Building employee engagement is like being an actor on stage in some ways.
For example, professional theater folks refer to the “fourth wall” – an invisible barrier that separates actors from the audience. If you’ve ever seen a performance where actors skillfully broke through that barrier to make a genuine connection, then you know how powerful that barrier can be.
Likewise, business owners and managers sometimes confront an “invisible wall” between themselves and their employees. Usually, this barrier wasn’t consciously erected, but instead developed over time in an environment where employees don’t feel comfortable engaging in open communication. Just like those talented actors, top managers must know how to breach that unseen wall to forge authentic connections with their employees.
How do you know if there is a wall separating you from your employees? One key indicator is determining whether employees feel comfortable identifying problems, obstacles, inefficiencies and opportunities in your organization. Are these discussed openly between employees and management, or are they tiptoed around and avoided?
In some cases, owners and managers are aware of the wall’s existence, but aren’t sure how to breach it. Other times, they aren’t even aware that the wall exists. In reality, those management teams who are unaware of these obstacles have the tallest, toughest walls to break down.
Regardless, it is imperative that management break down the “invisible wall” to engage employees; if they don’t, they will find that their best employees will move on, leaving only the C and D players in the trenches.
3 Steps to Build Effective Employee Engagement
IDENTIFY YOUR WALLS
Walls develop when employees perceive the work environment to be unsafe or unhealthy for authentic two-way communication. Sometimes employees perceive managers to be defensive, to have big egos, to be unwilling to listen, or to operate under a “my way or the highway” decree.
The process of identifying your walls requires, at the very least, a conversation with employees that does not involve the owner or manager. Maybe a third party needs to be involved, or perhaps the conversation can be led by an engaged employee who is committed to the company.
Either way, start with a simple assessment (often called an employee engagement survey) that asks employee team members:
- Do you feel your work environment is safe?
- On a scale of A-F, how effective is management at communicating and connecting with you?
- Are you comfortable identifying and discussing problems, obstacles and inefficiencies with management?
- Have you personally withheld any insights or suggested improvements for fear of defensiveness and/or retribution?
- Have you withheld any suggested improvements that would improve your company’s competitiveness?
Establish Trust Between Management & Employees
Once any management/employee barriers have been identified, one of the biggest challenges in breaking them down is to acknowledge that communication between the two groups needs improvement.
The first blow towards taking down the “invisible wall” is to establish employee trust, showing that management is open and receptive to receiving constructive feedback. When managers value insight and input from their team, they build trust and hope. On the other hand, when a manager is defensive and/or unreceptive, they add another brick to the wall. The strongest teams are built from respect, relationship and valuing the insight and intellect of the collective team.
Lead The Demolition Team
The hard work of breaking down “invisible walls” is really about building relationships with your team; when you accomplish this, your team will be more engaged and will play at their highest levels.
As a manager, what is your role in developing stronger relationships and trust with your employee team?
In a word: Listen. Listen to shared insights and suggestions without interruption, judgment or retribution.
Be open to receiving constructive feedback; after all, you can’t expect your employees to do that if they don’t see that same behavior in yourself. Commit to creating a work environment where employees feel and know that their contributions are valued, and that they are safe when providing constructive feedback. In such a workplace, it is much easier for employees to engage in respectful communication about conflicting points of view.
Acknowledge that observations, insights and communications are the lifeblood of any successful organization. When they flow freely between employee and manager, the organization as a whole is able to identify and attack priorities with an appropriate sense of urgency.
Encourage open communication with employees by using reflective language, including open-ended questions such as:
- What do you see as the greatest opportunity, that when addressed properly, could offer significant benefit to our company?
- Identify any obstacle(s) that exists, or could surface, that prevents you from achieving your performance goals.
- What cross-functional inefficiency is impeding your team’s ability to optimize activities, operations, and performance?
- Identify any staffing exposure that need to be addressed in order for you to accomplish your goals.
- Identify any additional support needed to create greater acceleration for your team.
Management/employee walls weren’t built overnight, and it will take an investment of time to break them down.
Remember, if you don’t tear down the “invisible wall,” your competition will take advantage of this weakness. Build sincere, effective relationships, and you’ll build a successful career and company!
My career path started out at IBM before moving on to start, build and eventually sell two technology service companies. From there, I’ve been a global channel development partner, and personal/corporate achievement coach helping leaders and teams break through to the next level.
If you or your team needs help breaking through to the next level of performance, or if you have a friend who’d appreciate having access to me as their personal and/or corporate achievement coach, please reach out for a free discovery call or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.