Although the term ‘employee engagement’ means different things to different organisations, there seems to be general agreement in the industry that employees are engaged when they are committed to the organisation and its values, and are willing to go above and beyond what is expected of them and expend added effort (discretionary effort) to help the organisation meets its objectives.

Commitment to the Organisation and its Values

Employee commitment is both an attitude and a behaviour – it is something the employee has to offer. The commitment of an employee is not only visible through the employee’s behaviour, but it also an indication of the employee’s attitude towards the organisation and his/her role. Committed employees have made a number of deliberate choices:

  • They personally identify with the organisation and actively share and buy into the organisation's values – they allow their organisation’s values to influence and guide their decision making, and feel that their colleagues' and managers' attitudes and behaviours reflect those values.
  • They feel proud of their organisation and will not hesitate to recommend it to family and friends as a great place to work.
  • They are attached and loyal to the organisation and want to stay and develop their careers with the company.

Willingness to Extend Themselves

Engaged employees are more than committed and loyal to the organisation; they are also passionate about it. They are in fact willing to extend themselves and to invest additional effort at their own discretion to help the employer succeed. They are willing – without being asked – to go the extra mile, to exert additional energy, to be more innovative and to expand their roles in an all-out effort to help the organisation to be more successful and to achieve its goal.

The alignment of these two aspects – commitment and willingness – forms the core of Mindset’s engagement model.

Engaged employees are committed to the organisation and its values, and are willing to invest – at their own discretion – additional effort to help the organisation meet its objectives.


Levels of Employee Engagement

In Mindset’s definition of engagement (fully engaged employees are committed to the organisation and its values, and are willing – at their own discretion – to invest additional effort to help the organisation meet its objectives), two criteria have been used to determine the level of employee engagement: commitment and willingness. The criteria can be used as the axis of a graph that shows the engagement level of employees in an organisation. Using a graph on this basis makes it possible to identify multiple levels of employee engagement:

  • Fully Engaged: Those who are fully committed to the organisation and that are willing – at their own discretion – to invest additional effort to help the organisation meet its objectives (average scores of > 85 for both Willingness and Commitment). Fully engaged employees are committed and loyal to their organisation and passionately believe in what the organisation stands for. They are star performers who add value to the organisation and who are prepared to do more than what is required and to go the extra mile to help their organisation to succeed. They generally have a positive influence on their colleagues.
  • Engaged: Employees who are Engaged have semi-high scores for both Commitment (average scores of > 65) and Willingness (average scores of > 65). They can be described as key contributors who can generally be relied upon to do what is expected of them. They are however to some extent in their comfort zones and can at times appear to be complacent and risk averse - they will do their part but they won’t necessarily go too much out of their way to support the organisation in achieving its goals.
  • Not-engaged: The in-between employees who are neither engaged nor actively disengage, with medium scores for both Commitment (average scores of > 50) and Willingness (average scores of > 50). Not-engaged employees are somewhat committed and perform acceptably, but are generally frustrated by their jobs and indifferent towards their employer. They tend to have low levels of energy and to resist change – they don’t add any value to the organisation and are inclined to do the minimum to stay out of trouble. Investing in them makes sense, since they are potentially on their way to be fully engaged and could therefore make a huge difference to the organisation’s bottom line. 
    Some of the engaged employees may fall in one of two extremes with respect to the willingness/commitment axis on the graph:
    • Doers: The action-oriented not-engaged (all action, no commitment), with high scores on the Willingness dimension and low scores on the Commitment dimension. They are strong performers, but because they haven’t bought into the company’s mission, are not committed to the company’s goals and values, and are uninterested, unfocussed and self-serving with their own agendas. They will generally be critical and vocal of management decisions, and will more likely become demotivated over time and eventually disengage.
    • Talkers: The passive-but-talk-oriented not-engaged (all commitment and talk, no action), with low scores on the Willingness dimension and high scores on the Commitment dimension. Although they have an intellectual understanding of the company’s mission and are committed to the company’s goals and objectives, they haven’t translated their commitment into action and can’t be relied upon to do their part or deliver the goods – they are just coasting along, doing as little as possible.
  • Disengaged: Those who have actively disconnected emotionally and physically from the organisation (i.e. no commitment and no effort). These employees will be sceptical, critical and negative, and tend to have a bad and contagious influence on their co-workers. Disengaged employees are also inherently disloyal to the organisation – they may be collecting their monthly pay while they are looking for another job, or if left alone could be intentionally inhibiting the success of the organisation. 

Barriers to Engagement

Research shows that that pay and general work conditions are important in attracting people to organisations, but subsequently act as more of a ‘hygiene’ factor. Frederick Herzberg introduced the dual concept of hygiene factors and motivators.

  • Hygiene factors determine a person’s level of satisfaction with their job and strongly influence employee retention. If they are not met, they lead to job dissatisfaction and cause employees to look for better opportunities elsewhere. Hygiene factors refer to basic human needs at work that will cause dissatisfaction if they are not met – factors such as salaries and benefits, job insecurity, organisational policies, working conditions and retirement benefits. Giving a worker better food or longer lunch breaks will remove a source of unhappiness, but will not make the person better motivated, nor will it make the worker more engaged. Hygiene factors ultimate can act as a barrier to engagement and should be neutralised or removed in order to create a work environment that is conducive to engagement.
  • Motivators, on the other hand, influence how a person performs on the job. When an employee is motivated, they invest more of themselves in their work and strive to do better. Merely being satisfied does not cause an employee to work harder. An employee can also be highly motivated but not satisfied with the job. They might find the work interesting and challenging and receive regular recognition for their work. But if they worry too much about job security or think they can be paid more at a different company, they will not be satisfied.

Frederick Herzberg’s hygiene factors, as a form of 'motivation' (salary increases, nicer desk), is external – the carrot-and-stick approach. To maintain the effect of external motivators you will have to constantly put larger carrots out. Such motivators will not make people excel, but will simply make them perform “not so badly”. Getting hygiene factors right will only provide a temporary improvement in motivation or engagement; getting it wrong will cause long lasting problems and negative attitudes and will serve as an effective barrier to engagement.

A worker, however, that feels appreciated (e.g. by recognising a job well done) will experience a sense of achievement and will be better motivated to keep on performing. This form of motivation is internal (intrinsic) – it relies heavily on pride and self-esteem, and will have a much more lasting effect than any external motivator can ever hope to have.

Both factors are key components of employee engagement. Basic hygiene factors must be met to ensure employee satisfaction and retention. An employee must also feel motivated in order to perform at a high level. Hygiene factors are easier to identify and improve. Specific motivation factors differ for each employee and are most influenced by the employee’s supervisor. The manager needs to understand what drives each of his or her employees and create the circumstances for them to perform at their best.

Creating the Conditions for Engagement

Engagement should be seen as a psychological state that employees can be in when they are performing their work roles. Defining engagement as a psychological state has two important implications:

  • Engagement as a psychological state means it is not necessarily stable over time – employees can move into and out of a state of engagement. Asking someone about their engagement should be phrased as ‘How often are you engaged?’ and not as ‘How engaged are you?’ Highly engaged employees are likely to experience a sense of engagement more regularly than employees who are less engaged.
  • It also means that attention is focussed on the fact that there are likely to be factors in the organisation that affect engagement in positive and negative directions. These drivers of engagement are the key levers to pull if an organisation seeks to increase levels of engagement.

Engagement as a psychological state will not be something that will happen by itself or that will manifest overnight after a couple of cursory interventions. Engagement should be seen as a long term social contract between the employees and the organisation – a two-way process where the organisation commits and care for the employees, who in turn give commitment and effort back to the organisation. Attempts to increase the level of engagement will most likely be ineffective unless this two-way process is properly factored into the equation.

Creating an engaging work environment that reflects the two-way commitment between employees and the organisation requires a behavioural and cultural change in the organisation, which will take time and effort. To create and sustain workplace conditions that are conducive to employee engagement will require holistic, coordinated and deliberate efforts on several fronts: building an (1) engagement culture, exercising (2) transformational leadership, and implementing a number of (3) engagement drivers.

This combination of an engagement culture, transformational leadership and engagement drivers will produce powerful and mutually reinforcing results: an engaged workforce and a true performance culture. Driving and sustaining these results, however, require adherence to two vital principles:

  • An understanding and appreciation that engagement is a two-way relationship and a reciprocal commitment between the employer and the employee – where the employer is responsible for building a meaningful workplace and the employee is responsible for contributing to an engaging workplace;
  • An understanding and appreciation that engagement should not be separated from the daily work routine or relegated to an annual survey, but that it should be viewed as an organisational way of life that should be driven on a daily basis by managers and supervisors at all levels of the organisation.

Building a Culture of Engagement

Workplace culture is the key to setting the tone for engagement. Research done in 2004 by Lloyd Morgan found that numerous cultural traits are critical for increasing engagement levels – particularly a culture of innovation, good internal communication and a reputation of integrity. Organisations with a positive and appreciative culture are more likely to be considered an ‘employer of choice’ and are likely to have higher levels of employee engagement; they will be in a better position to attract and retain the best talent.

Culture in this context can be seen as a set of beliefs, values and norms that represents the unique character of the organisation and that provides the context within which decisions are made and behaviours regulated. It reflects the identity of the organisation, and in some ways it becomes the identity of those who work there as well. Culture has a reciprocal side to it – the management and staff of the organisation affect the culture as much as the culture affects them.

Creating a culture of engagement should start at the top and should cascade down the organisation – it must be lived and breathed throughout the organisation. The role and response-bilities of the organisation’s leadership and management in fostering an organisational culture that is conducive to engagement are outlined in the engagement drivers as summarised below (see next section for more detail on the different drivers of employee engagement):

  • Driver #1 Strategic Alignment – an aligned culture where the employees are connected to the vision, mission and values of the organisation and where they have a clear understanding of how important their jobs are to the organisation’s success.
  • Driver #2 Manager Intent – a culture of integrity, trust and values where the leadership and management at all levels walk the talk and lead through their personal examples.
  • Driver #3: Employee Voice – a voice-enabled culture where everybody helps to shape the future: where employees are encouraged to question and think for themselves, where they have the freedom to speak out and challenge, and where they know that their opinions count and make a difference.
  • Drivers #4 & 6: Feedback, Recognition & Praise – a culture of feedback, recognition and praise where employees feel valued and appreciated for the work they do and the contribution they make.
  • Driver #5: Personal Development – a caring culture where management have a sincere interest in the employees’ well-being and where employees are encouraged and supported to develop and grow personally and career-wise.
  • Driver #7 Organisational Environment – a culture of empowerment where employees have sufficient autonomy and control so they can take ownership of their functions.

Transformational Leadership

Creating and sustaining this organisational way of life requires a form of transformational leadership that will inspire a culture of engagement where employees will be seen as an integral part of developing and delivering the overall business strategy – a culture where the workforce is committed to the organisation and its values, and where they are willing to invest additional effort to help the organisation meet its objectives.

Transformational leaders are leaders who encourage and enable the development of an organisation that is driven by a culture based on integrity, openness, transparency and collaboration with others. Transformational leaders are genuinely concerned for the development and well-being of others, and have the ability to unite the organisation through a shared vision and values. Transformational leaders believe in empowering and developing others, and encourage a questioning and thinking work environment where everybody helps to shape the future. They motivate and transform their followers by helping them to understand the value and importance of their tasks in achieving a higher order need, i.e. organisational vision and objectives.

Research shows that groups led by transformational leaders have higher levels of perfor-mance and satisfaction and are accordingly more likely to be engaged than groups led by other types of leaders. This is because transformational leaders care about their team members and their personal and developmental needs, and they hold positive expectations for them, believing that they can do their best. As a result, they inspire, empower, and stimulate their followers to exceed normal levels of performance.

Transformational leadership will be instrumental in creating a culture of engagement in an organisation, as outlined in the table below.

Transformational Leadership Engagement Drivers

Inspirational Motivation
– the leader articulates an inspirational and compelling vision and challenges followers with high standards, communicate optimism about future goals, and provide meaning and purpose for the task at hand.
  • Driver #1 Strategic Alignment – Creating and Communicating a Strategic Narrative; Linking Goals to Individual Job Content
  • Driver #2 Manager Intent – Setting and Enforcing High Standards
  • Driver #3 Employee Voice – Valuing Employee Opinions; Building an Employee Voice-enabled Culture; Sharing Business Information; Establishing Vehicles to facilitate Employee Participation
Idealised Influence – the leader has a clear set of values and serves as an ideal role model for followers; the leader walks the talk and is admired for his/her solid moral and ethical examples.
  • Driver #2 Manager Intent – Establish a Culture of Integrity and Values

Individualised Attention
– the leader demonstrates genuine concern for the needs and feelings of followers, acts as a mentor or coach, listens to their concerns and respect and celebrate their individual contributions.
  • Driver #3 Employee Voice (Personal Development) – Treating Employees as Individuals; Enabling Individual Development, Providing Opportunities to Learn and Grow; Providing Performance Feedback and Coaching
  • Driver #3 Employee Voice – Valuing Employee Opinions; Building an Employee Voice-enabled Culture; Sharing Business Information; Establishing Vehicles to facilitate Employee Participation

Intellectual Stimulation
– the leader challenges followers to higher levels of performance, encourages them to be innovative, challenge assumptions, take risks and solicit their followers' ideas, and connect them to the each other and the big picture (organisation’s goals).
  • Driver #3 Employee Voice – Valuing Employee Opinions; Building an Employee Voice-enabled Culture; Sharing Business Information; Establishing Vehicles to facilitate Employee Participation
  • Driver #2 Manager Intent – Setting and Enforcing High Standards
  • Driver #1 Strategic Alignment – Linking Goals to Individual Job Content

  

Drivers of Employee Engagement

There is a great deal of published academic work on what the top 7 or top 10 drivers or key enablers of employee engagement are. However, a ‘one size fits all’ approach to enabling engagement will not be effective, since all of these drivers will not matter equally to everyone.

To be effective, specific data will have to be collected to identify the most significant needs within an organisation, which should then be used to formulate high-impact programmes that will address the relevant drivers of engagement. Overall, however, extensive research into engagement best practices points to the following key drivers of employee engagement that will be dealt with in more detail in the following section.


Driver #1 Strategic Alignment

Employee engagement is not a series of mechanistic steps or a couple of impromptu action plans hastily instituted to remedy a motivational problem at the organisation. Employee engagement is in a sense an organisational way of life – a work environment where employees understand and commit to the company’s direction, strategy and goals, a philosophy that starts at the top and permeates through all the management levels to every worker.
For employees to be engaged in an organisation, they need to be connected to the vision, mission and values of the organisation. They must have a clear understanding of how important their jobs are to the organisation’s success, i.e. there must be a clear link or line-of-sight between the employee’s performance and the organisation’s achievements.

The rationale behind this has to do with the employee’s need to believe in something bigger, to contribute to a higher purpose. Once the basic needs of a job (good pay check, benefits, working conditions) have been met, employees need to know how they contribute to something bigger than themselves in order to be motivated. This something bigger could be nurses helping to improve the quality of life of their patients, or teachers helping their students get a head start in life. Or it could be helping their companies to achieve their business goals. It is not uncommon for highly engaged employees to turn down higher pay or promotion to remain in a job where they believe they do more meaningful work.

Management do make a Difference

Employees that are strategically aligned with their organisation’s objectives, and that are constantly reminded by their managers or supervisors of how important their roles are to organisational success, will feel that their work has meaning and is important. They will be proud of the work they are doing and will believe they make a difference. Employees with such a clear line-of-sight on corporate goals will be more likely to be engaged.

Research by Gallup, however, indicates that less than half of all workers in their database feel that their work has meaning and that they are contributing towards their companies’ missions. Their research found surprisingly little difference across industries: workers in less glamorous jobs (prison guards, hotel maids, shoe shiners) sometimes felt a strong connection to a mission, while workers in more altruistic and caring jobs (health care, nursing) sometimes felt little connection to a mission.

The reason for this has all to do with the employee’s direct manager – supervisors who are themselves connected to their organisation’s vision and goals and who actively communicate this to their teams, tend to have a higher percentage of team members that are similarly connected. The connections seem to diminish the further the employees are removed from top management. Approximately two thirds of the more senior employees closer to the top tend to be connected, while at the lower levels – where people actually deal with customers – less than a third were connected.

Getting Executive Buy-in and Commitment

In many of the more successful companies, senior managers understand the links between employee engagement, customer satisfaction and business performance, and the engagement argument has long since been won. In the majority of organisations, however, employee engagement is either ignored by management, delegated to the organisation’s HR department, or relegated to an annual survey. To be of benefit to the organisation, employee engagement should be seen as a planned business strategy with expected and measured business results that are the responsibility of the organisation’s executive management.

To implement employee engagement as an organisational way of life, engagement interventions should be driven on a daily basis from both a leadership and managerial point of view. The organisation’s leadership should set the tone for a culture of engagement throughout the organisation, while managers at all levels of the organisation should drive engagement on an individual and team level with their direct reports. The role of HR will be to facilitate the process and to help the managers to maximise the engagement level of their teams by implementing the practices, systems and processes necessary to sustain a workplace that is conducive to engagement. Establishing an engagement way of life will only happen with the full and sustained support of the entire senior management team – it should be a top, strategic priority for them. They need to wholeheartedly buy into the philosophy and business case of employee engagement:

  • Rational buy-in – top management need to understand that employee engagement is not a feel-good nice to have, but an essential management approach that makes total business sense. A good place to start will be to present them with a compelling engagement business case (see previous section).
  • Personal commitment – management need to understand that their attitudes and behaviours will set the tone for the rest of the company. They can’t expect their employees to be engaged if they are not engaged themselves or if they do not set the right example. They also need to understand that an autocratic, top-down style of leadership will not be conducive to a climate of engagement. They will have to communicate a clear direction, ‘walk the talk’ with respect to the company's core values, and work hard to earn people's trust.
  • Personal accountability – management should be held accountable for engagement, not only for the engagement levels of their divisions or teams, but also for the engagement of their direct reports:
    • Engagement targets – engagement targets should be included in a business or performance plan and as the ‘people’ measure in a balanced scorecard approach, and engagement scores should be included in the individual performance targets of managers at all levels.
    • Engagement practices – management should also be accountable for the workforce practices for which they are responsible. They should regularly assess whether their policies and programmes drive maximum commitment and willingness to invest additional effort towards achieving organisational goals. They should also regularly audit their workforce practices and business processes to reassess and realign the business processes and entities and to identify barriers that could potentially undermine engagement.

Aligning Job Content to Organisational Goals

Executives in general spend too much time trying to formulate the perfect vision or mission statements, goals and related, and not enough time on aligning their organisations with the visions and goals already in place. There is a big difference between an organisation with a vision statement and a visionary organisation, and between an organisation with clear goals and a goal-driven organisation.

Providing a clear line-of-sight to organisational goals means aligning each individual worker’s job content and work-related goals to some aspect of the organisation’s strategy or goals. Strategic alignment has two parts:

  • Employees must understand – and believe in – the strategy and goals their organisation is trying to achieve;
  • Employees need to understand how their contributions will help the organisation achieve those goals – their daily work activities must be linked to the organisation’s goals so they will feel that their jobs are important and meaningful.

Practical Steps for Strategic Alignment

The steps outlined below serve as a guideline of what you can do to align your employees with the organisation’s vision, mission and values (please see the workshop manual for more detail).

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Driver #2 Manager Intent

An engaged manager is the driving force behind an engaged workforce. Mid-level managers and line managers may not have a direct influence over organisational strategies or policies, but through their daily interaction with their teams they can affect factors, such as feeling valued, that directly influence levels of engagement amongst the workforce.

For managers to have an impact on engagement, they have to be visibly committed to the organisation and they must display a genuine responsibility towards their employees, particularly in terms of their well‐being. They need to be fair and honest in their dealings with workers, and must foster a sense of involvement and value. They need to show up, walk the talk and get engaged themselves before they can ask their employees to be engaged; their actions and integrity are vitally important in enabling engagement.

Recent research seems to corroborate the impact of engaged managers on engagement levels. Research done by Accenture showed that 80% of the variation in engagement levels was down to the line manager. As a result, employees’ most important relationship at work is with their line manager – people join organisations, but they leave managers. Towers Perrin, in their research, have found that a lack of ‘soft skills’ in managers has led to widespread disengage-ment across Europe.

The steps as outlined below will help you as manager to become more engaged yourself (please see the workshop manual for more detail).

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Driver #3 Employee Voice

According to an investigation into employee engagement by the UK Department of Business, the ‘Sunday Times Top 100 Companies to Work for’ found that ‘feeling listened to’ was the most important factor in determining how much respondents valued their organisation. Being heard, i.e. employee voice, reinforces a sense of belonging within an organisation, and a belief that one’s actions can have an impact. Helping to come up with the solution to a problem increases employee ownership in making that solution work. And besides, it may be a good idea that can potentially save the company millions.

However, creating a culture where employees feel ‘listened to’ goes hand in hand with showing employees that senior leaders truly care about them. Unfortunately the reality shows something different – research by Towers Perrin-ISR shows that on average only 10% of all the employees surveyed agreed that senior leaders actually treat employees as vital corporate assets.

A Voice-enabled Culture

Establishing an effective and empowered employee voice is about providing mechanisms that will allow employee views and opinions to be heard, and equally important, acted upon. Employee voice implies a collaborative work environment with a strong sense of listening and responsiveness – an environment where employees have the freedom to speak out and challenge and where they know that their opinions count and make a difference. Employee voice requires a culture shift so that all managers and employees recognise that they have a joint responsibility to contribute towards the achievement of organisational goals. They need to recognise that engagement, and hence productivity and performance, need to be driven through an informed and involved workforce.

Management’s Role in a Voice-enabled Work Environment

Creating a voice-enabled culture requires leaders that are prepared to accept responsibility for building a collaborative work environment where employees consistently have the opportunity to make meaningful contributions towards achieving the organisation’s vision and goals.

Collaborative leaders are prepared to accept responsibility for building highly diversified, collaborative teams – from all disciplines and levels of the organisation – that can deliver results across organisational boundaries. They will promote collaboration by inspiring confidence in individuals and giving them autonomy to make decisions with clear goals and accountability. They will also make sure that organisational processes give managers the flexibility to instil this in employees. Business managers with a collaborative leadership style (i.e. where employees are intimately involved with both the development and the delivering of the overall business strategy) drives engagement, whereas managers who are used to a ‘command and control’ style or who rely on consensus may be less successful and may see decision making and execution grinding to a halt.

Establishing Employee Voice in the Organisation

Employee voice is about sharing information so that employees are properly informed, and listening to feedback and ideas that can help improve your business. The steps as outlined below will provide you with some guidance on how to establish an employee voice-enable culture in your organisation (please see the workshop manual for more detail).

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Driver #4 Feedback

Receiving regular feedback is one of the more powerful drivers of engagement. A recent Watson Wyatt survey shows that 43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week, compared to only 18% of employees with low engagement.

The steps outlined below serve as a broad guideline of how to use feedback to increase the engagement level of your direct reports (please see the workshop manual for more detail).

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Driver #5 Personal Development

For employees to perform well they need to have the right skills for the job. Their roles need to encompass work that they know how to do, but there should at the same time also be scope to develop personally, to learn new skills, and to develop their roles.

The importance of development opportunities for employees in enabling engagement should not be underestimated. An employee-opinion research conducted by Towers Perrin-ISR showed that the extent to which employees believed that their senior management had a sincere interest in their well-being rated as the most important of 75 possible drivers of engagement. The same study also found that the 2nd most important driver was the extent to which employees believed that they had improved their skills and capabilities over the previous year. Likewise, four studies conducted by amongst others Gallup and the Corporate Executive Board, showed a definite link between employee development and high engagement.

The steps outlined below serve as a broad guideline of what can be done to develop employees (please see the workshop manual for more detail).

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Driver #6 Recognition & Praise

Timely recognition and appreciation are some of the more powerful drivers of engagement. BlessingWhite indicated in their 2008 Engagement report that the aspect that concerned them the most was that managers were not effectively recognising and rewarding achievements. And Gallup in their surveys found that the frequency at which employee behaviour was recognised or praised was important: employees that received recognition or praise in the ‘last seven days’ were at least 10% more productive and generated 11% more revenue than those that did not.

The steps outlined below serve as a broad guideline of how to use recognition and praise to increase the engagement level of your workers (please see the workshop manual for more detail).

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Driver #7 Organisational Environment

The work environment – which includes the physical environment, tools and resources, work conditions and the necessary structures, processes and procedures – can either be a key enabler of engagement, or it can be a major barrier to engagement. For employees to be engaged, they need to not only have the materials and equipment to do the job right, but they also need to work in a fair and equitable environment that is conducive to healthy relationships and that is physically safe and secure.

The steps outlined below serve as a broad guideline of what can be done to create an enabling work environment (please see the workshop manual for more detail).

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Driver #8 Team Relations

Cohesive groups and teams develop shared values and team loyalty. Individual members of a cohesive team bring varied skills and points of view to the team, and will complement and fill in for each other’s lack of knowledge or shortage of skills. The familiarity of team members creates smoother, more-effective communication.

Cohesive teams are also more likely to be more productive and may at times experience ‘super productivity’ or ‘flow’ (see Section 3: Enabling Flow in the Workplace). Before a team can hope to experience flow, the team members’ strengths and their roles in the team have to be balanced and synergised so they complement and enhance one another. Teams that are balanced and ‘in sync’ will work well together and can make good things happen – individual team members will tap into each other’s strengths, which often leads to greater creativity and increased productivity. Balanced and synergised teams will experience an inspirational sense of collaboration and cooperation that will lead to optimal performance, and – given a suitable team challenge – group flow.

The steps outlined below serve as a guideline of what you can do to drive relations in your team (please see the workshop manual for more detail).

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Driver #9 Talent Fit

The endemic scarcity of skilled workers in developing economies such as South Africa has placed a huge emphasis not only on finding and retaining the right talent, but also on developing and optimally utilising existing talent. Most medium to large organisations now rely on Industrial or Organisational Psychologists to assist them in finding and recruiting the right people, with most of the focus on matching core competencies to jobs and aspects such as ‘culture fit’. There is, however, often too little focus on matching a person’s natural talents (or personal strengths) to appropriate roles, and even less on developing talent once it has been recruited, with the result that highly sought-after skills may leave in search of greater development opportunities – even more so in case of millennials.

Definition of Talents (Personal Strengths)

Everyone has talents, but not everyone is clear about what their talents are and how to capitalise on them. You may be able to recognise some of your talents that come naturally, but most people tend to overlook their strengths or take them for granted.

A natural talent or personal strength is something that we are good at, that energises us and that we enjoy doing. Our talents are based on pre-existing or inborn capacities that are hard-wired in a unique way into each of us – they are, in effect, traits or behaviours that are part of our personality and that do not change all that much over time. These inborn capacities are developed and sharpened during our early childhood, and may become more or less predominant depending on the circumstances or situations we find ourselves in as adults. Our talents or strengths may change over time to reflect the environmental changes and contexts in which we operate: as we move into new contexts which require different talents, certain talents will advance into the foreground and others will recede into the background.

Using Talents/Personal Strengths for Management

At the heart of the strengths approach lies the use of personal strengths as the basis for the development and management of the workforce. Management should actively support the use and development of their own strengths as well as those of their direct reports. Effective leaders invest in their followers’ strengths. Where mediocre managers seek to get followers to take responsibility for their weaknesses and devote themselves to plugging these gaps, great leaders seek to manage around these weaknesses and invest their time and energy understanding and building on followers’ strengths.

Practical Steps for Using Personal Strengths for Management

At the heart of the strengths approach lies the use of personal strengths as the basis for the development and management of the workforce. Management should actively support the use and development of their own strengths as well as those of their direct reports. Effective leaders invest in their followers’ strengths. Where mediocre managers seek to get followers to take responsibility for their weaknesses and devote themselves to plugging these gaps, great leaders seek to manage around these weaknesses and invest their time and energy understanding and building on followers’ strengths (please see the workshop manual for more detail).

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