We’d all like to think we are great leaders who bring out the best in our people through employee engagement. This could be seen through providing clear direction, motivation, and support. Perhaps we even see ourselves as effective role models. But is this the way your people see it?
Theory of employee engagement in action
I recall a conversation with a Team Leader in a large organisation, some years ago, who was really disturbed by the management style of their Line Manager, the solution was simple he said ‘He’s on his way up the career ladder, the powers that be love him, so I’ll just fly under the radar until he moves on’ When I asked what he meant he said ‘I’ll do what I need to do, nothing more and nothing less. If I stay in the middle of the pack I won’t stand out, that way and he’ll just leave me alone and focus on the others’
Within his organisation, this Team Leader looked like a solid performer because he and his team were meeting budgets and performance outcomes, however, his manager was NOT bringing out the best within him. In fact, he was unknowingly curtailing this individual’s leadership performance. In this environment, there was no motivation for individuals or teams to expend discretionary effort, lest they draw unwelcome attention.
Discretionary effort by it’s very nature is a choice to provide additional effort beyond that which is required.
–‘Discretionary effort is like loose change in the employees pockets. It is management’s job to get them to want to spend it all every day’Aubrey Daniels
In reality, most employees would admit that they could do better and there are very few that operate at their full potential, most just do what they need to do to ‘fly under the radar’. So how do we as leaders engage our team members in a way that has them keen to spend their performance ‘loose change’ every day?
The answer is simple, not to be confused with easy, it rests in the hands of every leader in your organisation and their ability to operate from a position of the leader as a coach rather than one of command and control. Providing your leaders with a tool kit, training them in its use and then coaching them through its effective implementation, will allow them to positively influence employee behaviours that lead to superior performance, This is achieved when the leader is able to harness each team members discretionary effort in the appropriate way and results in sustained improvement in bottom-line business outcomes.
So what is the ‘magic’ toolbox? It’s a set of tools that allow leaders to pinpoint the key behaviours that are required to impact bottom-line results and it allows them to provide appropriate feedback around their execution. In essence, it is a methodical way of providing positive reinforcement’ – the right way, at the right time, for the right behaviour such that it inspires the team member(s) to willingly spend their discretionary effort to achieve superior results on a consistent basis.
A word of caution
Most individuals have a preconceived view of what positive reinforcement looks like, so I’d like to start the conversation with what it IS NOT, in this context.
It is NOT random acts like a pat on the back or ‘keep up the good work’ comments. It’s also not annual bonuses or employee of the month awards and you don’t need a big budget to deliver it. The use of reinforcement to influence behaviour is, as I mentioned earlier. a methodical approach that anyone can learn to deliver with fabulous impact on a daily basis.
Positive reinforcement in this context, is the ability of your leaders to continue to pinpoint and reinforce the behaviours that lead to the desired performance outcomes in your organisation.