Leader Moments: Getting Employees Engaged

"You can't build a winning culture without changing the behaviors of the individuals that make up that culture." ~ Larry Senn, founder of Senn-Delaney

Leadership is a never-ending endeavor that has to be part of your every day life. Whether with large companies or a team of one, those charged with driving results and impacting culture must understand that leadership is a full-time job.

So how does one become a transformational leader?

There is no one right answer. But, there are several tried and true ways in which people can get better at leading teams and organizations, including the act of defining what leadership means.

Leadership is often defined as "the art of motivating a group of people to act towards commons goals and objectives". This seems fairly straightforward, but somewhat general.

Taking this definition to a personal level, one might suggest that their goal as leader of the sales department of a medium-size software company is to marry the organization’s behavioral goals with the appropriate reward system, so as to avoid confusion or “mixed signals” for employees.

OVP Management Consulting Group Inc. works with business owners and leaders that want their employees to internalize the company's vision & values and in turn reflect them in how they treat their customers. For example, one of our partner clients is ALPAC Inc., a software/IT firm based in Ann Arbor, MI that offers customized software development packages to companies seeking to streamline their operations. The company manages most of its software developers and programmers that work remotely. It is important for the company's president Al Pacha that these highly skilled technicians act with integrity, effectively collaborate with fellow developers to maximize the value of the company's offerings and provide prompt & comprehensive back-end, post-sale service.

"I am always looking for ways to improve my company's performance," Pacha said. "To do this, I think you have to understand how employees and contractors are interpreting our goals and mission."

For many firms, having operational actions mirror company values is an intentional way to frame how behavioral shifts in individuals can be tied to performance improvements. But, getting to the point where intention meets action can be daunting for firms. Here are several things leaders of teams can do to achieve this balance:

  • Develop a strategic employee engagement plan: The manner and rate at which your people grow within your organization is often the make-or-break element that determines how successful your operation will be. The creation of a strategic people plan that actively puts employees in a position to learn, improve and share must be a measurable document tied to time milestones. There also has to be active participation in the creation of said plan by members of the team, so as to encourage greater "buy in" from those are responsible for completing the activities that make your operations go.
  • Train to your company's vision: Offering team members training that reinforces your organization's values and problem-solving approaches. And it doesn't have to be directly related to their primary activity performed for the company. Training your employees to the standards and values that you set for success will help uncover hidden talents that can significant value to your operations.
  • Encourage open communication: Open communication requires trust and understanding. Employees and leaders need to trust that sharing their thoughts and perspectives about work activities connected to the overall mission of an organization, is encouraged. They also need to have a clarity regarding the goals and objectives of the organization. Employees need to know the "why" for the goals, mission and objectives of your organization. To do that, there has to be more than posted signs in a common area. Leaders must intentionally talk with teams about how operational activities directly connect to the achievement of larger company goals.

These just three examples of approaches influenced by the work of Steven Kerr, author of the scholarly work on business management entitled On the follow of rewarding A, while hoping for B and Duff McDonald, author of the book The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence on American Business.

These have been proven to work for large organizations and small teams. The key is to apply these concepts of thought leadership in a systematic way that helps clarify business owner intent. From there, leaders can start the process of constructing workplace environments that reflect the most important values of the company. In turn, the documenting of these concepts moves companies - particularly smaller operations - from the realm of being intuitive organizations to becoming more structured and purposeful teams that drive towards shared goals with a strategic plan undergirding their work.

Adopting employee-centered leader behavior provides companies the ability to associate their employees' behaviors with the goals and objectives of the organization. Often, this helps focus how leaders design their reward and compensation systems used to motivate his or her employees.

Focusing on “higher quality” goals and ensuring employees know their roles in achieving those goals are just two things transformational leaders do to try to distinguish their teams from competitors.

Alejandro Bodipo-Memba

Chicago, Illinois