Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

How Leaders Are Creating Engagement In Today’s Workplaces

If there’s one topic that continues to persist in the minds and radars of most leaders today, it’s the issue of employee engagement. Specifically, how do we go about fostering an engaged workforce when we have fewer resources, more competition, and need to accomplish more in less time.

This was the focus of HCI’s 2012 Employee Engagement Conference where business leaders from NIKE, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Oracle, Hulu, Boeing, and many other Fortune 500 companies shared their organizations’ experiences and the lessons they’ve learned on how to engage and empower their employees despite the growing challenges and complexities found in today’s global market.

After attending several of the conference’s presentations last week, I’d like to highlight some of the lessons shared by these leaders in the hopes that – like for those in attendance – it inspires you to consider what measures you’re taking to help engage and empower your employees to succeed.

Lesson 1: “When your employees stop complaining, they’ve stopped caring.”
– Christopher Kurtz, Director of Employer Branding, Glassdoor

When it comes to dealing with complaints, most of us are more than happy to avoid them. After all, who wants to listen to someone else’s negative comments or perceptions about a given situation, especially if there’s little that can be done about it?

While your employees might have the luxury of turning a deaf ear to negative thoughts or commentary from their colleagues, as a leader it’s important that you make efforts to listen to what your employees have to say – both good and bad – and evaluate what’s behind these comments.

Critical to this point is understanding that it’s not that you need to address or solve every problem or concern your employees have. Rather, it’s that you demonstrate a level of care and concern about the problems your employees face by making sure they feel heard and understood.

The alternative as Kurtz points out is creating a culture where your employees no longer care about your organization beyond their ability to collect a paycheck.

Lesson 2: “Be comfortable with discomfort and anxiety. It’s okay to miss the mark sometimes.”
– Darcy Antonellis, President of Technical Operations at Warner Bros. Entertainment

Today, most organizations are committed to becoming more innovative, recognizing that the ability to adapt and change is critical to not only remaining competitive but to revealing potential markets and opportunities.

However, most organizations are becoming increasing risk-adverse, which in turn creates an atmosphere where employees are reluctant to propose new ideas or solutions because failure and mistakes are less welcomed, let alone tolerated.

If your organization is to improve, grow, and discover new possibilities, leaders need to create an environment where mistakes and failures are not only supported, but are viewed as learning experiences that can help employees to gain a better understanding of how to move forward.

As John Foster, Head of Talent and Organization at Hulu, astutely pointed out ‘innovation is about embracing risk while at the same time serving people’.

Lesson 3: “Great leaders leave no potential on the table.”
– Lori Emerick, Global Director, Management and Leadership Development at NIKE, Inc.

One of the reasons why employee engagement and talent retention are becoming such hot topics in leadership and management circles is because of the growing challenge of how to ensure your organization is tapping into the full potential of your workforce.

Unfortunately, as Mark Royal, Senior Principal with Hay Group Insight, revealed at the conference, 30% of employees feel they lack authority to do their job effectively.

While it’s easy to get people to do what they’re asked, the real challenge leaders face is figuring out how do you empower and enable them to do their best work.

The first step is to make sure you hire people who are ready to take care of themselves; people who understand their sense of purpose and what will help them achieve it. Of course, what leaders need to do next is then empower those on their team to give their best work; to trust them to do what’s necessary and give them opportunities to learn, grow and thrive.

Again to share another great quote from John Foster, Head of Talent and Organization at Hulu – “The key to highly engaged employees is helping them be self directing and self correcting.”

Lesson 4: “People want to know they matter and they wanted to be treated as people. That’s the new talent contract”
– Pamela Stroko, Talent Management Expert & Evangelist, Oracle Corporation

Surveys are repeatedly showing that all employees – not just Millenials, but all workforce generations – want greater connection with those in charge. Connections where they can not only get feedback about their performance, of how well they are doing, but conversations through which they can see that what they do matters and that those they work for care about their ability to succeed.

In other words, your employees want the opportunity to grow, to learn, and to make a difference. It’s these moments of connection, of conversing with those you lead, which help to engender a sense of meaning and purpose within your team.

It’s becoming clearer with each passing moment that the idea that “it’s not personal, it’s just business” is a notion from a past time. A time when organizations depended on specialized machinery to create their unique value proposition.

In today’s knowledge economy, the new reality is that all organizations are now in the people business and as such, business is personal. How well you communicate and embrace that reality with those you lead will have a critical impact, both for your organization’s current prospects as well as for its future.

In the end, what all the leaders who were invited to speak at last week’s HCI conference agreed on is that most organizations are still making the mistake of assuming that smart people will naturally make great leaders, not realizing that our technical proficiencies don’t necessarily translate into our ability to inspire, rally, and empower those under our care to fulfill our collective objectives.

We need to recognize that a fundamental function of leadership is not only what and how we communicate, but also how we show up in those moments, and what we’re willing to contribute of ourselves and to others.

Lisa Bisaccia, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer for CVS Caremark, summed up this message best when she said “engaging our colleagues is not a nice-to-do exercise. It’s a requirement.”

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  1. On September 18th, 2012 at 1:05 PM @DPBrockway said:

    My favorite suggestion is #4 “People want to know they matter and they want to be treated as people”.

    I have never really understood how businesses thought they could get succeed by treating their people like cogs. Relationships are key and closely reflect a company’s culture.

    Thanks for the post Tanveer. Let’s hope that the burgeoning research on ‘treating people as if they mattered’ will continue to transform the workplace.

  2. On September 18th, 2012 at 6:41 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Doug; I'm glad you enjoyed it and I do think there's an inevitability for organizations to become more 'human' in how they operate as throughput levels plateau and engaged workplaces become the predominant factor separating thriving organizations from treading water ones.

  3. On September 18th, 2012 at 1:32 PM David Zinger said:

    Thanks for the 4 lessons. I put this up on the Employee Engagement Network facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/employeeengagementnetwork

  4. On September 18th, 2012 at 6:41 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi David,

    Great to see you here; thanks for sharing my latest piece on your Facebook page. Appreciate it.

  5. On September 18th, 2012 at 2:08 PM Pooja said:

    Very nice post. Companies should learn something from this.

  6. On September 20th, 2012 at 10:08 AM Al Smith said:

    Excellent. Could not agree more. Great stuff, my friend.

    Would have loved to been at the conference. I know you CARE, Tanveer

    Thanks again.


  7. On September 20th, 2012 at 1:20 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Al; I appreciate the kind words and sentiment.

  8. On September 20th, 2012 at 1:04 PM Devan said:

    The topic of employee engagement is really becoming a concern, especially for small business. The BLS has recently published reports showing that the labor market is tightening up, and because of it, talent is becoming harder to find. It's important for businesses to hold on to their best people, otherwise they'll go somewhere else. Brad Farris wrote some great thoughts on it last week. I think you'd share a lot of the same thoughts: .

    Great post, Tanveer – Especially loved the quote from Chris Kurtz from Glassdoor.

  9. On September 21st, 2012 at 12:07 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Devan; I'm glad you enjoyed this piece and appreciate your sharing your thoughts on this subject.

  10. On October 3rd, 2012 at 7:12 AM Martin Ward said:

    Employee/ colleague engagement achieved here by simple steps – open plan office – encourage free discussion (within the bounds of normal politeness) flat(tish) hierarachy with more emphasis on role and responsibility than vertical separation. Works for us.

  11. On October 12th, 2012 at 11:04 AM Vijay Reddy said:

    Hello Tanveer,

    Love this post. A familiar post for me. I have worked in the corporate sector and know how leaders are and how they lead by example. I have seen many of my bosses engaging employees seriously in order to understand what they expect from them. Genuine quality of a true leader.


  12. On October 21st, 2012 at 7:37 AM Jim Matorin said:

    Solid post. I like the part about it is okay to miss the mark, but in the process there probably some minor victories that need to be discussed/celebrated.

    FYI: Working wiht a client right now that we are going to launch an internal social media platform like FB to enhance engagement.

  13. On October 24th, 2012 at 1:50 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Jim. It's not often that we hear leaders openly encouraging others that we need to be more honest about the fact that we can't always hit our targets and consequently, providing an environment where our employees can learn from that situation.

    As uncertainties continue to persist over when the global economy might finally settle on the upswing, it's becoming more clear that we need to shift our focus away from trying to simply manage the present and towards building our future.

    You'll have to let me know, Jim, how your project turns out in terms of increasing engagement in your client's organization.

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