It All Starts with Engagement

Gallup statistics have made it very well know that we have very low rates of employee engagement - and for some time too. And because engagement has been tied to motivation, productivity and organizational performance and profit, there are many engagement strategies being touted on the market. 

Many companies are shifting to employee-centric initiatives, to increase the happiness or satisfaction of the employee. Some offer a work-life balance style, including flexible hours, remote working options, options in benefits, and more.

Others have looked at creating a more comfortable work environment, with open spaces, lounge chairs and even nap pods, coffee areas, ping pong or games areas, and often included in this - free snacks.  

But are these the best strategies for increasing engagement?

Engaged employees are not necessarily engaged because you have improved their working conditions. It helps to remove stress, and likely increases levels of creativity as well, but won't always increase engagement in the work they are doing or with the people they work alongside. 

Research has shown there are three basic human needs that need to be met, if we ever want to increase motivation and engagement. These are autonomy, relatedness, and competence. And what is perhaps most important, is that all three need to be met - without even one, the others will diminish. 

Autonomy is...our need to perceive that we have choices, that what we are doing is of our own volition, and that they are the source of our own actions.

Relatedness is…our need for connection to the things we do, and to feel that we are contributing to something greater than ourselves, as well as connection to others without concerns of ulterior motives, our need to care about and be cared about by others.

Competence is…our need and ongoing pursuit of increasing knowledge, to feel effective at meeting every-day challenges and opportunities, to demonstrate skill over time, and to feel a sense of growth and flourishing.

What is beneficial about this is that, as a leader, you can create environments for your team where all of these needs can be met.  You don't need to wait for some HR initiative or organizational management strategy to roll out, or gain more training to make some shifts.

I will tell you that I have worked in environments at both ends of the spectrum, when it comes to having these intrinsic needs met. By sharing I hope to validate what research has shown, and help you reflect on your own situations throughout your career and the reasons you may or may not have felt engaged with your role. 

The Best

At the top end, I worked in a synergistic team, where we all worked very collaboratively when it came to strategizing our project plans and making decisions. We interacted at a personal and professional level, and exchanged ideas and feedback in a very open and trusting manner.

Although our team had a formal reporting structure, this didn't stop anyone from fully engaging and challenging each others thoughts, nor from correcting each others' mistakes or offering alternate suggestions. 

Our work was very satisfying, we got a lot done, with each of us finding flow on our individual contributions, and with those pieces coming together - because we had worked the overall strategy together.

We never faced work stoppages or delays because something was missed - we stopped only when there were differences of opinion - and this was to hash out and agree upon the best path forward, so we could carry on with the work.

Funny thing, when people ask me about what my role was within that team, my default response is to start with "we" - because it was, in fact, a "we" environment. 

In actuality, my role shifted from junior to senior to leader over the years I was with that team, with some distinct changes in formal accountability along the way. But when it comes to our work accomplished, I do actually struggle with defining responsibilities that were solely mine, and I am fine with that. We performed as a team, and we all contributed to achieving our goals. 

This was the most inspiring and engaging job I had ever had and would have it back in a heartbeat if given the chance. It is an environment I endeavour to create for any future team that I have. 

The Worst

On the flip side, I have worked with a couple different micro-managing people in my career (forgive me if I struggle to call them leaders), who never offered insight as to direction of our team, nor our roles.

One in particular distinctly kept us in our silos and had all work pass through him, and always challenged every proposed strategy or decision each of us made.

Looking back, I think he debated and argued our strategies so that he was assured the choices made were right - so that we could defend our positions - but he always took things too far. None of us had autonomy in anything we did, and he made everyone feel incompetent.

I didn't last very long in this role. As a person who is naturally collaborative, and having had very autonomous roles through most of my career, this was not an environment I could survive in. I quickly became depressed and unmotivated. I dreaded coming to work every day, and my negativity impacted every aspect of my life. 

Where in the spectrum does your team environment fall?

Companies have long been approaching motivation and engagement of employees in the wrong way. Research over the past 60 years has not only proven this, but it has also shown better ways to naturally engage and motivate people. 

Challenge your knowledge about engagement and motivation with this mini-quiz. Or, register for a free webinar on the topic of what it takes to move your teams to soaring performance. Even better still - come listen to me talk about this live! 

I've amped up my previous presentation on "The Necessary Culture of Soaring Performance" and will be engaging the audience on October 29, 2017, at the PMI Global Conference in Chicago. If you have the ability to come on out to this event, you'll not want to miss it! I introduce the topic here... 

Are you creating a space where your team can flourish, flow and grow?

Take the steps to make sure you are!



"Why Motivating People Doesn't Work...and What Does" by Susan Fowler

"Employee Engagement Insights and Advice for Global Business Leaders, State of the Global Workplace"

Photo credit: sk8geek via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

Article originally published May 25, 2017 on