Employee Engagement—Start Here for Best Results

Business Man At Starting Line Road PathMotivation expert Susan Fowler believes that leaders are spending too much time trying to fix disengagement after it occurs instead of questioning the approaches to motivation that may have led to it in the first place.

In a new article, Missing the Point on Motivation, Fowler stresses not to wait until people have become disengaged before taking action. Instead, begin at the source of people’s engagement journey.

She explains that people are always appraising their workplace and coming to conclusions on whether they feel safe, positive, and optimistic about the environment, or threatened, unsure, or fearful. These appraisals lead to conclusions about well-being, intentions, and subsequent behavior.

“A leader’s role is to help people manage their appraisal process now so that people get on the path to employee work passion rather than the road to disengagement,” says Fowler. “Every day is an opportunity for leaders to help individuals shift their motivational outlooks. Day-to-day motivation holds the key to long-term engagement.”

According to Fowler, a primary reason engagement initiatives haven’t been as successful as hoped is that leaders do not understand the role motivation plays in the engagement process. That, and the outdated beliefs leaders have about motivation.

“I think many leaders are afraid of changing traditional methods of motivation because they are worried about how people might react,” explains Fowler. “However, our experience has been that when leaders are exposed to proven best practices and develop skills to use them, they are more inclined to move outside their comfort zone and try an alternative approach.”

Guidelines for Getting Started

For leaders ready to try a new approach, Fowler recommends finding ways of satisfying deeper psychological needs and focusing in six key areas.

  • Encourage autonomy. Give people options. Even when you are discussing deadlines, frame them as useful information for achieving important goals rather than ways for applying pressure.
  • Deepen relatedness. Appreciate the vital role emotions and feelings play in creating connection. This interconnectedness is something we all long for.
  • Develop people’s competence. At the end of the day, it’s not just about what a person accomplishes; it’s also about what they are learning and how they are growing.
  • Promote mindfulness. Prompt awareness of options that a person may not have considered. Ask open-ended questions to help individuals see options and rise above old, unhelpful patterns of behavior.
  • Align with values. Help others align their work to meaningful values that generate positive energy, vitality, and sense of well-being.
  • Connect to purpose. Few things in life are more powerful than acting from a noble purpose.

The quality of people’s day-to-day motivation is the source for the quality of their engagement. For best results, intervene earlier and use more effective and enduring approaches to motivation. You’ll be surprised at the impact you can have as a leader when you meet deeper and more satisfying needs.

To read more about Fowler’s approach to motivation, be sure to check out Missing the Point on Motivation.  You can also learn more via a free, online Leadership Livecast Fowler is hosting on Motivating People Doesn’t Work … What Does? The online event is free, courtesy of The Ken Blanchard Companies.



7 thoughts on “Employee Engagement—Start Here for Best Results

  1. Hello David,

    If we wait until after we hire employees to begin to address their motivation and job success, then we have waited too long.

    • Hi Bob–are you suggesting that we should be looking at motivation even during the hiring process? If yes, I’m excited about that idea and what it might mean. I know that the best companies build mission, vision, and values discussions into the interview process!

  2. I think a lot of managers have this problem. They do not motivate soon enough. If only their were more people capable of being a manager and a leader.

  3. This is a great Eye Opener for managers. Everyday I am more convinced that Leadership is just like any other relationship. Leaders need to be sensitive and proactive as they are dealing with human “beings” just like them, who experience the same key psychological needs indicated by Fowler.

    • Hi Antonio–thanks for highlighting this important point that we all share psychological needs and that we are more the same than different. Your comment reminded me about research from Duke University where subjects were asked to rate what motivates them individually, and what motivates peers and superiors at different levels in an organization. In most cases, the subjects rated their peers and superiors as more interested in external incentives than they said was true for themselves. One of our senior consultants, David Facer, wrote a great article about this in Training magazine that has the complete story. Here’s a link: http://pubs.royle.com/article/Motivation_Misunderstanding/1113123/118254/article.html

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