Training & Development

Quint column: Battle back against lack of engagement

Quint Studer at the public input sessions for the future Studer Community Institute building. Credit: Barrett McClean.

Lack of engagement is a big problem everywhere.

While workplace engagement gets a lot of attention, people are disengaged at work, at school, at home, even in the community.

The latest Gallup poll says that 51 percent of the U.S. workforce is not engaged. Civic engagement is also suffering.

This is a huge problem. Engagement is fundamental to everything else. Without it, you don’t have the best solutions, you don’t build buy in and ultimately, people have no connection to the outcomes. Good, sustainable solutions to workplace and neighborhood problems require engagement.

So, what is driving this lack of engagement? There are various reasons. I find that people are stressed and overwhelmed. They were engaged, but got burned out because of lack of outcomes and now they are cynical. They don’t feel they really make a difference; there’s this sense that no matter what they say and do, nothing will change, so why bother. Finally, no one is truly trying to engage them.

When people are asked what they need to be effective, the answer is the same. It doesn’t matter if they work in a remote government office, a start-up or a large corporate giant. It doesn’t matter if they are young or old, male or female, brown, black or white.

They need and want to be happy at work and are more productive, creative and successful when they are.

So how can we promote engagement? Let’s go over some tips:

Invite people to participate. Do it personally when you can.

Admit that people have a reason to feel the way they feel. There have been some things that you couldn’t get over the finish line in the past. Honesty builds trust.

Ask for input and make it real. It should not be just a formality.

Do this early on. You don’t want to wait until you’ve started down a set path and made significant progress. Even if you get great ideas you’ll worry that it’s too expensive to change direction now.

Include the right people. If you’re working inside a community bring in large and varied groups: university presidents, small business owners, etc. In a work setting include people from any department that might be affected.

Go into these meetings with a blank slate (or as blank as possible). Better to have no preconceived ideas because egos get involved and people get territorial.

Get third parties involved. Having a moderator for panel discussion keeps things from being skewed. It promotes openness and lack of defensiveness.

Practice humility. Part of being a great leader is not getting to attached to your own ideas. No one knows everything.  Be open to change and to seeing better ways of doing things.

Harvest big ideas and – implement them. It does no good to ask for input and then do nothing with it. When this happens, people become even less engaged in the future.

Get a quick win early on. When you do things well in one place, people will engage in other areas. This is the multiplier effect of engagement. You must keep their trust and confidence that your motivations are pure. Plus, it proves to people that they really do make a difference.