Keeping Your Best Engaged

Posted 10.23.2009

Workgroup_training1 The tough economic environment of the past year and a half has made organizational leadership an even more challenging job than usual. A recent article in HR Executive Online by Lin Grensing-Pophal reports on a somewhat surprising aspect of that leadership challenge.

Drawing on a recent study conducted by Watson-Wyatt and World at Work, Pophal notes that employee engagement levels during the recession have dropped by nine percent since last year. That’s not so surprising given everything that’s gone on in the past year. The news that leaders should pay extra attention to, however, is that the engagement of top performers is down by a whopping 25 percent.

The combination of economic uncertainty and the need to do more with less can take a toll on everyone. Of course, on both a short and long term basis, leaders need to pay particular attention to the high performers who can deliver results. Pophal offers some good suggestion in her article about how to do that including developmental assignments and flexible work arrangements.

She also mentions connection to the bigger picture as a key way to provide the intrinsic motivation that keeps the best engaged. As I’ve written here before, Bill Bridges’ four P’s communications model is one of the best frameworks I know of for making that connection. Like most good leadership tools, it’s simple and easy to remember:

  • Purpose: why are we here and what difference does that make?
  • Picture: what will things look like when we’re fully successful?
  • Plan: how will we get to that picture of success?
  • Part to Play: this is how what you do fits into the plan that creates the picture that fulfills the purpose.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with leaders from GE Energy, the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security, Booz Allen Hamilton and the U.S. Senate. One of the things that all of those leaders have in common is that they’re working for organizations that make a difference. I actually think that most of us work for organizations that make a difference. Leaders often overlook the opportunity to connect people with the larger purpose of what their organizations do. If you’re a leader who wants to keep your best people engaged, I encourage you to give that some thought. What can you say about how what they’re doing makes a difference?