I love doing employee engagement workshops with leaders because it helps them to take an honest look at the organizational culture and the vital role that they play in fostering engagement as well as the bottom line impact. But one of the most telling parts of the workshop is when I ask the leaders to provide estimates of the engagement in their own organization. After defining fully engaged, engaged, somewhat engaged and disengaged characteristics, I ask them to determine what percent of the organization falls into each of the four categories. In most cases, their estimates will show some percentage of disengaged associates. I have had organizations as low as 5% and others as high as 35%. Inevitably, the conversation starts to drift toward how the disengaged people poison the environment, that they don’t pull their weight, that they create disruption. My next question is always the zinger. “e;Who do they (these disengaged employees) work for?”e; This question is typically met by an embarrassed silence before some brave soul speaks up and says, “e;Us. They work for us.”e;
It’s always safe to talk about the data in general terms, but when push comes to shove, the disengaged are working for someone. In fact, they are probably being paid every two weeks just like their fully engaged peers. And if they are poisoning the well of the organization, they must be getting clearance from someone that it’s alright to behave the way that they do. Silence is permission. And what you permit, you promote. Holding others accountable is one of the toughest leadership skills of all. Avoidance behavior is so common and I could share a litany of excuses for avoiding unacceptable behaviors because I think I have heard them all.
Leaders who are sincere about leading a culture of excellence, one that is patient-centered and a great place to work, must be willing to take action. The first action is to get a solid commitment from all leaders that they will make every effort to help the engaged individuals stay engaged and the disengaged to either engage or find a better fit. This all starts with a strong message from senior leaders who not only communicate the message but provide managers and supervisors with concrete tools to help them with critical conversations and action plans.
Ask yourself what you might be permitting that you shouldn’t. What you permit, you promote.