Everyone says they WANT employee engagement … but how can you tell if you are really hitting the mark? Even more powerful than surveys and assessments, here’s a technique every manager and leader can do … and the cost is zero dollars! The ROI is incredible! If you’re willing to invest some time, try this to measure the engagement quotient of your department:
Personally conduct a language audit. Listen attentively to what people say. How are employees, supervisors, managers, customers, and the company itself referred to? What labels and descriptors are assigned to company executives? In what ways does the language you hear show pride in your organization, its services, its products, its mission, its markets? In what ways is the language complimentary? Derogatory? Positive? Less than encouraging? Employee engagement is high when talk is positive and creative. Employee engagement is low when talk is cynical, complaining, and derogatory.
Here’s an example from our own experience: With a recent client, we posed this question to a customer service team: “What perceptions do you have of your customers?” We were amazed and appalled with the responses. 90% were negative (demanding; uninformed; waste our time; bad attitudes; irritable and irritating…). After the rant was over, we then asked, “What percentage of your customers fit these descriptions?” The response: “Maybe 5%.” And yet, this customer service team was so focused on the difficult customers that it was creating a negative attitude and high disengagement among the entire team — which of course transferred to the customer, which resulted in decreased sales and lost opportunities. But until that moment, no one in leadership had been aware of how the employees were feeling — because no one was listening to what people were saying during casual conversations!
So listen up! Do casual conversations in the break area, lunchroom, and hall create negativity and cynicism? Is the tone of the language laced with thinly-disguised contempt? Or is it spiced with loyalty, commitment, and pride? (We must remind you, none too gently, that one of the biggest barriers to sustainable superior performance and high levels of engagement is contempt: contempt for the customer, contempt for co-workers, and contempt for leadership).
How often do you hear genuine (not phony) involvement expressed? How are co-workers at all levels viewed? Is the talk focused on personality differences, turf issues, yesterday’s sports scores, or outside interests? Or do you hear echoes of enthusiastic chatter about revenue enhancement, quality improvements, customer obsession, market orientation, profitability, competitive positioning, and the like?
One thing is certain, when we consider the nature of an organization, its leadership, and the growing trends of decentralization, complexity, global markets, and employee involvement, we are drawn to the following conclusion: Today’s organization requires crystal-clear communication, the utmost integrity, and unmitigated openness at all levels if they want to experience active employee engagement.
One of the earliest indicators of a misalignment between organizational goals and employee values (and actively disengaged employees) is evidenced in the type, quality, and direction of the language spoken in the shops, in the offices, in the lunch rooms, and in the boardrooms.
Here’s What You Can Do
Spend a solid week quietly (and non-confrontationally) listening to the organizational chatter. Take mental notes. Notice the patterns and trends which emerge. Record your thoughts. Make no judgments about what is said, who said it, and under what circumstances it is uttered. Just listen and record. After a week, spend some time with your notes, and use the following questions to help you assess the employee engagement quotient in your team, department, or organization.
Consider the following questions:
- How do you “feel” about what you are hearing?
- What is it about your organizational climate which perpetuates such dialogue?
- In what ways is the language characteristic of the behaviors you see exhibited toward management, support staff, hourly employees, customers, etc.?
- What about the language excites you, encourages you, makes you proud to be a key contributor in your organization’s success?
- What about the language disappoints you, frustrates you, raises red flags about the levels of commitment and engagement among your entire staff, at all levels?
- How is your own language contributing to what you are hearing?
What will you do with the results of this audit? Consider these questions:
- What responsibility do you have in cultivating an atmosphere of trust, cooperation, respect, dignity, loyalty, commitment, integrity?
- How will you clean up your air?
- How will you chat with colleagues, direct reports, your manager?
- How will you resolve to take better care of your people?
- What steps will you take to encourage people to change their language?
- How can you get everyone involved in taking personal responsibility for how we all talk about our coworkers, our customers, our leadership, our company?
- How will you relieve sources of atmospheric pressure?
We’d like to say one more thing about language at work before we sign off on this blogcast: Change people’s language and you’ll change their hearts. Change people’s hearts and you’ll change their language. When you change hearts and language, you create active employee engagement at all levels!
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