How sticking to the rules leads to unengaged employees
Engaged employees are proud of their work and go the extra mile to do their best. They are the performers who deliver the valuable long-term results for your organisation. So, how do you as a manager keep them engaged?
To maintain high engagement levels, you have to create an enabling environment where people can deliver high performance. This should include establishing a level of individual freedom and striking a balance between sticking to and bending the rules.
The conformity trap
Traditionally, managers have concentrated on creating rules and processes aligned with the organisation’s aims, and making sure they’re adhered to. However, today’s workforce has more to offer and in fact, is unable to relate to the way businesses were run a few decades ago.
Both managers and employees, who tie themselves up tight to the rules and see them as written in stone, are incapable of bending or breaking them even if the situation calls for it. Continuously conforming and being afraid to step outside the box can actually do your business more damage than good.
Conforming can be detrimental because although it gives us the feeling of being part of a whole and provides us with a sense of security, it can also negatively influence us. As research done in the 1950s by the social psychologist, Solomon Asch revealed, people were willing to make the wrong decisions in order to remain accepted and in agreement with the group.
In our workplaces, we often attempt to conform to the status quo by modelling ourselves on the behaviour of others in similar functions, expressing our agreement with the general opinion offered by managers or our colleagues, supporting the poor decisions of our team or even suppressing our emotions to behave appropriately according to what we believe others expect. This can lead to boredom, complacency and even stagnation.
Therefore, as managers, you have to learn to lean towards constructive non-conformity and allow your employees to step aside from the status quo. Standard practices can get us stuck. And if we want to truly engage our workforce, we must release them from the conformity trap.
Achieving engagement with authenticity
Studies1 have uncovered that new employees who were able to express their authentic selves in the workplace were 16% more engaged and displayed more commitment to their organisations, than those who felt they needed to hide who they really were as people.
Author of the article, “Rebel Talent”2, Francesca Gino says: “going against the crowd gives us confidence in our actions, which makes us feel unique and engaged and translates to higher performance and greater creativity.”
In a study Gino conducted, she surveyed 2,000 employees across a number of industries. More than 50% of those who took part said that they felt under pressure to conform. When she interviewed mid- and high-level managers, Gino recorded similar results. The findings suggest that many organisations seem to be (consciously or unconsciously) expecting their employees to leave a big part of their ‘true’ selves at the door of their organisation. These companies pay the price of decreased productivity, less innovation and unengaged employees.
Engagement lies in the heart of an employee and to flourish room is needed to be oneself. Support your employees in being themselves and you’ll give them a reason to stay engaged. Also giving them the freedom to question the status quo can spark fresh ideas that could revitalize your business.
Getting the balance right
It takes courage to go against the grain and decide to do the ‘right’ thing even if it isn’t written in the rulebook. It’s also not something that everyone can do. However, every organisation can benefit from having such individuals on their teams. The ones who are positive influencers are those who know the rules and also know when it’s OK to cross the line.
It is still very important to be careful about which company borders an employee or even a manager can brush aside and when the status quo should be upheld. To make sure, you should base your decision on whether an employee’s deviation from the norm is aligned with the organisation’s values and strategy, or offers a new, beneficial way of supporting a specific aim. In other words, always make sure the non-conformity is constructive.
If you are open to new angles and fresh approaches and nurture individual creativity and authenticity across your entire organization, then you can successfully boost employee engagement and take it to a new level.
Boost your employees’ engagement by:
Creating an enabling environment where people can do their best
Encouraging authenticity and questioning the status quo
Supporting constructive non-conformity
Being open and ready to consider new ways of doing things
Giving employees the chance to bring out their strengths
Telling them what needs to be done instead of how to do it
Providing platforms for voicing different perspectives or suggesting new strategies
Ensuring employees feel a sense of responsibility and accountability
During our Krauthammer winter session we led a two-days workshop “the personal engagement journey” which will be continued in next summer. Please contact Isabelle Auroux or Paul Duncker if you are interested in this topic for your organisation.
Daniel M. Cable, London Business School and Virginia S. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Francesca Gino Harvard Business Review 10/2016
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