This post is an updated version of Brady's article posted in January 2013.
Do your employees feel like engagement is something done to them, rather than done with them?
If so, it may be that your organization’s leadership has unwittingly slipped into the role of “parent” to create engagement.
This slippage fails to recognize two elemental realities: that leaders and employees are in a partnership; and partnering is the respectful way to engage employees.
The perils of parenting
Caught between “improve results” and “reduce expenses”, managers need employees to engage and give more than they ever have before.
As a result—and even though it’s not their intention—managers may assume the one mindset that will sink any engagement initiative: parenting.
These managers resort to classic strategies that get the job done, such as:
But all of these strategies leave a toxic residue. They come across as paternalistic, and communicate an underlying meaning to employees: there’s something you’re missing that I need you supply.
Under these conditions, why would any employee want to offer their discretionary effort?
Employees already have what “parenting” leaders think is missing: the desire to make a difference; the pride of doing a great job; and their own forms of self-determinism including work ethic, values, and character.
Managers who partner do just that: they partner with their employees to help create the conditions that allow them to flourish, so they feel energized to fuel great customer experiences and better business results.
In this light, the manager’s job is not to get people to go the extra mile, but to build the conditions in which the employee could naturally, instinctively do so.
It’s all about shifting focus from trying to engage people, to helping them feel energized. In the process, you unlock the one strange attractor that drives business success: innovation.
When managers engage employees as partners, co-creating the conditions for each other’s success, you will see your organization brim with vigour, intensity, optimism, passion and creativity.
Making the shift
So, how do you upload an ethos of partnering in your organization?
It’s all about helping employees see that, above anything else, their primary identity is that of a partner, standing for the highest good of their co-workers and manager by giving a rich stream of feedback: affirming what works, and nudging what doesn’t.
With an elegantly simple coaching tool, anybody can coach anybody, anywhere in the organization. Uploading this one partnering capability is the only way a high-performance, high-energy culture can be sustained.
The ability of partnership to solve engagement issues is the very thing that lifts the manager’s burden—freeing them from their unsustainable parenting roles. In doing so, energy at work will undoubtedly surge.
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