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10 Tips for Creating Engagement

By Katherine Craig

Family Services EAP, Solutions Newsletter, August 2011

"You don't lead by hitting people over the head - that's assault, not leadership."
-Dwight D. Eisenhower

We've all experienced one (or more) in our career: the 'team leader' who rules with a tyranny of thinly veiled threats in the face of unattainable targets while providing little, if any, support. Thatís the extreme of poor leadership. No doubt you've also been subjected to mediocre management: it's good, but not great; competent, but not inspiring. There is tremendous power in an engaged workforce, and unleashing that power is simpler than you might think. Here are 10 tips you can put into place today that will reap rewards for you and your team well into the future.

1. Talk face-to-face whenever possible.
Emails are an excellent form of communication when youíre conveying facts and figures, but nothing replaces personal contact when you're trying to communicate appreciation, respect, or guidance. Face-to-face contact gives you and your audience the benefit of reading emotions, body language, tone of voice, and tells your team members you place personal value on their presence in the office.

2. Ask for opinions...and then ACT on them!
The members of your team have legitimate insights and ideas. Asking them to share these ideas is an important first step, but it's imperative that you find a way to explore and develop them, as well. This doesnít mean taking the entire suggestion at face value: mutually you can work through the idea, investigate potential weaknesses and strengths, refine, and then implement it in some form. "Coaching through" the idea helps your team members learn about the process and can result in some innovative opportunities. More on that in a minute, though.

3. Make sure they have "skin in the game".
Bystanders, by definition, are passive players in any scene and will not be engaged in the process. Your team members must have an active, hands-on role if they're going to invest in the goals you're setting. This relates back to Tip 2: once youíve established a practical application for a new idea, or the first phase of one, delegate the tasks involved in implementing it.

4. Recognize success...large and small.
A solid recognition program is the silver bullet of staff apathy, and the gestures don't have to be broad and sweeping to have a significant impact. A handwritten note of congratulations, a coffee card, flower delivery - small, personal tokens of appreciation for individual effort and achievement will set up your team for greater success in the bigger picture. Avoid the temptation to send an email. Remember our first tip: personal contact is king.

5. Provide direction.
You've heard the saying, "There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them." Don't let yourself fall behind. Be the leader the team needs, and remember that you're not paid to be a friend. It's your job to provide vision and strategy, to set targets and goals, and then to point your team in the right direction. If you don't, who will?

6. Provide the knowledge they need.
Don't throw your staff in the boat without a paddle. Not only will they struggle for success, they will question your lack of foresight and your abilities as a leader. Make sure your team has the knowledge to complete the task at hand. Consider writing "learning contracts" that set out the specific skill sets required and how you're going to ensure your team gets them. Acknowledging the challenges posed by new projects will foster confidence and commitment, giving staff the assurance that they have your support and understanding.

7. Encourage innovation.
Innovative people are engaged people. Allowing your staff the freedom to explore uncharted territory gives them a great opportunity to stretch their creative muscles and potentially push your team beyond conventional limits. Remember that new ideas don't have to be embraced wholesale or unquestioned: the process of exploring a new concept has value in itself, and if the product of that exercise elevates team performance, even better.

8. Have a structured support plan.
Whether it's recognition (Tip 4), regular performance reviews, coaching or education sessions, be sure to have a formal framework in place so your systems don't fall through the cracks. Schedules are tight - having a predictable system in place allows your team members to plan ahead and budget their time accordingly.

9. Ensure the resources are in place.
We talked earlier about making sure your team has a paddle; be sure the boat is sound, too. You've got the training in hand, now evaluate the tools, materials, facilities and money your staff has to work with and be sure they've got what they need to get the job done. Get creative with your budget and encourage your team to suggest solutions, as well.

10. Connect their personal values to the tasks at hand.
You probably have a corporate Mission, Vision & Values statement, and no doubt your team respects and appreciates the meaning behind it. But each member has an internal set of values that warrants respect, as well. Try to identify the personal principles of your team members and then strive to cultivate an atmosphere where those principles are recognized and valued. You'll get a well-rounded team of engaged and motivated individuals working towards your common goals.

I've said before that good leadership is a deliberate endeavour that requires effort and creativity, and this is no more evident than in your efforts to engage your staff. However, if you keep these ten basic tips in mind, you'll find that you're rewarded with a truly motivated team. Giving your staff "skin in the game", encouraging innovation, coaching them through their ideas, and supporting them with solid and consistent education and recognition will elevate them - and your company - to surprising levels.