Improving organisational agility through improved engagement

As a final part to the mini-series on leadership and talent management, Axel Knudsen, a certified talent optimisation consultant and Andy Lane, a partner at CTI Consultancy, explore the virtues of leadership excellence.

The pace of business change and disruption will continue to accelerate. We might not know the what or the when, but it is safe to assume that the future of work will be very different to the past and present. Not knowing specifically what to prepare for should not be a reason for inaction, but instead a conscious and expedient transition to creating greater organisational agility – the ability to rapidly adapt the business model to either exploit or defend against emerging disruption.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best is now!” – Chinese proverb

Like a growing a tree, making an organisation more agile requires time and continuous progressive steps, it is a journey, but without a final destination, and the winners will be the early adopters. The agility of an organisation will largely be determined by the engagement levels of its employees, which is driven by trust multiplied by motivation.

Employee engagement = Trust X motivation

Trust is earned (or lost) by the leadership, and at all levels of the leadership chain. A broken link at just one level will result in a loss of multiplier leverage, reducing agility and adaptive ability. Trust is consciously built by leaders who are: authentic, fair, consistent, curious, vulnerable, empathetic, engaging and able to demonstrate high levels of integrity. They create a psychologically safe environment for their teams and people to try to innovate in, creating organisational value for the current and future.

Leaders who are most successful in building and maintaining trust will be those with high Emotional Quotients (EQ), or Emotional Intelligence as it is also known. As a science, EQ is still evolving, still being researched, and truly definitive understandings are yet to be. Never-the-less, there are swathes of learning and development material already available, of which the greater majority smell and look very much like good old-fashioned common sense. So there is enough there to get started at least, and as mentioned in the previous articles, EQ or EI can be taught and learned. EI comprises of five inter-linked sub-disciplines.

Self-awareness – we first need to know ourselves, how certain events make us feel, which trigger our emotions. It can be helpful to reflect daily on our emotional experiences and label these in a journal, or seek input from others. The results might not resonate well with us, but they do provide us with an opportunity to change our thinking. Additionally it is about being cognisant of our strengths and weaknesses, and being able to call on our strengths when negative emotions emerge.

Self-control – you cannot always control what makes you feel a certain way, but you can control how you react. Knowing what prompts your negative emotions, affords us the opportunity to condition our reactions, remaining calm in any situation, exercising high levels of humility and not negatively impacting those around you.

Self-motivation – is about remaining of positive mind in testing situations. We need to understand where we gain our greatest job pleasures from and anchor these positive experiences, which can then be recalled whenever doubts enter our head. Without self-motivation, it becomes virtually impossible to motivate others.

Communication – Outwards, in terms of outlining goals and aspirations, creating excitement and providing sincere praise. Effective in-person communication is derived from the 3 “V’s”: Vocabulary (the specific words used – 7%), Voice (intonation – 38%) and Visual (body language – 55%). Others might forget exactly what you said, but never forget how you made them feel. Thus it matters more how we say than what we say. Similar applies for tele-communication, but where intonation carries an increased weight of 85% as visual is absent.

Inwards requires listening to understand, as opposed to listening to respond. It requires deep ingestion and consideration of what we hear, and unless it is a specific question, it requires no response other than confirmation.

Empathy – is the art of putting yourself into another’s shoes. Understanding how they truly feel and what their perspectives might be, which might be very different from our own, without making snap judgements. It is important to be able to read the body language, to detect feelings which are not directly expressed in words.

The other side of the equation is motivation, and there can sometimes prevail confusion between motivational and hygiene factors.

Different scales exist for these two groups. For the motivators this might be zero to 10, and for hygiene minus 10 to zero. If you ignore the hygiene factors, you will end up with dissatisfaction but you will only notably raise motivation by pulling the motivation levers.

People generally need to understand how their efforts contribute overall to their organisation (purpose), and they need to see tangible ways to grow and advance. Autonomy without accountability is a vacation! People respond well to empowerment but not micro-management. With mutually agreed goals, achievements can be calibrated and recognition awarded.

With trust established and a strong focus on the motivators, employee engagement will increase and your organisation will become more agile to take advantage of all future disruption. To progress the journey towards greater agility requires as a minimum a start, and today might be the best time for that.

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