There is a saying that nobody ever washes a rental car and, in my experience, that appears to be true. I have hired many rental cars in my time and I have to tell you that I never washed one before taking it back. The interesting thing about this idiom is that it is an appropriate metaphor for people in organisations all over the world. The common denominator is the lack of ownership and involvement.
In the case of the rental cars, I didn’t own them so why would I be bothered to wash them. It was a straightforward transaction: I paid them to hire the car and that was it. In the case of many people it’s the same with their job. They turn up, do only what they have to and get paid their money at the end of the month. in other words, they give their time, but not their emotional effort.
In a recent survey the Aberdeen Group claimed that senior executives listed employee engagement as their number one concern. This is especially true in these turbulent times when it is more important than ever that people are committed to their job and their organisation and are prepared to give their discretionary effort; the difference between what they must give and what they can give.
It is difficult to overemphasise the importance of ownership in securing commitment. Think about it. When were you last committed to a project or a cause in which you had no involvement or ownership? Probably never. This is an answer that most people give to that question and one that should not come as any surprise.When employees have a sense of ownership they begin to care about what they do. They have a sense of pride in the job and the company. So, how can a manager develop a sense of ownership in his/her people?
Perhaps the easiest way to involve them is by asking for their ideas and opinions on how things can be done or improved. This act has an additional benefit. In my experience people at the sharp end usually understand the problems and have ideas that can solve the problems. By asking and, importantly, listening to their answers you will get a very different response than if you were to impose your solutions on them: where is the ownership there?
Offering a challenge is another way to produce a sense of involvement. However, there is an important caveat to this in that a manager must offer support to the challenge. I’ve known managers who challenged their team but did not provide any support and left them high and dry when things didn’t work out. This is not the way to build ownership or trust. Rather, it is a big demotivator.
This is why any organisation seeking to build employee engagement must ensure it starts at the top and engages all levels of line management first. If the process isn’t owned by the folks at the top it will be seen for what it is; just another initiative that will not last. A disengaged line manager is perhaps the biggest barrier to producing engaged teams. Remember, discretionary effort cannot be demanded from people; they have to choose to give it and they will only do so if they believe the conditions are right.
As the great Jim Rohn once said, “Be what you want your team to be. If you want a motivated team, you must be motivated. If you want an inspired team, you must be inspired.” So, if you want your team to be engaged, you must be engaged.