In the hustle of managing day-to-day operations, it is easy to become preoccupied by outcomes. They are easily measured and quantified, and can be recited in meetings to tepid applause. Everyone lists their stats, congratulates each other, and goes back to their work. But these types of conversations merely reinforce the current process, and do little to address the purpose of your team and their deliverables. Setting performance targets and expectations is certainly good practice.
However, to avoid complacency and create engaged employees, it is crucial to step back and examine the purpose and processes (the why and the how) that inform outcomes.
Simon Sinek identifies the three most important aspects of any organization (read a summary of Sinek’s book Start With Why or watch a TED Talk) as the Why, How, and What. ‘What’ is easy to define, and therefore tempting to focus on. However, it is crucial to address the How and Why of your organization with your team regularly to develop meaningful communication tactics and loyal employees.
Here is a strategy that you can try today: ask why at least three times. Use your next team meeting as an opportunity to question a process that has been in place for a long time.
Take one outcome and ask your team why they use their process to achieve it. They are likely to respond with an inherited explanation: maybe they were instructed by management, trained by a former employee, or developed the process themselves some time ago, with a different set of challenges to consider.
Take the information that you learn and ask why a second time. If those named factors were no longer an issue, what would your team change about this process, and why?
Listen carefully, because at this stage of the conversation you will learn a lot about your staff and their level of engagement. If the suggestions are radical transformations or negative reactions to the existing system, your staff may be frustrated. If they are reluctant to give any feedback, they may feel that their ideas aren’t valued, or that there are negative consequences for speaking up to management.
If they suggest changes that will improve their workflow, then seriously consider implementing those changes immediately, and recognize your staff for their contribution.
Lastly, ask your staff why the outcome is important to the overall success of the team and the business. This will allow you to gauge understanding of their contribution to strategy, and give you an opportunity to emphasize the importance of their work.
According to a report issued by the Harvard Business Review, when asked about factors affecting employee engagement, “almost three-quarters of respondents chose “recognition given for high performers” as their top choice, followed by “individuals have clear understanding of how job contributes to strategy” and “senior leadership continually updates/communicates strategy” and “business goals communicated company-wide and understood.” Addressing the relevance of your team in relation to strategy is an easy and effective way to build employee engagement.
The Five Whys Technique advocates asking why five times to get to the root cause of an organizational effect, but asking three times may be more manageable to implement in your next meeting. Start today, and use this technique regularly to develop problem solving and communication skills in your team, and ultimately achieve more outcomes. Your engaged employees will thank you for it.