Loosen the Reins

If you want people to be engaged, you need to send that message with signals such as letting them make more decisions on their own.

By Jeff Kortes, President, Human Asset Management LLC

I was having coffee with a friend who mentioned that while he was in a staff meeting, he requested they be allowed to access the building at least 15 minutes prior to the start of their shift so they could be ready to work at starting time. His question was met with an icy, “We’ll see,” response. Currently, employees can get in the building only five minutes before work. So an employee arrives early to avoid getting stuck in traffic or to account for other potential delays, and the company has him or her sit in the car and wait to work!

Now I am not the brightest guy in the world, but I believe it is in the best interest of the employer to let people in early so they are ready to work at starting time. The messages my friend’s employer is sending them are:

  1. They don’t trust them to be in the building alone.
  2. They don’t care if they inconvenience them.
  3. The employer is simply inflexible.

Worse yet is that employees are reminded of it every day as they wait in the parking lot. Ironically, as we talk about getting people more “engaged,” we also seem to be caught up in a paranoia that we have to have greater control for fear that if we don’t, something “can happen.” I am just the opposite: If you want people to be engaged, make decisions on their own, and take hold of their jobs, you need to send that message with signals such as letting people come in early, not looking over their shoulder, and allowing them to make more decisions on their own.

If you want to get your people “engaged,” the last thing you should do is send the message you don’t want them at work early or you don’t trust them to behave when they are there early. I am the opposite—come in early! For that matter, everyone come in early so you can have your coffee prior to starting work, chat with your coworkers, and are ready to crank at your starting time. Create an environment that is different and attractive where people enjoy coming in because the atmosphere is such that they are viewed as trusted, valued employees. Hey, what the heck…I would even buy the coffee if that’s what it would take to get my people to come in early!

Organizations have to realize that they send subtle messages with their actions. Trust is something that is difficult to build and is done over a period of time. Actions like this serve to tear that trust down. It also sends the message that you really don’t care that the employee is inconvenienced by having to wait in the parking lot. Beyond increasing engagement, caring is also critical as you attempt to retain your best people. Lastly, your credibility is at stake with every action you take. In this case, management comes off as having a lack of creativity to solve a minor problem such as letting people in early. There must be some way to balance concerns about security and employee convenience. We constantly talk about having a more personalized workplace but then take actions that depersonalize people and hurt employee engagement.

Management has greater problems to worry about in this highly competitive world. Whether or not we allow employees into the building a few minutes early is definitely not one of them.

Jeff Kortes is the president of Human Asset Management LLC, a Human Resource consulting firm specializing in executive search, retention, and leadership training. He also is the author of “No Nonsense Retention…Painless Strategies to Retain Your Best People.” For more information, call 414.421.9626 or visit http://www.jeffkortes.com.

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training Top 100 and Emerging Training Leaders.