How to Influence and Sustain Employee Engagement

8 min read · 7 years ago


Engaged managers, supervisors, and individual contributors outperform their peers by as much as 43 percent. Often, this performance advantage is a result of the engaged performer’s discretionary effort—the extra effort, initiative, and creativity they contribute beyond the minimum needed to get by.

However, in most organizations only about 17 percent of the workforce are highly engaged. If organizations can double or triple this number, they will achieve dramatic gains in productivity, cost control, quality, customer loyalty, and even stock performance. Leaders can expand this advantage within their team and across their organization by implementing a change management strategy guaranteed to increase employee engagement. The strategy is known as the Influencer Model and is a strategic way to both motivate and enable employees to change their behavior and increase their engagement in their individual roles.

The Influencer Model

The first step to engaging employees is to identify a handful of key behaviors, or vital behaviors, that drive employee engagement. Once vital behaviors are identified, organizations should marshal a critical mass of influence strategies aimed at those few vital behaviors. Identifying these specific strategies is crucial since most failures stem from either a lack of focus or underpowered solutions.

Factors that Influence Employee Engagement

According to research conducted by Gallup, employee engagement is influenced by two dimensions:

  • Purpose: People who are highly engaged aren’t just piling rocks; they are building a cathedral. They invest their work with a sense of mission, passion, pride, and accomplishment. They believe their work is worthy.
  • Control: People who are highly engaged aren’t meaningless cogs in a machine; they see themselves as powerful and in control. They have a sense of their own efficacy, access, influence, clout, respect, and ability to make a difference. They know that they and their organization have the control required to accomplish their purpose.

The evidence shows that people who are low on either of these dimensions are disengaged. The research also reveals that different people are drawn to different purposes. Some highly engaged employees are passionate about their customers; others are passionate about their firm or team; still others are passionate about their tasks or profession.

Overall, my research confirms that there are four kinds of purposes people connect to. Employees need to connect to at least one of these purposes in order to become engaged. Employees who connect to several of these purposes have a higher level of engagement—a more durable level of engagement that is better able to withstand disappointments and setbacks. Below are the four purposes that drive engagement.

  1. Customers: Some employees find meaning in the contributions they make to others. For example, the teacher who achieves fulfillment through changing children’s lives.
  2. Organization and Team: Some employees find meaning in their relationships with their team or organization. They see themselves as part of a winning team—and know they have an important part in that team. For example, a teacher who takes pride in her department, school, and community.
  3. Personal Development and Growth: Some employees are fulfilled by opportunities to grow and develop. For example, a teacher who loves to continually grow and improve on personal goals.
  4. Tasks and Profession: Some people enjoy and find satisfaction in the activities that make up their job or profession. For example, the teacher who loves to be in the classroom.

Leaders who help people connect to these purposes and gain control over accomplishing them will reap the rewards of greater employee engagement. It is also important for leaders to actively guard against engagement killers—actions or events that undermine a person’s sense of purpose and control.

Some of these engagement killers are obvious: for example, a change that removes customer contact, a senior manager who minimizes a team’s accomplishments, or a policy that ties employees’ hands. Other engagement killers can be harder to spot.

For example, engagement is fostered by flow. People need to work on a meaningful task for an uninterrupted period of time – otherwise they don’t experience the accomplishments and rewards of their work. Therefore, interruptions can be a form of engagement killers. These include, but are not limited to, emails, instant messages, and phone calls. Leaders can improve engagement by guarding against distractions and interruptions that pull people in and out of otherwise meaningful tasks.

Translating Purpose into Vital Behaviors

Leaders can build employee engagement by taking three kinds of actions:

  1. Build ties between the employee and the four purposes. For example, give employees greater initiative or autonomy of action related to the purposes, increase personal contact with the purposes, etc.
  2. Increase employee’s efficacy and influence to impact the four purposes.
  3. Reduce disruptions that undermine connection to the four purposes.

These are fairly broad actions that will lead to results, but aren’t necessarily tailored to the unique situation of specific employees or organizations. In fact, these actions are a bit like the generic behaviors required for weight loss: eat less and exercise more. They are objectively correct, but they fail to address the individual’s unique challenges.

As a result, leaders must tailor these employee engagement behaviors to their unique situation. It’s best to begin by employing the behaviors and paying special attention to the times and circumstances that are especially difficult. These failure points are crucial moments—the personal pivot points between success and failure.

Leaders should focus in on these crucial moments and ask themselves what it would take to succeed in those times and circumstances. They can look back for times when they succeeded in those moments and determine which behaviors led to that success. The resulting vital behaviors that leaders uncover should be consistent with the three generic behaviors above, but will be specific to the unique circumstances of their organization.

Of course knowing what to do to increase employee engagement is not the same as consistently executing on those actions. However, knowing what to do is an essential first step. Once that is established, we can move to the heart of the Influencer Model: the six sources of influence.

Enlist a Critical Mass of All Six Sources of Influence

Leaders can use the six sources of influence model to identify strategies that support the vital behaviors driving employee engagement. To guarantee success, leaders should develop several strategies within each source of influence. Our research shows that combining at least four, and preferably all, of the six sources of influence increases your chances of success tenfold. Below are examples of strategies within each source.

Personal Motivation: On nearly all accounts, the most engaged employees are also the most motivated. Luckily, motivation can be influenced. Leaders can increase personal motivation by linking to employees’ existing values through personal experience and moving stories. Here’s how they may link specifically to the four purposes that drive employee engagement:

  • Connect with customers: Use “mission moments” to tell moving stories that highlight the human impact employees have on customers. Have employees meet with customers.
  • Connect with organization and team: Use team-building activities to foster personal connections within the team. Create face-time with leaders from across the organization to create personal connections up the chain of command.
  • Connect with personal development and growth: Have employees spend time with colleagues who are one or two career steps in front of them.
  • Connect with tasks and profession: Have employees attend professional conferences to foster closer ties and identification with their profession.

Personal Ability: Leaders should not assume every disengaged employee is simply unmotivated. Often, what stands in the way of performance is the employee’s ability to do what is required of them. To ensure employees are enabled, leaders need to build understanding and teach skills. Start by educating employees so they understand how their actions support the four purposes that drive employee engagement. Also, help them acquire skills so they gain greater control over their job a vital behavior of employee engagement.

  • Connect with customers: Educate employees about the direct impact they have on customers. For example, one hospital had recovered patients talk about the comfort and assistance each employee gave them during their hospital stay—from nurses and physicians to laundry workers and cafeteria employees. Build practical skills to help employees leverage their individual impact.
  • Connect with organization and team: Train employees on how they can impact the organization and senior leaders. Share real behaviors that are valued by management and communication techniques that will help them get their input heard by leadership.
  • Connect with personal development and growth: Make sure employees understand how their individual roles and responsibilities work within the organization. Use education and training to help them manage their career path.
  • Connect with tasks and profession: Give employees training options for improving their professional competencies and skills.
  • Reduce interruptions and distractions: Improve employees’ skills to handle interruptions and distractions.

Social Motivation: Never underestimate the power of peer pressure—both positive and negative. Make sure formal and informal leaders create, recognize, and reward the links between employees’ daily jobs and the four purposes that drive employee engagement. Make sure leaders allow employees to have the positive influence of peers that is so essential to increasing engagement.

  • Connect with customers: Create tighter customer relationships. For example, have employees support a specific set of customers.
  • Connect with organization and team: Create interdependencies within the team by encouraging teams to work together, instead of independently.
  • Connect with personal development and growth: Use mentors and create opportunities for employees to interact with leaders across the organization.
  • Connect with tasks and profession: Develop professional mentors. Encourage employees to nurture personal connections with leading professionals inside and outside the firm.

Social Ability: Take the influence of peers one step further by involving formal and informal leaders to empower and enable their direct reports to have greater control over accomplishing the purposes that drive employee engagement. Create supportive teams that increase collective efficacy.

  • Connect with customers: Build collective efficacy by creating teams that have a greater impact and influence than any individual.
  • Connect with organization and team: Use forums to give employees easier ways to learn from and influence leaders across the organization.
  • Connect with personal development and growth: Again, use mentors to help employees navigate the opportunities that exist within the organization.
  • Connect with tasks and profession: Create “communities of practice” and “centers of excellence” that encourage employees to improve their skills and standing in their profession.
  • Reduce interruptions and distractions: Help insulate employees from interruptions and distractions caused by peers, leaders, and customers.

Structural Motivation: Structural motivation includes rewards and incentives which are powerful motivators. Make sure performance reviews, pay, promotion, and incentive systems support employees’ efforts to accomplish the purposes that drive employee engagement. However, guard against reward systems that undermine employees’ efficacy and engagement.

  • Connect with customers: Find ways to use small rewards to recognize employees’ contributions to customers. Make sure existing reward and promotion systems don’t discourage strong customer connections.
  • Connect with organization and team: Reward teams, not just individuals. Make sure existing reward systems support teamwork.
  • Connect with personal development and growth: Make sure employees understand how their growth opportunities will connect to rewards.
  • Connect with tasks and profession: Find ways to reward employees who want to become technical experts, and not move up into management.

Structural Ability: Structural ability involves relying on the power of the environment. Leaders can harness the environment to make it easier for employees to accomplish the purposes that drive employee engagement. For example, simply removing obstacles that create interruptions and distractions can do a lot to increase engagement.

  • Connect with customers: Change the organizational structure, the physical layout, and the data streams to make the links to customers more direct, visible, and effective.
  • Connect with organization and team: Change the geography and physical layout to increase contact with team members and leaders across the organization.
  • Connect with personal development and growth: Make sure the organization has clear and effective development and career paths to follow.
  • Connect with tasks and profession: Create opportunities for people to learn, grow, and contribute in their profession.
  • Reduce interruptions and distractions: Use technology, tools, and schedules to reduce interruptions and distractions.

This model outlines several techniques and strategies to both motivate and enable employees to engage with their individual roles and responsibilities. The challenge is to construct a robust combination of all six sources of influence. While these specific strategies are likely to create huge gains in engagement, understand that different employees will connect with different purposes. For this reason, leaders need to ensure they have built a host of tactics to capture people along the entire spectrum of engagement. When it comes to increasing employee engagement, a leader’s goal is to create strong connections for all of their employees, and to connect them to as many of the four purposes as possible. The stronger these connections are the more likely employees are to engage.

This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: How to Influence and Sustain Employee Engagement

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