The Core Reason Leadership Approaches to Employee Engagement Fail

in Management by Emily Snell

The Core Reason Leadership Approaches to Employee Engagement Fail

The Core Reason Leadership Approaches to Employee Engagement Fail

Leaders want to engage employees of all levels to commit, give their all, be reliable, and perform well. Entrepreneurs, solo business owners, HR leaders, department directors, line managers, and team leaders all face the same employee engagement challenges and can fall into the same trap. The core reason employee engagement efforts fail:

Focusing on measurement and documentation vs. inspiration and engagement!

The Case Study

An entrepreneur business owner of a large office-cleaning company and his HR Director wanted to reduce absenteeism among their employees who cleaned customers’ office buildings. Last minute sick-outs and absenteeism created a significant business challenge. These were hourly paid employees and many came from difficult home lives.

The HR director outlined a traditional approach of awarding points for people who showed up, and points lost for absenteeism. She then wanted the line managers and team leaders to keep track of the points, document them and then address poor performance.

The line managers and team leaders resisted. They believed performance was important yet they didn’t want to be the constant bearers of bad news. They explained to the HR director and the business owner that the point system did not incent people to show up, and didn’t lower absenteeism.

The Classic Mistake

The approach was failing miserably because it wasn’t about employee engagement. It was primarily about documenting employee performance. The HR director believed it was employee engagement because it included reward points.

Yet it didn’t touch what the employees cared about beyond the paycheck:

  • Being valued and knowing they matter and make a difference
  • Being respected and honored even though they are doing a lower level job
  • Being tapped for ideas on how to make things better
  • Being trusted because of their contribution and hard work

My Discussion with the HR Director

When the entrepreneur business owner and the HR Director called me to talk about it, I was surprised at the HR Director’s resistance to trying an inspirational approach. As I started to outline an alternative she interrupted and said, “Documentation and measurement are important!”  The business owner pointed out that I wasn’t disagreeing with that and encouraged her to listen. He underscored that he had read of inspirational approaches working.

Unfortunately she couldn’t shift gears. She continued to focus on the HR obligation to document performance and overlooked the essentials of employee engagement.

The Employee Engagement Lesson

Engage through inspiration, respect, listening, learning, and empowerment.

Then measure the results.

The push in companies to measure, measure, measure, clouds leaders’ and managers’ views of employee engagement. The measurement focus is backward.

Engage first, measure second. Otherwise what are you measuring?

Employee Engagement Essentials

  1. Employee engagement is about human connection. Showing respect is the first step. It’s even more important for employees at lower job levels because they don’t inherently feel respect through their titles or jobs.
  2. Everybody wants to know they matter and that you care. When leaders and managers stay at a distance by using a measurement approach to engage employees, it fails because it’s not personal. Employee engagement is uniquely personal.
  3. Get to know your employees. Amiable personality types will thrive with mega appreciation. It doesn’t stifle their growth; instead, growth is fueled. Drivers benefit from seeing the high bar and being praised when they reach it. If you always move it just before they reach it, they disrespect your ways as fickle. Expressives value all your expressions of appreciation and recognition. Analytics want to know why the bar is set at that point and appreciate your recognition of their analytic ability.
  4. Get to know why your employees work. Ask them: What do you get out of work?  What would you like to get out of work? What inspires you in everyday life? How much does work currently inspire you? Beyond the paycheck, why do you work?  Growth? Self-fulfillment? Helping others? Living a purpose? Creating and innovating? Your interest and questions increase your engagement currency. Listen very carefully to their answers. It is a map to engaging them. It is a guide to facilitating teamwork. It tells you what type of recognition and appreciation they want. It even shows you how to help them resolve conflicts and stay productive.
  5. Show appreciation to create a growth culture fueled by high morale. Appreciation, correction and coaching keep the employee engagement momentum going. It tells them your commitment to them individually, to the team, and to the organization’s goals is the real thing. It builds their respect for you, and their trust in you.
  6. Recognize growth as well as performance achievement. Lessons learned and quickly applied for tangible success are worthy of high praise. Some leaders focus mostly on the mistakes. Successful ones focus on lessons learned and reapplied. Don’t assume hourly employees doing lower level labor jobs don’t grow and achieve.
  7. Applaud talents that sustain the business. One of the biggest employee engagement mistakes leaders make is taking employees’ work for granted because it is always there. Let employees know how important they are to the business. Inspire a team spirit. Feature them on the website and build their commitment to excellence.

There are so many ways to inspire and engage employees IF you believe it is worth the time and effort. When leaders push that aside and focus only on measurement and documentation, they fail at employee engagement.

About the Author

Emily Snell

Emily is a contributing marketing author at where she regularly consults on content strategy and overall topic focus. Emily has spent the last 12 years helping hyper growth startups and well-known brands create content that positions products and services as the solution to a customer's problem.

Full Biography

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