The Missing Link To Fostering Employee Engagement

It seems every couple of months there’s a new study demonstrating how the majority of employees are either neutrally or negatively engaged at work.  While these studies don’t necessarily reflect a lack of interest by employers to address employee engagement, they are a continual reminder of how many of today’s organizations don’t seem to have a understanding of what their employees need to feel empowered in their roles.

Our sense of engagement in what we do is derived both from our level of competence – of how capable we feel in performing this role and function – and also from being able to know that what we do will make a difference beyond the short-term; that we can derive a sense of purpose and meaning because of what it helps us to create or contribute to in the future.

Therein lies the challenge for most organizations and their leaders.  Certainly, there’s much focus on employee training as a means of encouraging engagement and rightly so, as this does help to build on our level of competence and consequently our ability to succeed in our efforts.  What we’re missing from this equation, though, is answering the question of why these efforts matter beyond the short-term, beyond those quarterly reports.

 

Many of today’s organizations don’t seem to have a understanding of what their employees need to feel empowered in their roles

 

In other words, what kind of future are we trying to create or build through our shared efforts?  Where do we hope or plan to end up as a result of the efforts we’re committing to push through today?

Research has proven time and again how we are driven over the long term not by prestige and money, but by those tasks which allow us to derive some sense of meaningful purpose in what we do.  That meaning can’t be created over the span of a week, a month or even a year.  Rather, it’s something that we take hold of in our near future; a goal or vision that we strive to attain because we feel confident in our collective abilities to reach it.

Of course, these goals can’t be easy; they have to challenge us and stretch our perception of what we’re capable of to keep us engaged and involved in the process.  This is why leaders need to consistently communicate and show that they not only want their team to succeed in their efforts, but that they believe in their collective potential.

 

We are driven over the long term not by prestige and money, but by those tasks which allow us to derive some sense of meaningful purpose in what we do

 

It’s when we combine these elements of developing our competence and connecting it with where we want to be in the future that leaders can create not just an engaged workforce, but an environment where everyone can thrive and grow.

Connect Deeper with Tanveer


Tanveer Naseer is the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with managers and executives to help them develop leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development, while ensuring they remain focused on what creates a fulfilling sense of purpose in what they do..   You can read more of his writings on leadership and workplace interactions on his award-winning blog at TanveerNaseer.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter – @TanveerNaseer

 

Photo by  Louise Jones

Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with managers and executives to help them develop leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development, while ensuring they remain focused on what creates a fulfilling sense of purpose in what they do.

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  • Ellen Weber

    Tanveer, I am jolted awake by your key question here – “What kind of future are we trying to create or build through our shared efforts?”

    You are so right in your notion that: “It’s when we combine these elements of developing our competence and connecting it with where we want to be in the future that leaders can create not just an engaged workforce, but an environment where everyone can thrive and grow.”

    This critical concept (stated with the wonder and challenge you did here) could be the opening of a best seller! If you decide to write it – I’ll be first in line to buy my copy. You have me thinking in a new way about engaging others in sustainable ways for the benefit of all concerned!

    Bravo! Count me in! Stay blessed, Ellen

  • http://www.bensimonton.com Ben Simonton

    Based on my own experience as an executive creating more than one fully engaged workforce, I can’t agree.

    What motivates us and causes us to be fully engaged is being heard, being respected, and having competence, autonomy, and relatedness. The actions leaders must do to achieve these results are easy to learn and easy to execute. These actions merely consist of meeting management’s responsibility to properly support their employees,

  • http://anyaworksmart.com/ Anya Faingersh

    Thank you for such a moving post Tanveer and I totally agree with Ellen.

    I believe employees are the key asset any company has and failure to engage properly is the root cause for many unsuccessful projects.
    As you have stated rightly, time after time, organizations fail to understand the real motivational factors. While trying to address some of them in trainings, the interaction on everyday basis in the team negates all acquired advantages during the trainings due to lack of personal competences on managerial front. It is managers sole prerogative to engage and build communication channels according to team’s needs.

    Kind regards,
    Anya

    http://anyaworksmart.com/

  • https://earthbongo.com/ Valerie

    Thank you for the insightful post, Tanveer! I especially like what you wrote about how people are ultimately more motivated by their sense of meaning and purpose than by material rewards and prestige. I think that this is why many of the most successful employee engagement programs are built around a shared cause–whether it’s giving back to the community or increasing environmental sustainability. Most successful of all are often the initiatives that not only do this, but also recognize employees’ contributions by encouraging them to share their own ideas and stories. It’s all about sharing values and being valued.

    Best wishes,

    Valerie

  • http://www.essentialimited.com Lisa Shelley

    Tanveer, Once again, I just love where you come from! I think it comes down to a simple sentence. People want to leverage their strengths toward making a valued impact on something they believe is important. They want to be inspired, empowered AND valued for their contribution. If a business is struggling with low engagement, something in the culture is not supporting one or more of these elements. Unfortunately most businesses approach the issue by attempting to address symptoms via employee survey results, rather than using that information to better understand the overall system and how well it is supporting their employee’s basic human needs. Thanks so much for so eloquently keeping the focus on this important topic!
    Best- Lisa

  • http://www.tanveernaseer.com Tanveer Naseer

    Thanks Ellen for the kind words. I’m delighted to hear that this piece has fired up your thinking on how do we go beyond simply creating engagement with it’s natural short-term bias towards creating a thriving organization and community with it’s long-term focus.

    As talk continues of yet another global recession possibly arriving again next year, I do think that organizations and their leaders will come to the realization that engagement alone will no longer be sustainable under such trying conditions and that we do have to communicate and facilitate measures that allow employees to see some positive connection between what they do today and where they’ want to be in the future.

    Thanks again for the kind words, Ellen. You not only put a smile on my face, but you gave me a wonderful start to the day.

  • http://www.tanveernaseer.com Tanveer Naseer

    Hi Ben,

    I think you need to read my piece again as I very clearly do point out that what employees need is both the ability to feel and build their level of competence while at the same time having communicated to them why their efforts matter beyond their narrow scope.

    Do employees need to feel heard and respected? Absolutely, but as we see in all the studies done on employee engagement levels in today’s workplaces, it’s clearly not enough for the reasons I point out above.

    There’s a huge body of evidence-based studies that have been done to support the notion that our motivations and consequently our level of engagement is based on internal factors like developing a sense of mastery and inner purpose.

    I would recommend you also check out the work of Dr. Teresa Amabile from Harvard and Dr. Steven Kramer as featured in their fantastic read, “The Progress Principle”, to learn more about that.

  • http://www.tanveernaseer.com Tanveer Naseer

    Thanks Anya,

    I’m glad to hear you enjoyed this piece. I do hope that in shedding a light on this and hopefully spurring discussions like the one behind held on this site that leaders and their organizations might glean a better understanding of the gaps between their initiatives and the level of engagement and drive seen in today’s workplaces.

  • http://www.bensimonton.com Ben Simonton

    Tanveer,

    In your article, you wrote – “Our sense of engagement in what we do is derived both from our level of competence – of how capable we feel in performing this role and function – and also from being able to know that what we do will make a difference beyond the short-term; that we can derive a sense of purpose and meaning because of what it helps us to create or contribute to in the future.”

    So unless this statement was incorrect, you contended that competence and purpose are what creates engagement. That is not enough in my experience of creating several fully engaged workforces.

    My contention is backed up by the research of psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan which proved that what motivates us all is the simultaneous existence of competence, autonomy, and relatedness. They made clear that if any of these three are missing, we will not be motivated and motivation is an essential piece of the pie of engagement.

    Of course, I did find that being heard and being respected were also necessary in order to gain full engagement and I mean 100% heard and 100% respected and that is exactly what I did both as an executive and as a manager. The productivity gains I achieved as an executive came close to what Stephen Covey wrote as the possible gains, 500% in his words.

    You wrote that meeting the needs of being heard and respected were not enough as if that was my belief, but I never said that. I said that being heard, being respected and having competence, autonomy, and relatedness meaning all five at once, not just the first two but all five.

    Best regards, Ben

  • Tanveer Naseer

    Thanks Valerie; I’m glad you enjoyed this piece. The idea that money alone can’t motivate employees has been reinforced in yet another study which found that a majority of unhappy employees would rather have a new boss than a pay raise.

    This makes sense when we consider the role a leader plays not just in handing out assignments and such, but to connecting what employees do to both an organization’s shared purpose and to what matters to those they lead.

    Having a leader who can connect what we do to where we want to be or what we want to create for our future is a powerful motivator that studies like this one continue to point out. Now it’s time for leaders to implement it in their approaches as well.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on this, Valerie

  • Tanveer Naseer

    Thank you Lisa for the kind words; I think you did a fantastic job summarizing the current disconnect between what the various studies on falling productivity and employee engagement reveal and what measures organizations and their leaders elect to pursue to address them.

    Certainly, it is easier to have employees fill out a survey and use that info to patch-up perceived holes causing these leaks in workplace motivation. But unless leaders openly address the question of why we do what we do and how it will help to fulfill the goals and ambitions of everyone involved, employee engagement will continue to remain just out of arm’s reach.

    Thanks again for the kind words and great comment, Lisa.

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