Winning the minds, hearts and hands of employees – the role of leaders in creating a culture of engagement
Organisations in which employees are highly engaged experience significant benefits, many of which are beyond increased financial returns. Employees are more customer-focussed, more innovative, and more creative; all factors which are vital to ensuring long-term sustainability in an increasingly competitive knowledge-based economy.
What is perhaps more significant is that employees gain too in terms of increased job satisfaction as well as increased psychological and physical wellbeing. Winning the minds, hearts and hands is often seen as the conditions required for employee engagement, I am convinced however that these are in fact outcomes of a culture of employee engagement and transpire once something greater has been achieved – only when work has true meaning and appeals to employees intrinsic motivations due to a cultural shift will we bear witness to more inspiring and engaging organisations.
So who is responsible for winning the minds, hearts and hands of employees, and how can this idyllic culture of engagement be achieved? Common threads exist that demonstrate that it is the role of leaders to create an engagement culture that emanates from the following characteristics.
If leaders are not engaged in their role inspiring employees on their journey with the organisation, is it reasonable to expect employees to reciprocate, probably not. There is strong evidence to support that many organisational leaders are in fact disengaged experiencing tiredness as a result of high workloads, being unclear about their own priorities, lacking confidence in their business strategies and generally not doing well. To create a culture of engagement leaders need to be able to demonstrate to employees that they:
- Have a clear picture of the organisations direction
- Have the ability to handle the challenges the organisation faces
- Are committed to developing superior products and services for customers
- View the work of their employees as pivotal to the organisations success
- Know how to inspire confidence
World-class organisations have clear strategic vision. This point is indeed linked to leadership as it is organisational leaders’ role to facilitate the development of the values instilled in the vision and champion the vision to all stakeholders. Clear vision links strategic planning to operational decision making, it creates a noble sense of purpose and paints a vivid picture of organisational values – it tells people who they are, where they are going and how they are going to get there.
The leader’s role is to facilitate the development of values, not to purely develop organisational values themselves and espouse them with little accountability as has been the case historically. Many values, vision and mission statements have been developed by the senior executive team, and placed on company placards with no leading example.
Employees expect more in order to engage with the organisation. What is required is a multi-level process in which employees are involved in the development of vision and values. Obtaining employee input fosters greater understanding and accountability of the vision. Not only do they want involvement in the development of vision and values, they want to see organisational leaders ‘walk-the-talk’ demonstrating that they too are willing to act in a manner consistent with the vision that has been created.
Learning cultures are instrumental in gaining sustainable competitive advantage, particularly in knowledge-based economies. They are characterised by continuous learning, inquiry and dialogue, team learning, embedded systems, empowerment, connection to environment and strategic leadership. Organisations with a learning culture operate an agile environment in which the organisation, its teams and individuals can continuously engage in the innovation process. They do this through the process of creating, acquiring and transferring knowledge in a knowledge sharing environment. A learning culture creates opportunity, personal accountability, validation and community, and is linked directly to organisational commitment and organisational citizenship behaviours.
An employee engagement culture also requires support systems from three main sources. Organisational encouragement occurs in the form of a system that supports open communication to encourage idea generation and risk taking, collaborative idea flow, supportive evaluation and participative management and decision making. Supervisory encouragement requires leaders and supervisors to clearly communicate goals and set expectations, reward and recognise accomplishments, provide task support and encourage risk taking. Work group encouragement is also an important facet of employee engagement culture. Teams must be diverse for the benefit of creativity and innovation; however the culture must be such that the creative process is supportive and constructive and avoids conflict. Engagement therefore requires cognitive trust between team members, built on functional competencies and emotional intelligence.
Autonomy and Resources
Giving employees control over decisions that affect the way in which they go about their work in the pursuit of organisational goals encourages engagement. Intrinsic motivation is able to be tapped because employees do not feel controlled. It is particularly important to remove bureaucracy and excessive controls over information flow and decision making, and rewards linked to extrinsic motivators. Empowerment is key to engagement.
Also key in creating a culture of engagement is to provide sufficient resources. This applies to both time and money. Too little time manifests burnout (i.e. exhaustion, inefficacy and cynicism), and a lack of resources leads to misaligned role behaviours due to a need to appeal for and raise funds; disengagement consequently arises through distraction. At the other end of the spectrum, allowing excessive timeframes or oversupplying resources results in disengaged behaviour and stifled creativity as it creates an environment lacking constraints, removing the need to engage in meaningful productive work.
The phrase ‘winning the minds, hearts and hands’ of employees is in essence referring to the concepts of logical commitment, emotional commitment and discretionary effort.
Engaged employees are more satisfied in their work. They see their role as more than a transactional relationship between employer and employee; to the engaged employee their role brings satisfaction when they experience a higher level of willingness and reward. Employees can rationalise that their work is meaningful to the organisation, and that the greater work of the organisation is meaningful to them.
When employees have a strong belief and acceptance of organisational goals and values, are willing to put in extra effort on the organisations behalf and have a strong desire to maintain membership in the organisation a strong emotional attachment exists. Emotional attachment goes beyond the mere transactional employer-employee relationship dichotomy creating a sense that employees feel a strong need to be a member of the organisation because their personal beliefs resonate with the organisations culture and values.
Discretionary effort is commonly conceptualised as Organisational Citizenship Behaviour (OCB). It takes organisational commitment to the next level where employees engage in behaviours that are beyond the organisations core purpose, and which foster a social and psychological environment conducive to work. Citizenship behaviours go far beyond what is in an employee’s job description and are demonstrated in terms of helpfulness, conscientiousness, civic virtue and sportsmanship. They are freely given and go beyond the call of duty as a result of being truly engaged in the organisations purpose.
Imagine if all members of your company jumped out of bed in the morning itching to get to work on some new innovative product or service, or to take the initiative to impress their customers with every interaction. Surely this is better than looking off into the distance wondering if the grass is greener elsewhere!
- Appoint leaders who are engaged and capable
- Engage employees in the development of a new collective vision
- Implement systems conducive to knowledge sharing
- Encourage creativity and innovation
- Delegate decision making and support employees with the resources they require
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