Creating Employee Engagement Requires 2 Imperative Skills of Leaders

April 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

I am a member of, the online social network for business people.  In a recent online conversation in one of my Organization Development (OD) groups I was surprised to see how many OD professionals still do not agree with me about which skills are needed for the high performance workplace. 

Many OD Consultants still focus their improvement efforts on promoting tools such as 360 degree instruments and performance reviews for improving the performance of individuals.  Many OD professionals claim that leaders can and should, with just the right amount of effort and training, be able to provide a valuable evaluation of an individual’s performance if they could only skillfully collect potent and integrated data and then thoughtfully deliver it. 

In my opinion, when we focus too much on evaluating individuals we miss an opportunity to make an even bigger positive impact.  We miss improving the quality of the interactions between individuals and their system.   

The two “new” employee engagement skills

There are two imperative skills leaders need to continuously improve employee engagement.  I predict these two skills will eventually replace the “skills” of evaluating individuals.  These employee engagement skills are the ability to improve the quality of:

  1. Interpersonal interactions
  2. System interactions

Focusing on the quality of interactions reduces the probability the individuals will be defensive or fearful.  That fear (of criticism) is a barrier to open and honest communication.  Any barrier to communication will be a barrier to quality improvement and innovation.

Interpersonal interactions are those one-on-one communications we make with individuals that can have an impact on the relationship or on trust (face to face or on the telephone).  Leaders must manage their impact on trust.  They must move from “fractional interactions” which damage trust (because something is missing) to “benefaction interactions” where both parties benefit. 

The quality of interpersonal interactions often gets the most attention when 360 degree instruments and performance appraisal tools are used.  Unfortunately those tools often miss the impact made by second type of interactions i.e. system interactions. 

System interactions are those connections we make with all the processes within which we work.  These often involve hand offs of information, knowledge, paper, or data between one part of the organization to another part.  Hand offs allow us to do our work in the organization.  The quality of these interactions either helps or hinders our ability to do work for our customers. 

In my opinion the typical organization doesn’t focus enough on improving system interactions.  The poor quality of system interactions can have a hidden negative impact on the quality of an individual’s performance.  The current 360 degree instruments and performance management practices are often inadequate (or completely ignore) the factors and hidden forces.  These tools instead isolate the individual contribution and assign responsibility (or blame) to the individual by giving a rating (grade) or ranking for the outcomes.

At a recent training program I was told there would be a projector for my PowerPoint slides.  It never arrived.  I had designed my presentation around the slides.  The lack of projector impacted my performance.  If I were to receive a performance evaluation immediately after the presentation it probably would have been lower than usual and certainly lower than I would want.  The system interaction failed (no projector when one was expected) and that prevented me from achieving optimum performance. 

The competencies for improving quality interactions

Quality interpersonal interactions require certain competencies.

Instead of demanding or telling, leaders must listen, provide empathy, and coach.  Instead of being expected to know the right answers to problems leaders must instead facilitate dialogue with their teams to optimize learning.

Improving the quality system interactions requires an emphasis on certain competencies.  Instead of reacting and judging leaders can instead create a context of engagement.  They can and must clarify the vision, mission, values, and strategy of the organization (or team). This requires an ability to clarify these elements and then communicating them consistently and clearly.  Doing this allows leaders to trust employees.  Giving this trust is almost always a bit scary for certain leaders probably because they don’t possess the competencies needed to create and communicate them.

Instead of making quick decisions leaders must facilitate problem solving and encourage employees to solve their own problems.  They must encourage experimentation.  This too can be a bit scary.  Instead of pretending to know all the answers, effective leaders will understand how to synergize with employees to generate answers they could not have discovered on their own. 

Instead of being demanding of employees to achieve stretch numeric goals through “carrots and sticks” policies, leaders can facilitate new agreements with employees to create and improve processes.  This improves the probability to achieve goals.

The two skills of improving the quality of interpersonal interactions and system interactions will eventually replace the skill of evaluating individuals.  It must because evaluating individuals tends to keep fear alive.

For more informaiton check my website or my book The Art of Leading: 3 Principles for Predictable Performance Improvement


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