Employee Engagement and Openness

June 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

Openness and respect are key elements of an engaging environment.  I want leaders and decision
makers to answer this question:  “Which comes first, openness or performance?”  I personally want my leaders to see openness as a root cause of performance and
therefore it must come first.  A demanding leader who insists on immediate high performance may not care about
anything else especially openness.  That leader views openness as a nice thing to have but not really relevant for immediate results.

Which do you think comes first, openness or performance?  Asking which comes first is a bit of a trick question because it really depends upon the context.  If there is a fire in a building the
Firefighters are less concerned about civility and openness and more concerned about saving lives by putting out the fire.  Leaders who are frequently “putting out fires”
will more likely say that performance is more important than openness.

We need to make workplaces less dramatic and more predictable for openness to be considered important.
The more predictable the workplace the more openness is needed for continuous improvement.  Organizations
that continually focus on putting out fires won’t be able to compete with a competitor who is able to reduce drama and use openness and continuous improvement.

Openness takes time to develop.  It requires commitment.   Relationships are much more important in a healthy dynamic environment.   There is a paradox here.   We want to reduce drama in organizations and yet to accelerate improvement we need some tension and disequilibrium.  There is a delicate balance between calmness and disequilibrium.  Change and
improvement cannot occur in complete calm and yet too much tension or too much drama is a barrier to openness and engagement.   Employee engagement occurs in this middle
ground between drama and disequilibrium.

How much drama is needed for disequilibrium?   It depends.   Disequilibrium is created by employees who want continuous improvement.  This is probably the right amount of
drama.  However, drama created by unpredictable processes causes a lack of openness and broken trust.

One of my clients conducts public marketing meetings to attract new customers.   The marketing team makes a presentation and conducts tours of the facility with prospects.   Dining services provides the food for the events.   When the marketing department makes too many changes to the schedule it causes drama for the dining
management and staff.   The excess drama actually creates a lack of openness between the dining and marketing.  The broken trust from the excess drama causes
anger and resentment between the two departments.  In order to have openness there has to be just enough drama to create pressure for improvement and just enough trust and predictability to
heighten awareness and focus.

In summary, openness and engagement are interdependent.  Openness and performance move together as in a dance.  Sometimes we have to put
performance in front of openness and sometimes openness is more important.   Openness has to be a characteristic of any successful organization that wants to enjoy long-term performance.  Openness is necessary for building trust and trust correlates to performance improvement.  Higher levels of trust lead to higher levels
of employee engagement.


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