Leaders: Develop this Vital Skill to Boost Engagement

“Trust is the highest form of human motivation. It brings out the very best in people.” STEPHEN R. COVEY

The Business Problem

The financial impact of 41 out of each 50 employees not contributing to the success of the organization is simply staggering. 

American businesses are in an employee morale and engagement crisis.

According to Gallup, 67% of American workers are either disengaged or actively disengaged.

Active disengagement means their actions are working against success. Disengaged employees are those who are not doing anything to help or hurt.

67%. That is a great deal of under-utilized business expense.

16% – actively disengaged – they are busy bringing you down – right now.  That means 8 out of every 50 employees are working against the business.

34 of the remaining 50 employees, while not doing harm, are doing nothing to help achieve success, they are the disengaged.

The High Price of Low Engagement

Businesses with highly engaged employees benefit by:

21% higher profitability

26% more revenue per employee

10-15% higher profit growth

41% fewer quality defects

37% lower absenteeism rates

87% less likely to quit

40% fewer safety incidents

How Do You Start the Shift? 

How do you, as the owner, the middle manager, the CEO, the VP of Operations, the Executive Director, create an increase in the level of employee engagement?

Start with Trust.

Trust is a critical element in building both employee morale and engagement levels.

Trust is necessary for leadership. When I speak of leadership, it is leadership as a lifestyle, leadership as a verb; not simply having a title. Many leaders do not have titles, but live leadership.

Effective leadership creates the space where morale and engagement grows. According to a Gallup survey of over 1 million workers, employees leave their managers, not the company.

Trust is crucial to all relationships. Parents and children, romantic partners, spouses, first responders, and sports teams to name just a few. Your workplace is no different. Lack of trust in the workplace contributes to poorly performing organizations. In some cases, it adds fuel to the fire of the decline.

Trust takes time to build.

Start by being gentle with yourself rather than judgmental. None of us are perfect. None of us have traveled the same path since birth. We all have our own story. We can all do better with trusting others. Trust is like a muscle, using it makes it stronger.

Start where you are. A dear friend of mine is in the habit of saying “up until now” denoting the future is not yet determined. Today is just a starting point. With a little effort, your trust muscle will grow quickly.

Developing Your Trust in Your Employees

Pick out a few key people who directly report to you. Make a list for each person. In that list, write all the things you believe they are good at in the workplace. Keep the list handy and over the next week or so, add to it as you remember other things.

Now, look at the list for the first person. What tasks are you holding on to that they are actually capable of handling? Reflect on why you are holding on to it rather than delegating it. This is an area of personal growth opportunity for you. Ask yourself what would happen if you delegated that task to them.

Repeat this for each of the people on your list.

Now, here comes the hard part. Pick one item for each of the people you made lists for and, gulp, delegate it to that person.  Start with tasks that are smaller or that have small risks and build up over time.

Take a breath and relax. You will not be divorced from the task, but will be acting as a mentor and advisor for the task. 

Take a moment to document what success looks like for the task. What the deadline is. How frequently you two need to meet for status updates. Create that basic framework that will calm your nerves as you learn to trust their skills.

Now, delegate it.

Go ahead. Meet with that first person.

Tell them you know they are the bees knees in regards to this task. Clearly line out the basics. Establish your status updates schedule and ensure they understand the deadline.

Then ask.

Ask them what they think might be the hardest part of the task. If they feel they can handle the job. What part they think might be the hardest for them. Do they need any resources or support? What do they need from you?

Send them on their way, demonstrating you have trust in their abilities to do the job.

Now. That time you would have spent doing that task yourself?

Spend it focused on leading your team.

Use that time to delegate a task to the other key people on your list. Use it for meeting with them for status updates. Use it for being available to them for assistance between status update meetings, should they reach out for it.

Do not hover. Do not helicopter. Do not micromanage. These are trust destroyers.

If you are a fierce micro-manager, enlist the help of a trusted person who, when they see you headed into micro mode, will gently remind you of your desire to develop your leadership skill of trust.

Understand your team member might make a mistake. That is OK. You did not get to where you are today without a nice string of failures in your past. Failures teach us.

Your job is to ensure status meetings are frequent enough so that you can gently guide (not take over) when you see something that might be a sizeable problem.

This is leadership. Teach them. Grow them. Set the stage so you can advance your own abilities, and your own career.

Move down your list and continue to practice delegating tasks to your key reports.

Then branch out and evaluate those who are not “key” reports but still report to you. Figure out what they are good at. Delegate tasks to them, or have them play a role in the tasks delegated to the key reports.

Building Trust in Employees Advances Your Career

The sooner you start delegating to your team, the sooner you can increase time spent on your primary job – leading and managing.

You can spend time seeing the big picture, ensuring your team’s weakest link is not weak, identifying areas where more training and resources are needed. You can focus on ensuring your team works effectively with other divisions or teams in the organization. Ensuring your budget is being spent most effectively to achieve your goals. Making sure your work is aligned with the goals of the company.

If you are not the owner/CEO/ED of the organization, you cannot progress in your career until you have developed your replacement and have groomed a solid team.

Your career success depends on those you lead.  Leadership requires trust. Flex that muscle.

If you are the owner/CEO or ED, building a team who is capable of doing the work AND developing the trust to let them do it allows you time to ensure the company is going in the direction you want to go. You can spend your time understanding the market forces, your competitors, keeping tab on new technology, new trends and ensuring the finances are where they need to be for long-term success.

Learning to trust your team to do what you hired them to do allows you to have some of the most important thing, self-care time.

You didn’t start a company or rise in the ranks to not “have a life” or to be a ghost in your own home or family.

Cut your work hours back to something akin to normal. Go do something you love. Go surprise the spouse, significant other, kids or your parents. Take an afternoon off and breathe. It will benefit you, your family, your company and those who work for you.

Building morale and engagement takes more than just trust. Trust, however, is the foundation for everything that follows. Start with flexing your trust muscle.

In future articles I will discuss other aspects of building morale and engagement and provide tools, tips and ideas to help you maximize what is probably your largest expense and greatest asset – people.

Clara is a certified Strategic Human Resource Business Partner focused on optimizing organizational success by developing leadership abilities, increasing employee engagement and energizing the culture. She provides consulting and leadership coaching to small and midsized organizations.

Connect with Clara on Linkedin.