Jay Colker – How to engage from the inside out to avoid retiring in place

Jay Colker, core faculty, Adler School of Professional Psychology

Jay Colker, core faculty, Adler School of Professional Psychology

Read this quote and think about whether it sounds like something you have heard before:

“Stay under the radar. Do enough just to get by. Don’t make waves. Get the most out of your benefits such as sick time. Do only what you’re asked to do. If you are asked for more, do just enough to meet minimum expectations.”

This is an employee who is completely disengaged. Instead of leaving the organization, which might be a blessing, this employee will “retire in place.”

Employees who retire in place substantially impact the bottom line, as well as the satisfaction of other employees. One bad apple, if not addressed, can spoil the bunch.

Stand up

There are ways to counter such an attitude, however, and even turn such an employee into a highly engaged, stellar performer. The research on engagement highlights a number of actions that can help employees feel more connected and motivated, and avoid “retiring in place.”

These include the following:

  • Aligning employees with the goals and mission of the organization
  • Regularly sharing information from top leaders, and being sincerely interested in employees
  • Providing opportunities for employees to improve skills and abilities
  • Offering regular feedback on performance
  • Allowing input into decision-making
  • Encouraging innovative thinking, and an acceptance of risk
  • Building and sustaining a positive relationship between the manager and each employee and within teams.

Consulting firm Towers Watson, formerly Towers Perrin, has highlighted a number of characteristics demonstrated by engaging leaders. The first is high emotional intelligence.

Daniel Goleman, in his book “Emotional Intelligence,” noted that individuals with high emotional intelligence are skilled in understanding, interpreting and responding to emotions. They effectively deal with social and emotional conflicts and appropriately manage emotions to achieve best outcomes.

Additional characteristics of engaging leaders include great communication skills, a coaching/involvement orientation, the ability to inspire others and demonstrating authenticity and humility.

Use more than one approach

At the same time, employing engaging actions alone is not sufficient. Leaders cannot approach all employees in a cookie-cutter manner and assume that they all will respond in the same ways, or even perceive leadership actions as having the same intent and meaning.

The key to more effective engagement is looking from the inside out — how and what employees perceive is their reality. What is encouraging to one person is discouraging to another.

One person’s recognition is another person’s discomfort. What is motivating to one is demotivating to another.

The role of perception

The reality is that the value of an employee’s relationship with a leader, a manager, peers, and the organization itself is based on many factors. The most critical is the role of perception.

Organizations can do a much better job of managing perceptions. In his article “Coming to Grips with Organisational Values,” Vijay Padaki noted that a consistent set of practices over time are the organization’s values. Interrelated values that are internally consistent are the organization’s value system, he wrote.

If leaders at all levels take a sincere interest in employees and understand their perceptions, these leaders can do a better job of connecting personal needs and values with those of the organization. Leaders often have best intentions, but employees can be left feeling not heard and unappreciated.

Without understanding the context of what employees believe and feel, leaders run the risk of misaligning and discouraging employees. Without leaders consistently demonstrating their values, employees will perceive a different reality than possibly intended.

Jay Colker, DM, MBA, MA is core faculty for the master’s in counseling and organizational psychology program at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. He also maintains a human capital consulting practice and may be reached at j[email protected] or at (312) 213-3421.

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