Monday, May 20, 2013

Engagement Matters

Government Official Accused of Cover-Up....

Agency Head Pleads Ignorance on Actions of Subordinates....

$1.2M spent on Operators of Fully-Automated "Members Only" Capitol Elevator....

Can we all agree that leadership in government agencies at all levels matters today more than ever?  It is unquestionably a challenging environment -- shrinking budgets (at least at the state and local level), an increasingly disengaged workforce, and disparaging comments from all sides.  But aren't these the conditions in which proven, effective leaders have to step up?  Come on, people.  We are better than this!!!  Where are the LEADERS???

Federal Times had an article last month that suggested that over half of federal workers in some offices were looking for an exit (see the article here).  Now, before you applaud and wish them farewell, let's look at this another way.  These people are, for the most part, just like the rest of us, just as capable, and just as well educated.  I've worked with many of them and they are mostly solid professionals who want to do well, serve their communities, and take care of their people.  Losing half of them and then having to hire and train replacements is not the solution.  If you are hoping for greater efficiency -- that is not the answer!

What we need in government are real, no kidding, leaders!  Leaders who know the importance of the mission and do not quit until they've met it.  Leaders who don't make excuses and who hold themselves and their people accountable.  Leaders who don't think "Bigger is Better" but rather that "Better is Better."  Leaders who measure their output not by the size of their budget or their department but rather by the satisfaction of their customers, their speed of delivery, and the value (output/cost) of their deliverables.  Leaders who take care of their people, deal with conflict, manage priorities, coach for performance, and invest in the growth and development of their people.  Is this too much to ask?

The Federal Times article points to general dis-engagement among the workforce:  “When people are not engaged, they are looking for other jobs, and when they are looking for other jobs, they are not giving their discretionary energy to accomplish the organization’s goals and objectives.”  In other words, I'll put it this way...IT'S THE LEADERSHIP, STUPID!

If dis-engagement is the problem, then leaders have a direct responsibility to address the problem.  Fast Company, in "The Costs of Ignoring Employee Engagement," suggests that organizations (and I would argue both in the public and private sector) with high employee engagement reap the following performance outcomes:

* 37% lower absenteeism
* 25% lower turnover (in high-turnover organizations)
* 65% lower turnover (in low-turnover organizations)
* 28% less shrinkage
* 48% fewer safety incidents
* 41% fewer patient safety incidents
* 41% fewer quality incidents (defects)
* 10% higher customer metrics
* 21% higher productivity
* 22% higher profitability

Now...I don't know about "28% less shrinkage."  Sounds like something from a Seinfeld episode!!  But these are all positive results from leaders who get out from behind their computers and directly engage their employees. These are organizations with character, led by leaders who set the tone for their organization.  This is what we get from real, positive, purposeful leadership.  The same article then goes on to suggest these 5 things that leaders can do to influence this:

1. The organization is the most powerful influencer of employee engagement. In other words, the structure of management systems and processes heavily affect the level of a worker’s interest in his or her job.

2. There is no single “right model” for a high-performance culture; the most effective approach depends on an organization’s strategic priorities.  Leaders determine the appropriate approach and work tirelessly to ensure penetration to every level of the organization.

3. Employees are eager to invest more of themselves to help the company succeed, but want to understand what’s in it for them.  Leaders get the most from their people.  Employees willingly align their best efforts to acheive the best for the team.

4. Senior leaders need to make the leap to a more inspirational and engaging style of leadership to help drive higher engagement.  Don't lead through email.  Get up, get out, and get going!

5. Companies need to understand their employees as well as they understand their customers to design a work environment and experience that will drive higher engagement and performance. Find out what it takes to motivate people, each of whom is different, and ENGAGE!!

So, if you are a leader and you read these areas, insert your name where you see, "Companies need to...."  This is what we expect from our leaders, who recognize that effective organizations are the direct result of effective, engaged employees.  There are no excuses for not doing this.  Don't blame the budget cuts or point fingers at someone or something else.  YOU, Mr. or Mrs. Government Leader, are responsible for your people and everything they do. 

For the rest of us, let's demand better from our public sector leaders. Let's insist that public sector leaders go through rigoruous selection processes to determine if they are cut out for leadership and that there is an appropriate injection of leadership training throughout their professional journey. Let's ensure that before we appoint people to positions in which they must balance budgets, hire/fire, establish a culture of innovation and character, and take on increasingly challenging and complex issues, that they have the bona fides to do so. 

In other words, let's demand the same thing from the public sector that we expect from those in the private sector.  No more/no less.  These things are fixable.  Competent, well-trained leaders can identify priorities and effectively set goals.  Capable leaders can communicate with their team and create a motivational climate.  Effective leaders can engage their people and set the conditions for organizational success.  I have seen pockets of excellence at the municipal, county, state, and federal level.  So, there are no excuses.  Don't make us go all "Donald Trump" on you.  Step up and start leading.

If we don't, this problem will only get worse.  Leadership truly matters.  Now more than ever.  And the picture below suggests, is Leader Business!!

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