Summer is over, and anyone still shaking the sand out of their ears can see that the pace of change and organizational challenge hasn’t slowed. In fact, the challenges leaders and managers are facing have only grown more urgent. It should come as no surprise then that people, teams and organizations continue to struggle with morale, productivity, and performance. According to Gallup’s workplace report, “An alarming 70% of employees aren’t working to their full potential, and they’re slowing economic growth.” How can organizations, managers, and leaders respond to this challenge? We need to coach staff to want to and decide to focus on successes that are within their control.
First, managers need to listen. They need to empathize with team members and staff who may be feeling overwhelmed, both professionally and personally.
Second, managers need to create context, reassuring staff that while this may be a challenging economic season, the organization will rise to it – and let them know they have a role.
Third, managers need to coach in order to connect staff goals and talents with the context of a departmental and/or organizational mission, helping them realize they can have impact. It’s vital to coach people for alignment between their skills/interests and the organization’s goals in a meaningful way. Essentially, managers have to coach to facilitate a shift in mental state from feeling overwhelmed, out-of-control, and meaningless, to feeling in control and meaningful.
In Dr. Victor Frankel’s best-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning (a great read), he discusses the human need to create a context of meaning and purpose, even in the most challenging of situations. In his case, he survived a Nazi concentration camp, and his descriptive insights were revealed in his later writings. He experienced the loss of his wife, who perished at a separate camp, as well as the loss of his brother and parents in the gas chambers. He owed his emotional and psychological survival and subsequent success to his recognition that, no matter what happened, he had control over his own focus, thoughts and mental choices.
The importance of linking coaching and context to engagement reminds me of a story of a construction executive, who left his office to visit a large building site and spoke to 3 brick layers, each working under a different construction supervisor:
Upon arrival at the site, the executive approached the first brick layer he saw, who looked quite unenthused, and addressed him saying, “Can I ask you what you are doing?”
The worker replied with a slight frown, “I’m laying brick, and I get paid by the hour.”
Walking further into the site, he came upon another worker, and asked him the same question, this time getting a slightly different answer, “I’m building a wall.”
At the far end of the site, twenty minutes later, the executive came upon yet another bricklayer who was actually smiling as he worked, and he queried him as well. This time, the answer was very different: “Sir, I’m completing one wall of this building that, when we finish, will be a cathedral that impacts and serves the entire community for many decades to come.”
The last bricklayer’s supervisor was able to engage the skilled worker at a different level for superior engagement on the job, by creating context and encouragement for his work. He wasn’t just completing a task, or earning money to survive – he was contributing to the success of a larger project with inherent value. His physical tasks may have mirrored those of his coworkers, but his mental state surely did not. Odds favor the last bricklayer’s wall as being the most carefully and diligently completed, and his tenure with the employer being the longest. Engagement = productivity and job satisfaction.
Where you have unengaged staff, don’t be surprised to find unengaged “bosses” dictating orders. To unlock greater engagement, coach your staff for alignment between skill deployment and big picture meaning to the mission and the community.