The stats are in. Survey after survey says people want connection—to other people, to their boss, to a purpose. They want to feel like they belong. They want to know they make a difference. They want coaching and clear communication. And the list goes on. In a nutshell, the message is simple: It’s about engagement. People want to be engaged.
But, on the flip side, according to Training magazine’s 2021 Annual Leadership Development Survey, executives aren’t convinced that the work being done in leadership development, on the very skills that should address employee engagement, is actually impacting business outcomes.
Which begs the tough question: “Are businesses seeing a return on the investment in leadership development through improved operational results, organizational productivity, better customer service, or higher shareholder value?”
The answer? Oftentimes, not. For all the classroom training in the world (and money invested in it), more often than not, skills aren’t developed, and improved results aren’t achieved. That’s not good news.
So, what then is the missing ingredient that prevents leaders from achieving results? What’s holding our organizations back in getting the best outcomes from their leadership training?
If you want to be a great leader, you must first learn how to manage to engage.
Engagement is what links people, productivity, and profitability together. It’s a leadership skill, capability leaders must develop. It needs to be built into the behavioral models of management and, most critically, applied each and every day as leaders perform their jobs.
Importantly, while human resources (HR) and learning and development (L&D) departments must support engagement, engagement is an operational business issue that leaders at every level must address. And it can be observed, trained, and measured.
Five pragmatic solutions
Our evidence-based behavioral research from 50,000 transformation projects and coaching 1 million leaders reveals five solutions you can apply today. These proven strategies are found in workplaces where results and engagement go hand in hand.
- Leaders go #HeadsUp and get in the game. Great leaders are active. They understand that the most engaged and productive workplaces have active managers engaging with their teams and within the business. Managers lift their heads out of their devices and reports, prioritizing human connection over internet connections.
Their leadership development programs reflect this fact. They define what a great leader looks like: How do leaders spend their time? What behaviors do they display? What capabilities do they develop?
- Leaders routinely check in with their team members. One question frontline supervisors often struggle with is: “How often should I connect with my people?” They don’t want to be perceived as micromanagers. But the data on this is clear: When frontline leaders routinely check-in (not up) with their teams, employees see the benefits by way of well-being, operational support, and engagement. They also achieve results, have fewer accidents, and make better decisions.
So how often should you check in with your people? Try answering another question first: “How long can you afford to go before you know something is wrong?” In a fast-moving or high-value work environment, you likely want to check in more often than in a slow-moving one. I recommend a technique called 1.5.30 as a starting point:
Check-in once a day (1). Have a brief chat to see how things are progressing and how your people feel. Spend 5 to 15 minutes with each team member, tops.
Check-in once a week (5). Have a longer chat to see how the week is going. Are your people on track? What help do they need? Look for coachable moments or conversations on how to close the gap between planned and actual outcomes.
Check-in once a month (30). This is when you talk about development, careers, and how people feel about their jobs. Are they progressing in the right direction? It’s also a great time to coach, offer guidance, and give longer-view direction.
- There’s a demonstrated bias for action across the business. Great leaders turn vision into verbs. Purpose into plans. Aspiration into action. Strategy into schedules. We all know you can have the best vision, purpose, aspiration, and strategy in the world, but if they aren’t implemented, they mean nothing. Action precedes results and improves engagement.
- There’s an app for that, and it’s not a technology. Leadership development programs can sometimes forget to build “application in the workplace” into the program. Great L&D teams design their programs for the real world. They practice TACCS, a simple, cyclical approach to learning: Train. Apply. Coach. Correct. Sustain. Think of it like a thumbtack. When you press those thumb TACCS into a process, it stays in place.
- People’s solutions are pragmatic solutions. Concepts, capabilities, and competencies are all necessary, but when it comes to moving the dial on business outcomes and results, you need new ways of working that are practical, easily understood, and easily applied at work. Concepts like 1.5.30 are easy to explain and can be used with little confusion; you know what it looks like, and you can feel the effects in the workplace.
We’ve all been through a tsunami of change. Yet, despite our newly reimagined businesses, we’re engaging people in the same old ways, and everything from employee retention to business results is suffering. How we manage to engage could be the greatest back-to-basics, natural solution of the 21st century. How we enable that to happen through leadership development is vital.