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Houston, We Have a Problem.

By February 6, 2018February 14th, 2019Articles, Leadership

satellite-soyuz-spaceship-space-station-41006“Houston, we have a problem” is a popular quote from the movie Apollo 13 as the astronauts communicated their discovery of the explosion that crippled their spacecraft. I think if there was a ‘Leadership Mission Control Centre’ there would be many voices sending the same message down the line – we have a problem and we need a solution really quickly before it cripples our business.

What’s the problem? A disengaged and unmotivated workforce, which can often go unnoticed until it’s too late.

Many leaders believe they are responsible for defining the strategy and direction for their business and then telling their team what to do and how to do it.

It is absolutely true that people look for leaders with vision and for those who can inspire them towards clear goals, however, they don’t want to be told what to do and how to do it.

The results of employee engagement studies packs a punch and provides hard evidence of how unhappy people are and how unmotivated they are to contribute at work.

A study of workplaces in more than 140 countries published in Gallup’s The State of the Global Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for Business Leaders Worldwide report found that only 13% of people are engaged in their work. That same study found that of Australian employees:

  • 60% are ‘not engaged’ – they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organisational goals or outcomes
  • 16% are ‘actively disengaged’ – they are unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to co-workers.

These are very confronting statistics. In the USA alone, for example, this low engagement rate is said to cost an estimated $370 billion a year.

I speak to many leaders who are very proud of their teams and believe they have a great culture. They speak proudly of their vision and guiding principles. Their passion is obvious. However, it’s a different story when I speak to employees. They are unaware of the guiding principles, they know they are in place but they can’t voice them. They know what job they have to do and their need to please clients. They often explain the culture as ‘good’ and the workplace as ‘ok’ and the people they work with as ‘nice’. It’s rare to hear that people love their jobs and love the company they work for. There’s generally a ‘but’….

You can certainly, and maybe justifiably so, argue that people are harder to please and have an unreasonable level of expectation. This is true of some people but it’s also about the art of aligning expectation and encouraging people to take ownership and buy into the greater purpose of the business.

So how do we get the buy in from our teams, to get them engaged and connected with the vision, mission, values, purpose, guiding principles and bring them to life? To add colour to them and lift them from being simply words on a page to something that’s lived and breathed?

A crucial step in this process is giving a voice to others – your leaders and your team. It’s critical to disseminate the high level messages throughout the team and give them ownership of this. These messages can’t just come from one voice, it requires multiple to embed the message and for these messages to be broken down into simple language and used all the time. It’s certainly one thing to know what the values and vision etc are , but it’s another thing to relate them back to what it means for the business and them to aligning your everyday tasks. That’s when the message really starts to sinks in and your team start to understand where they fit in the bigger picture.

This is an area we need to get smarter at as leaders and where I believe is a lot of opportunity for improvement that will lead to greater engagement levels. Given we now have four, and soon to be five, generations in business now, we need something that will knit our people together. Your purpose, vision, values, guiding principles are a critical component to this.

You might start by asking yourself these questions:

  1. Are you incorporating the vision and values as part of your everyday meetings and relating outcomes and the reason you have certain expectations back to these?
  2. Are you empowering others to own the purpose, values etc of your business?
  3. Do you encourage all of your team to come up with ideas for how you can live your vision and embed the values so every single team member knows and can articulate what the core of the business is?
  4. Are your values/guiding principles words on a page or a wall or are they something that are lived and breathed? Have you given them life?
  5. The feedback you receive from clients, good or bad, are you relating this back to your visions and values to help embed the message?

As Body Shop founder and purpose-driven pioneer Anita Roddick says, ‘You have to look at leadership through the eyes of the followers and you have to live the message. What I have learned is that people become motivated when you guide them to the source of their own power and when you make heroes out of employees who personify what you want to see in the organisation.’