Lift Sagging Engagement by Driving SUV


By Linda Dulye, President & Founder
Dulye & Co. | Posted Dec. 15, 2014


Regardless of size, no company can afford spectator employees. Yet, they are out there in full force—especially in federal government offices.

Earlier this week, the annual "Best Places to Work" study by the Partnership for Public Service, revealed that federal employees' satisfaction and commitment are at their lowest point ever since 2003. The government-wide employee engagement score is 57 out of 100, based on survey data from workers at nearly 400 agencies. Max Stier, the president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service blames the erosion on "a failure of leadership."

Sad stats.  But correctable if managers do more than test drive SUV.

SUV is a great motivation model. I’ve used it to coach countless managers on ways to help employees feel special, understood and valued. Driving the SUV factor requires daily discipline. These tips will help you get in gear:

Special. Have a face and a place with your team. That requires your time and attention. Absence is not a stimulant for feeling special.  Manager presence in the workplace is increasingly fleeting. The excuse most heard in my work with clients is “I don’t have time.”

Own your calendar and make the time to be with your team. Take 10 minutes every morning and afternoon to physically leave your office and get into your team members’ space. Close off the time on your calendar—call it “important research.” Walk into cubicles, see first-hand what’s happening, and strike up informal conversations with no dangling personal agenda.

Formal exchanges are important, too. Adopt the practice of scheduling regular, one-on-one huddles with each staff member about how things are going. Keep them to 15 minutes. Mutually agree to a few guidelines, like starting on time, not interrupting and silencing phones. For a completely different twist, ask your team member to lead the conversation by answering four key questions: What’s going well? What’s not going well? What help do I need? What ideas do I have to make things better?  By giving that team member responsibility for managing the session, you’ve made it clear that your role is to listen and learn from them. Your focused attention is a big perk and pick-me-up. It will help others feel important.

Understood. Listening lags as a core competency in most managers—a factor that gnaws away at worker morale and motivation. For employees to feel understood, managers have to demonstrate interest in others’ ideas and insights. And that requires inquiry skills.

Get comfortable with asking open-ended questions starting with “why” or “how,” which deliver far less predictable responses than closed-ended questions where “yes” or “no” suffice. Not knowing what to expect is great professional training for handling the real-time changes and challenges of every workplace.  

Brian Burlingame, a colleague in the Pharmaceutical industry, sees big dividends in the “freedom of thought” encouraged by probing questions. Notes Brian, Continuous Improvement & Innovation Leader at Pfizer, “I let team members know that it’s ok to disagree with me. I want them to. I ask questions back to signal to them that I’ve listened. I want to replay their words.”

Valued. Make a practice of saying thank you. Doing so will help you see more of the little things that employees are doing to help a co-worker or satisfy a customer. If you get positive feedback about a team member, share it quickly with them in person or by phone. Remember, electronic technology is a tool for moving information, not motivating people.

Another technique that conveys both appreciation and trust is to have someone walk in your shoes—well, not literally but almost. Explains Brian, “I will ask a team member to represent me at a meeting that I can’t attend due to a travel conflict. And, I give them the responsibility of briefing the team, not just me, on key discussion points and outcomes.”  


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