Lead an autonomous workforce with meaningful conversations
Executing employee engagement in the workplace presents managers and leaders with unique challenges. The pace of change is faster than at any time since the industrial revolution and the working environment is evolving rapidly. Consequently, organisations must evolve their employee engagement strategies to drive motivation, staff retention, and improved productivity.
How is the workplace changing?
Traditional workplaces gathered all employees in a centralised location, during a set period of the day, in which their manager was the equivalent to a puppet master pulling the strings to get tasks done effectively. In such a working environment, the main drivers of engagement were mostly considered to be reward-based (better salaries and bonuses, for example).
The modern workplace is far more fluid. Gallup has found that the modern workplace is defined by:
- More flexible workspaces, with almost three quarters of employees able to move to different areas to do their work
- More flexible time, with more than half of employees being given choice in when they work
- More remote working, with almost half of employees detached from their teams at least some of the time
- More matrixed teams, with more than eight in 10 employees matrixed to some extent and working across functions with more than one boss
Remote project work is changing how organisations work
The working environment is increasingly project-based. The members of cross-functional teams are more likely to work remotely from each other. This may include people in different offices, working from home, or in different global geographies.
This change in the way of working together presents opportunities and challenges for employee engagement in the workplace. For example:
- Employees take part in work that they find interesting and enjoyable, and this enhances engagement
- The greater autonomy of modern working practices means employees are expected to think and act more like leaders
- Managers often assume that remote employees have the same motivations as in-house employees, but the greater isolation can lead to a reduction in performance of as much as 21%
Create the conditions for autonomy to engage employees in the workplace
With work processes, practices and locations more diverse than they have ever been, teams and individuals within those teams act more autonomously.
Employees are expected to take more decisions independently, interacting with diverse peer groups as they find solutions to problems. They are expected to manage their own time, workloads, workplace relationships and career paths. These are the roles of the traditional manager. If employees are expected to be their own boss, what is it that managers should be doing to engage their employees?
The conundrum that must be solved in the more autonomous age is that while autonomy leads to employees feeling more engaged with their work, consequently improving performance, employees still need support when faced with difficulties. Therefore, in today’s diverse, flexible and remote environment, to execute employee engagement in the workplace managers must forget the old task-led strategies and employ a more personal approach. They must:
- Know their employees and understand their unique motivations
- Develop talent by becoming a coach and mentor
- Empower employees by sharing the big picture and enabling them to see where, how and why they fit into it
New leadership style is needed through change
In Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, it was found that fewer than a quarter of employees believe that their organisation’s leadership has a clear direction for the company. If your employees don’t understand the vision, how can you expect them to be engaged with it? In a constantly changing world, this potential lack of engagement with your organisation’s business focus could be disastrous.
When attempting to engage employees with their future, a traditional change management strategy tends to follow a three-step path:
- First, understand where you are, and the gap between the current state and where you want to be.
- Second, analyse the problems and understand the root causes of these issues.
- Third, create a linear process of change that leads from the current state to the desired state, and roll out to the employees to execute.
There are several problems with this approach in the workplace. These include that there is usually a lack of consideration of potential problems that could be encountered on the change journey, there’s no mitigation of organisational weaknesses, and employees become afraid to deviate from the plan.
All these problems pale into insignificance when we consider what we expect of employees in the autonomous workplace. We expect them to largely manage their own destiny, and then we communicate a change programme that has been decided by a small group of leaders. We expect them to buy into the change without any input into it.
New leadership to promote employee engagement and effective change management
Instead of leaving the vision of the future to a small core of leaders, organisations could improve engagement in change by engaging a wider audience in big-picture thinking. By having managers engage their employees in conversations about what is working well, what needs improving, and where the organisation should be heading, employees are encouraged to be more collaborative.
Employees will exchange ideas and viewpoints, learn more about what is happening company-wide, and gain a greater understanding of their role and value to the organisation. As they learn more about the organisation’s strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities, they will do likewise about their own.
By then pulling together all that has been learned from the employees, leadership can create a collective vision with which employees can more easily engage because it is their vision. The result is greater motivation to drive toward the defined future state.
Meaningful conversations: the secret to employee engagement in the workplace
As employees work increasingly autonomously and across functions, we are witnessing a shift in how they are managed. Your best employees are likely to have several managers, each addressing a specific element of an employee’s needs.
To reap the highest rewards from your employees, managers must become more like leaders. Instead of controlling tasks, they guide performance and engagement. They have meaningful conversations to learn about their employees, discover personal motivations, and provide mentorship and coaching opportunities to develop strengths and improve on weaknesses.
Meaningful conversations should help your leaders have a clearer understanding of their people. When you include your employees’ input into your organisation’s vision, employee engagement in the workplace becomes easier. Instead of feeling apart from your organisation, your employees will feel a part of it as they identify with the work they do and the future they are helping to create.
To discover how our Learning Map System could help you to improve your employee engagement strategy by encouraging, initiating and empowering meaningful conversations, get in touch with BigPicture Learning today.
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