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“That which we nurture thrives. That which we neglect dies.”

Dr. Alan Zimmerman’s Personal Commentary:

After a thorough, extensive investigation of thousands of workers and hundreds of companies, the Gallup organization concluded that 71% of all employees are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.” In simple terms, they were saying most workers were producing far less than they were capable of producing.

And that’s a downright shame … if not a crime in itself. After all, when a company pays an employee $30 an hour to perform a task, that company is entitled to $30 of productivity each and every hour in return. If the employees give anything less, if they do just enough to get by, they would … in effect … be stealing from the company. And that’s immoral.

But it’s just as immoral for a company to hire positive, hard-working employees and turn them into “disengaged” zombies who can’t wait for the end of their work day, work week, or work life. And that’s what happens in all too many companies.

In fact, there’s a little game I play with my audiences. I’ll ask them how many of them have ever had the responsibility of interviewing and then hiring someone. Many of them raise their hands.

And then I’ll ask how many of them ever came across a job candidate who was lazy, negative, and mean-spirited … who hated the company, hated the products, and hated the customers … and then thought to themselves, “That’s just the kind of employee I want” … and hired that individual. No one raises their hand.

So I ask them, “If no one ever hired a person like that, then why is it that so many companies are filled with those negative, disengaged employees?” It’s because something happened to those employees … during the course of their employment … that turned them off. It might have been the thoughtless actions of a supervisor, the demotivating behaviors of a manager, or a corporate culture that openly disrespected those “low level employees.”

There’s no question about it. Disengaged employees are expensive. Their behavior is unacceptable, and so are the things that cause their disengagement.

To root out some of that disengagement, you’ve got to…

1. Recognize disengagement.

It’s visible. It’s not a hidden force lurking in the dark. It’s right out there in the open for everyone to see. You see it in their eyes.

As Eric Allenbaugh writes in “HR Magazine,” the eyes have it. He says there are 3 eye patterns to look for. Two of them indicate “disengagement.”

There are the GLAZED eyes. As one 42-year-old manager said, “It stopped being fun here 16 years ago.” His glazed eyes and numb spirit said it all.

And there are the BEADY eyes. A bright, yet disenchanted 3-year employee said, “This place sucks, and I can hardly wait to get out of here.” Her beady eyes communicated a strong message of discontent.

Finally, there are the BRIGHT eyes. A first-line supervisor working for Southwest Airlines said, “I just love my job and the people who work here.” Her bright eyes and positive spirit communicated a strong sense of engagement and commitment.

Of course, it’s not enough to merely point out who is engaged and who isn’t. You want to prevent disengagement whenever possible. So you need to…

2. Identify the causes of disengagement.

No one says it better than Terri Kabachnick in her book, “I Quit, But Forgot to Tell You.” Among the most common causes, she lists:

  • A lack of information and communication,
  • A lack of job purpose, and
  • A lack of respect.

And to make matters worse, the coworkers almost always notice the disengagement before the managers do. As a result, the managers unwittingly let the disengagement continue to grow, fester, and spread …until it affects and hurts almost every employee, every customer, and every task. The results are devastating. As Kabachnick puts it, “Dissatisfaction, frustration, and constant griping create a vortex that sucks the enthusiasm out of even the most productive and engaged workers.”

So what can you do to prevent disengagement from happening in your workplace? Or if you’re already saddled with that problem, how can you re-engage your fellow coworkers? In last week’s “Tuesday Tip”, I said you should:

  1. engage your coworkers in conversation,
  2. teach your people new and better skills, and
  3. give them a chance to make a difference.

Let me give you three more tips today that align with the three causes listed above.

3. Keep them fully informed.

Even though there are a few employees who say they hate all those e-mails, meetings, and memos, most employees have a strong need to be fully informed. In fact, it’s almost always an engagement prerequisite.

In one Chamber of Commerce study, 50,000 employees from all types of industry were asked to rank order the ten factors that had the biggest impact on their morale and motivation. Not surprisingly, the employees listed “being in on things” or “being fully informed” as the second strongest morale-building, motivating factor in the workplace.

Unfortunately, too many managers practice what I call “mushroom management.” They keep their people in the dark, feed them a lot of manure, and when they get “too big for their own good,” they can them. And they wonder why their people are disengaged.

Professor Tamotsu Shibutani has the answer. After studying the communication patterns in dozens of organizations, he concluded, “You had better keep your people informed, or they’ll make it up and it won’t be flattering.” If you want an engaged workforce, you’ve got to communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more.

I suppose that’s why so many citizens feel disengaged. They have little or no information on the laws that should … supposedly … make their lives better. For example, if you’re a citizen of these states, you probably didn’t know …

  • In Ohio, it is illegal to get a fish drunk.
  • In Florida, it is illegal for an unmarried woman to parachute on Sundays.
  • In California, it is illegal to set a mousetrap without a hunting license.
  • In Kentucky, it is illegal to carry a concealed weapon that is more than six feet long.
  • In Alabama, it is illegal to drive a vehicle while blindfolded.
  • In Vermont, it is illegal for a woman to get false teeth without the consent of her husband.

In addition to being fully informed, employees get and stay engaged when you…

4. Instill a sense of job purpose.

It’s almost impossible for employees to spend 5, 10, or 20 years on a job … and feel good about themselves … if they think their jobs are a colossal waste of time. Employees need to know more than “what” a job entails, and employees need to know more than “how” to do a job. They also need to know “why” they’re doing a job.

That’s where leadership comes in. As Peter Parsons says, “Leadership is .. making sure that the people who are working for you come in every day feeling like they are working on the most important thing.”

To build an “engaged” culture, to engage the disengaged, you’ve got to tell people that their work matters. And you’ve got to show people that their job has a purpose that only they can fulfill.

It’s the way your home works, and it’s the way an organization becomes productive. For example, in your home, you probably have a variety of appliances, such as a toaster, refrigerator, stove, microwave, and a dozen other things. And each of those appliances has its own unique reason for being. If you try to use any of those appliances outside their purpose, you’ve got a problem. If you want to cook things in the refrigerator and freeze things in the oven, you’re going to have a difficult situation in your home. Things won’t turn out right.

And things don’t turn out right in an organization when the employees do not know the purpose of their jobs. That’s why Kent C. Nelson, the retired CEO of UPS, urged his leaders to instill a sense of job purpose in their employees.

Nelson said, “I have observed that the people who care only about winning, who live and die by the numbers alone, end up losing out on the biggest prize of all. That prize is the job of being an important part of something much larger than yourself. It is the comfort of knowing that your actions will touch the lives of others in a positive way. It is joining with other people in working toward worthwhile goals. It is a prize that has nothing to do with winning or making money. It has everything to do with life.”

I preach the same message in my leadership retreats. I tell people, “You must aspire to inspire before you expire.”

So yes, information and purpose lead to engagement, but that’s still not enough. For an employee or a workforce to be engaged, you must…

5. Show respect.

It’s a universal truth. You may think this strategy only applies to the younger generations in the workplace. After all, we keep hearing about how needy the younger generations are — asking for more recognition, more challenges, more autonomy, more communication, and more rewards. But a Baby Boomer in his 60’s put it this way in one of my workshops. He said, “We want the same things. We just felt we couldn’t ask.”

When your younger workers badger you for more respect and recognition, just remember all your employees crave the same thing. Their communication methods may differ, but their needs don’t. Employees want to be regarded first and foremost as people … not as an anonymous part of a generation.

And treating each employee as an individual is a great way to show your respect and engage his talents. But the reverse is also true. As Richard A. Moran so wisely put it, “Treating people like numbers will prevent the company from meeting its numbers.”

Moran is right. That’s why 68% of an employee’s productivity is directly attributable to his/her manager. If an employee feels like he’s nothing more than a number filling a time slot for a manager, the employees is not going to be fully engaged.

To engage your people, to show your respect, treat each employee as an individual … not like one district sales manager I was coaching. His district was doing very poorly, so the company sent me to figure out what was going wrong. When I interviewed each of his sales reps, every single one of the reps complained about the lack of respect their manager showed them. When I pushed the reps to get more specific, they all said their manager never called them by name. They weren’t even sure he knew their names … which is, of course, the very least you can do when it comes to showing respect.

So treat each employee as an individual. Get to know that person’s strengths and weaknesses and likes and dislikes. Call each person by his/her name.

And then take the respect up a notch or two by changing your focus. That’s what John F. Kennedy did when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” He changed the focus.

Similarly, to be a leader that engages the full and willing cooperation of others, ask not what your employees can do to make you look good; ask what you can do to make your employees successful.” In other words, you change your focus from autocratic leadership to servant leadership … which communicates big-time respect. That’s why Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, said, “If you don’t understand that you work for your mislabeled ‘subordinates,’ then you know nothing of leadership. You know only tyranny.”

Action:

Take on the respect challenge. Ask 5 of your coworkers what communicates respect to them. Ask them to list 5 things each. And then make a point of doing/saying/being one of the things each of your coworker mentions.
Make every day your payoff day!

Dr. Alan Zimmerman
Tel: 800-621-7881
E-mail: Alan@DrZimmerman.com

“©2010 Dr. Alan R. Zimmerman. Reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman’s Internet newsletter, the ‘Tuesday Tip.’ For your own personal, free subscription to the ‘Tuesday Tip’ as well as information on Dr. Zimmerman’s keynotes and seminars, go to http://www.drzimmerman.com/ or call 800-621-7881.

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