing performance or giving feedback, or knowing how to recognise or acknowledge their people. The reasons are often varied, and sometimes the survey output isn’t granular enough to let you know where the focus for development needs to be. But that’s not the purpose of this article.
What we often overlook is that results like this create some of the most unnecessary, and unspoken, challenges felt by managers. That is, the immediate pressure to become an engaging leader overnight. The idea that there needs to be immediate improvement is backed up by the rhetoric that comes with the results, the way they are shared (often without thought to framing, context or a supporting plan) and the fact that there will be another engagement survey next year and possibly some pulse surveys in between.
What is the Engagement False Reality Trap?
And in this moment we have created the ‘Engagement False Reality Trap’.
And this is why it’s a false reality:
If the above factors are even partly true, and the managers of the groups with the poor results are not great people leaders, then we tend to see the following scenarios play out:
How to avoid the ‘Engagement False Reality Trap’?
The premise of the Engagement False Reality Trap is that we place an artificial, 12-month timeframe on how quickly we should be building engagement and trust. So, the choice is simple; either offer meaningful development and support for developing engagement, or manage the expectations around what can realistically be achieved in a 12-month period. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking this can be solved with anything less than genuine intent to want to shift the engagement dial, and a medium to long-term outlook.
When we think of what’s needed to lead in VUCA environments, we tend to overthink how we need to be leading to be effective. And why wouldn’t we? Complex environments aren’t straightforward, so it makes sense that how we lead would need to have some semblance of complexity attached to it as well.
Or does it? There is ONE thing you can do to lead meaningfully and effectively in a VUCA environment.
Beyond our capacity to meaningfully connect with those we lead and those we need to deal with in the business, possibly the only other big thing we need to think about is consistency in our leadership approach. And the best thing? Being consistent is fully within our control!
And when we look at it through that lens, no matter how volatile our world, if we are consistent in how we show up each day then that’s one less distraction for our team, one less thing they need to be worrying about, because they know how you will be showing up…everyday.
And that’s the key to VUCA leadership; to be leading from a place that you own. When we master this, there is no place for luck, chance or fate. We don’t need to be thrown from pillar to post at the behest and whims of others. Because we are owning our space. Being consistent.
There are plenty of times at work (and in life) when we want to gain the cooperation, buy in or consensus of those around us; whether they be a manager, colleagues or an employee. So what’s the easy answer? Well, in my experience there is no easy or perfect answer; but I have encountered a couple of methods that tend to bear fruit
Is it me or is it you?
If you are continually struggling to build a relationship or gain the collaboration you are looking for, perhaps it’s time to take a step back and do a simple 'is it me or is it you' analysis that will provide you with enough information to decide a way forward.
Is it Me?
The best way to see a different result in others is for you to change your behaviour, and possibly your way of thinking, first. Make this your first port of call when trying to get a different result in your relationships with others. Look at what you can be doing differently. Ask yourself “Is it my style, tone of voice, body language or the words I’m using?”. And remember if you don’t believe what you are saying, your body language will be a dead give away! At the same time, the old saying ‘do as I say and not as I do’ comes into play here as well. Are you asking others to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself? This too becomes evident quite quickly...so choose your words and actions wisely!
Is it Them?
Once considering your behaviour, and if you are still not getting the buy-in you are looking for then perhaps it’s time to consider whether the people you are engaging have either the desire or the capability to do what you are asking. Look for signs that let you know whether it is desire...or lack of desire!
Do they look disinterested or unmotivated at the thought of what you are asking them to do or buy-in to? The easiest way to confirm your suspicions is to ask them. Other signs are that they are late or don’t show up to meetings on the topic or say that they are interested, but when you delegate there is always a reason whey they can’t help out. If it's lack of desire on the topic that's getting in the way then your strategy should be geared around ways to involve them, or empower them to take the lead on the subject. When it's an attitude thing all you can really do is provide opportunities for them to see that what you are asking them to be involved with really isn't so bad. However if what you are looking for cooperation for really is unexciting, then you may have to accept that you will have to step up in terms of engaging leadership and find ways to try and make it interesting...and be honest with them from the outset about the banality of the issue and not make it out to be something it's not.
On the other hand, if they insist that they are ok with what you are proposing then perhaps it’s an issue of capability...do they have the skills or experience to do what you’ve asked them to do? Are they out of their depth? This can impact on desire as well. Engage them in a conversation on the topic, ask technical questions and involve them so that you can determine the level of knowledge they have on the topic. It’s easy to presume that others have the skills and knowledge required...and hard when everyone realises too late that they don’t. If it is skills then it's easy to organise opportunities for development or experience; whether it be training, coaching or shadowing on the job.
Channel not Change
If the person you are looking to get buy in or collaboration from is openly resistant that’s a great start...after all if they are passively aggressive you usually don’t know it until it’s too late that they aren’t happy or really don’t buy in to what you are promoting. But if they are acting out with energy then you know what their position is, and you can do something about it. With these people I find that a more effective strategy is to channel the energy...something you can’t do with more passive behaviours. Involve them in the discussion regarding a solution, remembering that when questions are asked this doesn't mean they are against the idea or don't want to help. They may just be trying to make sense of what you've asked of them. But even if there does seem to be an active resistance, at least you know it, and you can therefore work with it. This is your chance to engage them and channel their energy toward a solution rather than do what everyone else does and push them away or disagree with their position (which reinforces, and in their mind justifies, their rebellious behaviour).
The Empathy Factor
These are just a few ideas for increasing your chances of collaboration or buy-in that have worked for me over the years. However the most important element that underpins all of these suggestions is very simple. When looking to gain the support or cooperation of others, approach them in a way that you would like to be approached. Don't just tell them what you want; give a why. And allow the opportunity to save face if you are seeking cooperation to a change that impacts them personally. After all, sometimes it’s hard to change our way of thinking over night, and some behaviours are deeply ingrained and gained from years of being the accepted way of doing something. The more you allow the opportunity for buy-in to your message in a way that protects sense of self, the more you improve your chances of collaboration or buy-in.