FOCUS ON STRENGTHS CAN UNLOCK EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

Steve Schmidt

Last month’s HCI Innovation@Work Conference tackled the subject of how to create an engaging employee experience from “hire to retire.” It’s a topic that’s clearly on the minds of today’s leaders, 71% of whom say employee engagement is critical to the success of their organization, but only 24% of whom believe their workforce is highly engaged.

With those numbers estimated to be improving only at a rate of about 1% per year at best, there’s plenty of work that needs to be done in this area, and managers and leaders play a critical role in that process. The speakers offered a number of ideas and insights that HR and talent development professionals should be thinking about as they plan their management and leadership development strategies for the coming year.

One of the big themes we heard was that managers need to focus more attention on maximizing the strengths of their employees rather than trying to make everyone good at everything. Keynote speaker Dan Pink and others noted that focusing on areas of strength is the great performance accelerator, leading not only to increased individual performance but also lower attrition, higher job satisfaction, and improved engagement and customer metrics. Spending more time on your strengths also increases personal satisfaction and happiness while reducing stress. Trying to be good at everything, on the other hand, usually ends up promoting mediocrity, which doesn’t do much for a person’s morale—or for the business.

The question for your managers is, do they know how to help employees recognize their strengths and push past any self-limiting behaviors so they can truly apply them? This requires more than a performance management conversation or telling people what to do. Managers need to be effective coaches who see the potential in their people and help them develop it. Speaker Jeremie Brecheisen outlined three key actions:

Establish expectations that are clear, collaborative and align with company goals. Keep in mind that focusing on strengths doesn’t mean that people don’t have to push themselves. Managers should be encouraging employees to challenge themselves as they create their goals together.Coach continually. Since daily feedback creates the highest engagement, coaching should be frequent, focused and future-oriented. The group was also reminded that developing and engaging their people is managers’ primary job, suggesting attendees ask their managers, “What do you think your job is as a manager if not that?”

Create accountability. This is also a key step in the coaching process, and it should be achievement oriented and developmentally focused. Managers need to focus on successes and accomplishments, not just giving feedback and ratings.
Because coaching is such an important factor in the employee engagement equation, the most effective managers are finding ways to bring it into the day-to-day routine—via emails, phone calls, hallway conversations and other opportunities. Those “quick connect” coaching moments are just as vital as formal check-ins. Likewise, the immediate feedback of developmental coaching, combined with scheduled skills training and strengths coaching, creates a powerful impact on both performance and engagement.

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