Have you mistaken engaging your employees for simply involving employees? Let’s look at the difference between the two and the vastly different results leaders get when they fall for this common misconception.
Great employee engagement is built on the nuances of everyday interactions with your team. For today’s purposes, I simply want to make sure you don’t fall into the trap of mistaking INVOLVING an employee for effectively ENGAGING an employee. Those are two totally different realities that will reap you entirely different results.
It is 2023, and I have four kids now… and if there is something I need to do around the house, I’ll ask my oldest two – Willow and Lincoln – to play with Duke, their younger brother. Of course, they LOVE when I ask them to do that – NOT… But, they do it.
Nowadays, it works really well, but early on, WOOO… there were some challenges. And it wasn’t because of their young age, it was because Willow and Lincoln THOUGHT they were engaging Duke, but in reality… they were getting ENGAGEMENT all wrong.
Engaging Your Employees All Wrong
You, as a leader, might think you are correctly engaging employees, but what if you’re getting it all wrong?!
All the kids in our house love playing with Legos… so when the older kids are on “Duke Duty” – playing Legos it is! Imagine my house back in the day for a moment, three kids seated at the long farmhouse table in the dining room with thousands of Legos spread out on the table. They play for a while. At first, Duke was just happy to be invited to the table to play with the older kids. After a while, he looks over and sees the cool stuff they’re building and asks if he could help them.
In response, the older kids rallied around Duke – encouraging him… saying things like, “Duke, what you’re building is amazing! Keep up the good work! We can’t wait to see what else you can accomplish!” They probably genuinely meant their nice comments… but ULTIMATELY WHAT WAS MORE IMPORTANT to them was that they didn’t want Duke to mess up what they were doing or have to take the time to teach him to do it right if they let him build with them.
The “Encouragement” Approach
That “encouragement approach” worked for a while, but eventually… it lost its luster for ol’ Duke… he wanted to be a part of something bigger and better…
When everyone is just about finished building, Duke has emerged with a nice tall tower of all blue blocks. He is proud of that! Willow and Lincoln, on the other hand, they’re older, more experienced… they have more knowledge… better skills… and they’re now putting the finishing touches on their MUCH MORE elaborate structure.
Duke looks over at their work… and he is frustrated… he has had enough… he has finished his work, they’ve just about finished theirs, and he realizes he has had no meaningful part of building the coolest structure on the table.
Do you know what happens when a frustrated three-year-old sees a new, tall, freshly built multi-story house his brother and sister just created without him? Well, I can tell you he doesn’t stand back in awe, saying WOW, that’s amazing!
Quite the opposite actually.
Picture Duke… a frustrated 3ft. tall threenager ….. on level eleven………… he jumps onto the dining table, walks over… and using his arm like Thor’s hammer BOOOMM SSSSHHHHHHHHsSSSHHHHH!!!
Lego pieces come crashing down under the force of a toddler on a mission. And without fail, the next sound I hear in older sibling unison is, “MOM!” Immediately I know what’s happened. Willow and Lincoln have INVOLVED Duke, but they have not ENGAGED Duke.
Involving vs. Engaging Your Employees
If YOU are only INVOLVING your employees, but not ENGAGING them, there may come a time when things seem to be going fine, but someone’s frustration peaks. Now they may never stand on a table and destroy all the work you’ve done. But they may look around …………………. PAUSE……………………….. and make a decision right then and there that because they’ve only been involved and never truly engaged by leaders, never truly brought in to do MEANINGFUL work for the organization… they might decide to quit and leave – or worse – quit and stay.
I don’t want that to be your story. I don’t want your best employees to give up or leave.
Go back and picture my kids at the table. The leaders at the table, Willow and Lincoln, are sitting at one end of the table and are building something with each other. Duke, on the other hand, is sitting at the same table, maybe even on the same side, but Duke is very much building by himself.
Tired of Being on the “Outside”
They’re not asking Duke what he wants or seeking his input, welcoming his questions, stopping to teach, allowing him to TRY to help. Why? Because THAT WOULD TAKE WAYYYY TOO MUCH TIME, HE ISN’T OLD ENOUGH, HE HASN’T BEEN HERE LONG ENOUGH. hmph… Duke is involved in the work, but he doesn’t have a meaningful part of it. Eventually, Duke gets tired of being on the outside.
Your best employees will, too. DON’T MAKE EMPLOYEES BUILD BESIDE YOU. INSTEAD LET THEM BUILD WITH YOU. Invest the time, energy, and resources into training them effectively, developing their skills, invite them to try, and yes, welcome failure. Then walk WITH them through the fire, through the learning process to make mistakes, learn from them, and execute more successfully going forward. That’s leadership. That’s employee engagement that breeds loyalty and high performance. THAT’S WHERE YOU’LL SEE YOUR BIGGEST RETURN ON INVESTMENT AS A LEADER…. and I want that for you!
I want to encourage you to take a sober look at your team today. Ask yourself who do I need to engage better going forward? And then do it! Know that I’m wishing you huge success as you work to get employee engagement exactly right!
Helping You Engage Your People Is What We Do. Let’s Get Started!
Photo by Kevin Jarrett