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Promoting Employee Engagement

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

I recently had an enlightening conversation with author Timothy Clark about his book The Employee Engagement Mindset: The Six Drivers for Tapping into the Hidden Potential of Everyone in Your Company. Tim researched many companies, seeking out employees who were recognized by both their peers and bosses as being extremely engaged. From the many interviews he conducted, he derived six drivers that lead to employee engagement. Each driver is important, but the last one, contribute, embraces all the others.

Tim said, “If you believe that you are contributing to something that has greater purpose and meaning, that’s the rocket fuel for engagement. It’s the leader’s job to provide line of sight that connects an individual contribution to the larger organization.”

This was puzzling. If employees are doing great work, why wouldn’t they know it? Why would they need a “line of sight” to appreciate their contribution? And why is it the leader’s responsibility?

Barely a moment after I had asked myself these questions, my memory was transported back about twenty years to my time as music director of the Jacksonville Symphony. Each spring we presented a series of twilight outdoor concerts called Starry Nights featuring major pop artists. Thousands of people turned out. They sat at tables, brought picnics, drank wine and listened to their favorite tunes. Everyone loved it. Except the musicians, myself included.

Orchestras hate playing outdoors. There’s no resonance to the sound, we can’t hear each other, the parts that we’re given to play are often extremely unchallenging, and the floodlights that illuminate the stage draw swarms of insects. I can remember performances when I was besieged by thousands of little bugs. The circumstances are so musician-hostile that we can’t imagine what the audience could possibly be enjoying. That’s what it looks like from the musicians’ decidedly unglamorous point of view.

view from stage, outdoors

Now if Tim Clark were to make suggestions about improving employee engagement that night, I’d probably feel even more irritated about my job. But wait a minute.

Maybe Tim really is right about contributing being such a powerful driver. Because one night I conducted only the first half of the concert. For the second half the pop headliner brought his own music and his own conductor. So, being free to join the audience, I sat with some friends at a table, enjoyed some wine and was offered desert from someone’s picnic. And I was astonished.

Sitting under the stars, hearing the fully amplified sound of the orchestra (which I could never hear live on stage) I discovered that it was actually an extremely enjoyable experience. It was then that I finally realized the considerable pleasure that we musicians had been giving the audience. And the thought crossed my mind: what a stroke of leadership it would be to give every musician one night off every few years, and allow them to sit in the audience with their family.

That’s what Tim means by the leader providing a line of sight. When the worker’s circumstances prevent him from seeing how much he is contributing then it is the leader’s responsibility to recognize the situation, and provide an avenue for the worker to see the true value of their contribution. That is the leader’s gift to the employee, and in return the entire enterprise will derive the benefits of having an engaged workforce.

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