Developing a team of highly motivated and engaged employees is the holy grail for most leaders. We’re on a never-ending quest to help our people tap into their sense of intrinsic motivation that will kick their performance into high gear, allow them to derive greater satisfaction from their work, and help the organization reach its goals.
But employee engagement is a broad and complex issue that isn’t easily defined, as pointed out in a Bersin & Associates report. Definitions vary widely, with elements including commitment, goal alignment, enjoyment, and performance, just to name a few. Despite the fuzziness surrounding employee engagement, organizations spend more than $720 million dollars a year trying to solve the puzzle of developing a motivated and engaged workforce. It’s clearly a complex issue that seems to get more complicated by the day.
Focusing on the Basics
Trust is the foundation of any successful, healthy, thriving relationship and it’s essential to your success as a leader. Research by Gallup has indicated that a person’s relationship with his or her direct manager is the leading factor influencing employee engagement and that managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. The Great Place to Work Institute has documented that committed and engaged employees who trust their management perform 20% better and are 87% less likely to leave the organization. What does that mean for leaders? To a large extent, the way you lead your people has a dramatic impact on their level of engagement on the job.
Three Psychological Needs
Autonomy, relatedness, and competence are the three factors that shape a person’s motivation and the level of trust you have in the relationships with your team members has a direct influence on the quality of each.
Autonomy – Most people think distrust is the opposite of trust but it’s not—the opposite of trust is control. Leaders who compulsively try to maintain control erode their team members’ sense of autonomy and squash their sense of motivation. It’s human nature to desire independence and to feel in control of our lives. That desire doesn’t stop at the office door. You can develop peoples’ autonomy by helping them be clear on the goals they have to achieve and the boundaries they’re operating within and then giving them the authority and responsibility to get the job done the way they see fit. As much as possible, engage them in designing the work systems, creating the metrics used to manage their work, and evaluating the quality of everything they produce. When people are in control of achieving the goal they take more ownership and use their discretionary energy to help the organization succeed. Helping employees develop autonomy is not “letting the inmates run the asylum.” It’s giving them the space and freedom within defined boundaries to manage their work with an ownership mentality.
Relatedness – We are hardwired to have interpersonal connections with other people to one degree or another. Your people are much more than worker drones showing up to do a job for eight hours. They are complex, rich, dynamic people with amazing life stories and the relationships they have at work are primary threads in the tapestry of their lives. When it comes to trust, there are two layers of relatedness: proximal and distal. Proximal trust is the trust you have in your relationships with your immediate boss and co-workers, and distal trust is the trust you have with your boss’s boss or those at even higher levels. A primary way to foster trust with your people (in both proximal and distal contexts) is demonstrating care and concern for relationships. Praise, recognition, and building personal rapport are all great steps in building trust. Also, make the effort to share more information about yourself and the organization to increase transparency and authenticity with your team. The Johari Window is a helpful model that illustrates how you can improve communication and build trust with others by disclosing information about yourself.
Competence – People have an innate desire to continually develop competence in their skills, talents, and abilities. Continuous growth and learning is critical to help people address the challenges and obstacles that come their way, and neglecting to develop the talents of your people is akin to leadership malpractice. Trust is also a competence that leaders develop; it doesn’t “just happen.” When leaders don’t establish high-trust relationships, their people feel unsafe and uncertain in their roles. They don’t take measured risks, innovate, or express their creativity. They hold back, withdraw, and begin to doubt their own competence. People who feel a lack of confidence in their competence are ill-quipped to handle workplace challenges. They quickly become overwhelmed and give up, while those who feel strong in their competence are able to flexibly adapt to changing business conditions.
Trust and motivation work hand in hand. Leaders who develop high levels of trust foster an environment where an employees’ autonomy, relatedness, and competence are allowed to flourish.
Please join me, my colleagues Susan Fowler, Drea Zigarmi, Chris Edmonds, and many other leading experts for the Motivation Summit on May 13 at 9:00 a.m. Pacific, for an interactive webinar discussion on how to put the science of motivation to work.