David’s Leadership Articles

Employee Engagement - Avoid Tremendous Leadership Mistake

Employee Engagement – Avoid This Tremendous Leadership Mistake

by | Jun 5, 2018 | By David Dye, Clarity, Communication, Relationships, Winning Well |

Employee Engagement – Play the Game, Don’t Game the Score

When you see low employee engagement scores, what is your first reaction?

I spoke with a company executive who was upset with his engagement scores. “The numbers are horrible,” he said. “Can you help us with some team-building?”

I replied, “Probably not.”

He looked at me with a combination of shock and amusement.  He wasn’t used to consultants telling him they didn’t want his money.

“Okay, tell me why not?”

It’s not that I wasn’t willing to help – of course, I would. But when morale stinks, employee engagement scores are down the drain, and your people are upset, team building isn’t the solution.

In fact, it’s a tremendous mistake that will almost always make things worse.

Start With Why

Low employee engagement scores are the symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. Leaders who are Winning Well focus on playing the game, not gaming the score. That means they don’t try to manipulate the score with team-building, pizza, or incentives – they stay focused on the critical behaviors that drive performance and results.Employee engagement - play the game don't game the score

Employee engagement is no exception. Focus on the score and you’re lost. Instead, play the game: focus on the behaviors that create the score.

When I asked the executive why his people were upset, he wasn’t sure.

As we dug deeper, we discovered that there were significant breakdowns of clarity and commitment. There were problems communicating major organizational changes, one mid-level manager who had become territorial and was needlessly frustrating other departments, and front-line leaders who were driving talent away by scaring people into performance.

Fix The Real Problem

Don’t try to motivate your way out of a mess. Fix the mess. (Tweet This)

For this executive, that meant apologizing for the communication problems, getting the right information out to everyone, listening to and addressing the concerns his people had about the new process, and taking aside the territorial manager for some one-on-one coaching and accountability. Then he invested in leadership development for his front-line leaders and we worked with the middle-level managers to reinforce the front-line leaders’ new focus on results and relationships.

Don’t use team-building in response to problems or low morale. Fix the communication problems. Improve the process issue that prevents people from doing their job.

Icing On The Employee Engagement Cake

Team-building is often loathed and panned by employees and managers alike because it can be such a waste of time – a well-intentioned, but a completely ineffectual response to a problem that takes real work to solve.

Done properly, real team-building is the icing on a good cake.  It takes a solid foundation and makes it something truly special.

Imagine trying to spread frosting on a cake that is only half-cooked. You’d a have a nasty, goopy mess that ends up in the trash. You can’t frost a half-baked cake and you can’t use motivation or team-building in place of fundamentals.

Your Turn

Leave us a comment and share: How do you make sure you’re not trying to “motivate your way out of a mess”? Or if you’ve got a particularly awful example of this mistake at work, you can share that too.

David Dye helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. He’s the President of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. He’s the award-winning authors of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and hosts the popular Leadership without Losing Your Soul podcast. David is a former executive and elected official. David and his wife and business partner, Karin Hurt, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

5 Comments

  1. Lin Galindo

    Thank you David, all the information in this article is really true, if we want to increase the engagement of our team members, we need to put more attention in the source of the issues and work to fix them; before to think about Engagement Activities.

    • Karin Hurt

      Thanks so much, Lin. So agree that it’s worth to the effort to dig into root cause.

    • David Dye

      Well said, Lin.

  2. Felicia

    Hi David,
    You bring up an issue that I am currently dealing with. It is very frustrating to employees when upper management tries to basically put a band-aid on the issue when if they just sat down and found out the root cause their organization would be 100% better. We don’t want a team building pizza party we want the real issue to be fixed! I work for a very small company and there is the president/owner of the company who is oblivious to what is going on around him because he is only there every other week (maybe) and has one main lead project manager that causes major issues throughout the company. People are constantly quitting because of his actions and how he treats people and it makes it a very tense working environment. I wish lead management and owners would just take the time to listen to employees who leave/quit and get down to the root cause.
    Thank you for the great blog post!

    • David Dye

      Felicia,
      Thanks for sharing this example. Those are definitely frustrating situations! I would invite you to collect data and put the situation in terms that are meaningful to the owner (eg: right now you’ve got a situation that is costing you 350,000 / year – would you be interested in learning more about how we can solve it together?)

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