You understand the importance of encouraging employee engagement. Workers who are engaged are enthusiastic about their jobs, focused on their assignments and committed to the organization’s mission. They feel positive about their work, and that optimism helps them to be creative, energetic and collaborative.
But some leaders don’t realize that a key to promoting engagement is feeling happy and fulfilled themselves. In my new book, “Find Your Happy at Work,” I wrote about an executive coaching client, “Roberto,” a brilliant young leader who discovered that the starting point for motivating his team was to better manage his own level of happiness.
When I first spoke with Roberto, he had recently taken over the leadership of a unit known to be struggling. He arrived with a thoughtful plan for process changes that could help the group be more successful. His starting move was to quickly launch a series of meetings designed to introduce his ideas and recruit support from his team. But his cheerleading approach generated little enthusiasm, and he was feeling frustrated.
We talked about how most people want to do well at work, but not everybody is motivated in the same way. Roberto had tried system-focused team meetings as the primary way to create excitement about his vision of success. But, after we talked, he decided to back off from that approach and develop a specific motivation strategy for each of his direct reports. He intended to get to know each individual, find a way to help each feel more positive about their job, and gradually create a culture of productivity.
To help Roberto frame a mindset improvement approach for each person, I introduced him to a simple three-point framework I often use when coaching clients around issues related to happiness at work. I call it the “Engagement Triangle.”
Research suggests you’re more likely to feel motivated and upbeat at work if you remain aware of three basic factors: your sense of purpose, the human relationships associated with your job, and the most satisfying and effective ways to approach your tasks.
If you’re a leader, using the Triangle to focus on the needs and strengths of each individual team member can help you energize the entire group. I suggested to Roberto that before using the Triangle to shape conversations with team members, he should get a feel for the three points by thinking about what makes him feel optimistic and satisfied at work.
When I ask a client like Roberto to “do the Engagement Triangle,” we talk through a work situation by touching on points from this outline:
1) Purpose: It’s easier to love your job if you’re working for something that matters more than just a paycheck.
- Your purpose is something bigger than your everyday self and is likely to include an impact on other people. Your personal mission at work might encompass the values that guide your broader life, like kindness and integrity.
- Your work has greater meaning when you understand and support the vision and standards of your organization, and your immediate team.
- Your pride in serving others with an excellent product or service can make every day feel worthwhile.
- Even a tedious job can feel rewarding if you have a good reason for working so hard, like supporting your family or preparing for your future career.
2) People: Your job can feel more satisfying because of your colleagues, customers and other people you encounter through work.
- When you feel connected with others and believe you’re making a contribution, your outlook on life is more positive.
- Having friends at work can make you happier and better at interacting with other people.
- Studies say teams accomplish more when co-workers show each other respect, gratitude, trust and integrity.
- Many highly successful groups develop a culture that feels much like a family, with a shared sense of belonging and constant communication.
3) Performance: You’re more likely to love your job if you invest effort in your tasks, build expertise and interest in your work, and exercise some autonomy.
- Time passes quickly when you have challenging tasks and opportunities to create something. It helps to be able to use your strengths, move toward clear goals, and get regular feedback.
- When work feels dull, you can stimulate fresh energy by learning something new. The sense of achievement that comes from acquiring a different skill or deeper knowledge can spark an upward spiral.
- Workers who decide how to get a job done are happier and more productive than their micromanaged peers. If you’re feeling over-managed, focus on the decisions that you can control, and make repetitive tasks more interesting by finding ways to improve the process.
- You can find considerable satisfaction by consistently doing your job well and meeting your obligations. You’ll enjoy it even more if you keep finding ways to improve your work.
Whether we’re considering our own situation or trying to understand others, most of us focus more heavily on one or two areas and may neglect the third. Roberto tends to get great satisfaction from performance improvement, but the Triangle helped make him aware that he seldom thought about his value system or the needs of other people.
Roberto elected to “own” the Triangle by journaling about it for a month. He started each workday by quickly writing answers to these three questions:
- Purpose: What core value will I keep in mind today?
- People: Who will I remember to appreciate in the course of the workday?
- Performance: What task will I perform with special attention?
As Roberto reconnected with his own needs and goals, he began to relax, he became a better listener, and he was in better touch with his team. At the same time, he began to use the Triangle to observe and think more deeply about each team member.
Being aware of the Triangle helped Roberto build relationships, be more strategic while assigning projects, and better support individual success strategies. For example, a senior economist seemed hopelessly bored, so Roberto looked for new projects she might find interesting. After he helped her snag an opportunity to write an article for a leading journal, she developed a new area of expertise and began to exhibit fresh energy and a more positive attitude.
Leaders who keep the three points of the Triangle in mind have a starting point for challenging situations. The Triangle can help them better understand colleagues, whether that means dealing with difficult people or creating incentives for their most valued reports. And when many meetings are remote, with fewer opportunities for casual in-person bonding, keeping the Triangle in mind can help you identify new ways to nurture a positive culture. Use the Triangle to identify needs and opportunities one employee at a time.
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