Much is written about employee engagement. We survey employees looking for the keys to their happiness at work and hoping to find ways to motivate, retain, and “engage” them. In a recent talk, I was asked why our team members are so enthusiastic and seem to truly enjoy what they do. Strangely enough, I had never really thought about it. After all, our companies are relatively small and we don’t spend time “engaging” employees. Our culture is completely organic – a true reflection of the individuals and their unique qualities. However, looking at it more closely, perhaps there are some useful nuggets.
First of all, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Happiness at work is built upon the same foundations as happiness anywhere else. I’m not talking cursory, feel-good happiness, though feeling good is a part of it. We used to call it employee satisfaction but someone decided that satisfaction wasn’t enough; we need to engage people. Ok, I get it. What is engagement? It is not entertainment, or perks, or free reign. To be engaged is to be usefully deployed. It is showing up and using your capabilities to get something done. Engagement is having a purpose in a broader scheme and playing your part meaningfully.
Considering engagement, the concept doesn’t quite equate to “I’m going to crush it!” Motivation and enthusiasm are different levels of engagement. Now we’re approaching the joyful. When the work we do, and the environment in which we do it, allows us to move to motivation and enthusiasm, we are moving towards happiness of a different sort. I’m not suggesting that everyone is running around all day in a state of bliss – work is, after all, work. However, when we have the opportunity to deploy our talents fully, work with people we appreciate and trust, and find meaning in the broader direction of our activities, we are engaged at another level.
What can we do to intentionally create a more “I’m going to Crush It” kind of culture? Here some thoughts:
- Involvement equals commitment. When people feel a part of things, especially things outside of their immediate set of responsibilities, they tend to buy-in more deeply. For our part, we work to involve everyone in the broader objectives of the companies. Helping each person understand how they fit and the difference they make is key to ensuring their sense of involvement.
- Tell the great story. Where are we going? How will we get there? What’s in it for me? Articulating your organizational “why” is critical. It doesn’t have to be an earth shattering, put-a-dent-in-the-universe kind of “why.” Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Having a sense of direction, a sense of fit, and s sense of progress brings everyone together in more profound ways.
- Celebrate the wins. Momentum is an incredibly powerful force. Small successes are cumulative and a collection of them creates a sense of progress. Share the small, and the big, wins. Show everyone that they are on a winning team.
- Be human. I’ve written of the dangers of transparency and the need for a leader to be the stabilizing force in the midst of challenges. The strong leader must also be human. What are human traits? Humor. Fear. Doubt. High energy. Low energy. Compassion. Empathy. Accountability. Forgiveness. Anticipate everyone on your team being human and know that you are as well. Then, embrace the humanity.
- Be honest. Honesty is telling the truth. Honesty is not bearing your soul, burdening people unnecessarily, or being brutal. Honesty is not lying. Be straight with your team but make it relevant. People often hide cruelty behind the facade of honesty. “I’m just being honest” is a poor excuse for crushing someone. Being honest is about willing the good of the other and people can sense it. People will respect your honesty about the challenges and revel in your honesty about the opportunities. Share them both.
- Hire for fit. Every person you hire impacts your culture. Hire people that fit with the people you have. Fit is not about being the same – different personalities often fit together nicely. Fit is about shared values, shared priorities, and shared trust. Many will adopt the culture as they come into it. Some will disrupt from the start. We love quirky people with personality and it gets easier to identify them as time goes on. It is not enough to simply be able to do the work; how your team gels will likely be the biggest factor in creating an “I’m going to crush it!” culture.
- Let them own it. Responsibility is a powerful motivator. What can your team own? Quality. Compliance. Customer satisfaction. Culture. Work areas. Events. T-shirt days. Relationships. Success. What can you push to your team? Let them step up. Let them own it.
- Create opportunities to grow. We all want to grow. Having the opportunity to develop skills, learn something new, and broaden our horizons gives us a sense of personal progress. Small organizations are often guilty of not seeing opportunities for growth because we don’t see upward mobility from a management perspective. Most people like the work they are doing and simply need ways to expand themselves in the process. One of the most profound ways to help someone grow is by challenging, and then enabling, them to improve things around them: processes, workflows, systems, etc. Providing training that enables someone to improve herself while improving the company is a huge win/win.
- Listen. What would you do? is a very powerful question. Giving people the opportunity to be heard is a powerful motivator and serves to bring fresh ideas onto the scene. We all grow when we take a minute to listen.
Looking at the list, it all seems simple enough. So why isn’t everyone living in an “I’m going to crush it!” environment? We forget. We get distracted. We don’t feel like it. The difference is in the small things and doing them consistently. It has to be a way of life rather than a project. How you greet people. How you treat people. How you act and react throughout the day. The collection of little things sets the foundation for your culture.
Considering our environment and the personalities within, I’m convinced that it is much less about me and much more about each individual and her/his unique contribution to our culture. I smile as I consider how they will “crush it” today.