Engagement is possible, but it’s not always easy.

We speak as though a leader can engage their team by just being an effective leader, but true engagement requires people to take action. Engagement is a two-way street. 

So if leaders can’t necessarily control their people’s engagement, what can they do?

The role of leadership is to foster the environment to increase the likelihood that people engage themselves. While the difference may seem slight, it’s actually much more profound. 

Many leaders feel that they are responsible for taking care of others, but instead, their role is to support people to take better care of themselves. Whether it’s career planning or health programs and the like, there’s a big difference between doing something for someone and letting them choose it for themselves. 

When leaders operate based on the belief that they control engagement, there are missed opportunities for team members to drive their own engagement. People have an innate desire to take care of themselves, and leaders should capitalize on this aspect of human nature. 

Push vs Pull

From a Lean perspective, it’s the difference between push versus pull. Do we have programs for everyone whether or not they need them, or do we provide various types of support that are available when needed? 

So what does this look like? 

One well-known organization that we benchmarked provided career planning in a very different way. Instead of having a company-wide approach that provides each person with an annual career plan (whether they need one or not), they developed an approach to inspire people who are interested to pursue their own career goals.

They made career assessments available, provided information sessions about various career pathing, and even conducted a session on imposter syndrome to encourage people to reach higher and get past personal limiting beliefs. 

They also implemented a career week in which they made careers a bigger part of their discussions without a prescribed, one-size-fits-all approach. Team members could pick and choose what was interesting and go deeper as they saw fit. As career planning is an important element of engagement, this is a good example of how you can foster an environment in which people engage themselves.

Something for everyone

You may be wondering about people who are happy where they are…they don’t need career planning, right? Actually, every human experiences a need or desire to learn and grow. This organization understands that career planning is not limited to the next higher level position and designed their process accordingly. They found ways to make team members’ current work more interesting and enjoyable…whether it’s their very first or very last year of working.  

The following are suggestions for creating an environment that encourages team members to create their own engagement opportunities. 

1. Look to see where you can create more pull versus push. 

In the above example, the organization offers training when the person is ready to learn, and programming that is available when needed. Team members can choose when and how they participate in their learning and development plans. 

Whether it be this type of program or something else, remember that your team members have highly individualized needs and you’ll benefit from letting them take what they want when they are ready.

2. As a leadership team, spend time talking about engagement. 

When the leadership team empowers their team members to determine their level of participation, it’s clear that they are aware that everyone approaches growth and engagement differently. This leaves room for people to work through the career planning process in a way that works best for them. 

Consider spending time discussing in your leadership teams: What would you do differently if you viewed your team members as needing to take steps to meet their own needs

3. Focus on ways to better understand your employees’ individual needs and explore ways to support them immediately.

The organization provided different approaches and opportunities for all team members, whether they feel stuck and are looking to change careers or if they want to grow in their current role. 

Leadership at this organization is committed to providing opportunities for team member engagement no matter where they land on the spectrum. 

How has your organization designed things differently to better foster personal engagement? I’d love to hear from you! Contact me at cheryl@leanleadershipcenter.com

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