Defuse the Gunpowder Barrel with Sustained Employee Engagement
November Fifth is Guy Fawkes Day in Britain. It is a celebration of the discovery of Mr. Fawkes guarding a pile of gunpowder barrels which were to be used in the “Gunpowder Plot” to blow up the House of Lords, the upper house of Britain’s Parliament. He was a role player in the drama, but as the primary suspect his name ended up attached to the day over the next century.
What the heck does this have to do with employee engagement and workplace productivity?
- Any plot has a motive, and disruptive plots tend to have their genesis in disgruntlement.
- The key element of employee engagement is to uncover and address the workplace issues that are causing disgruntlement before they explode into a crisis or deeply corrode morale.
Where are the Gunpowder plotters within your organization? Look for them, because they exist. Gallup’s 2013 workplace survey found them: 25% or more of the average workforce globally is “actively disengaged” with their work. In North America, we do a bit better: 18% of our overall workforce reports itself actively disengaged.
Actively disengaged is far more troublesome than passively disengaged (what Gallup calls “not engaged”), because these employees are dragging other people’s productivity down with them:
- Aggressive gossiping about “rumors”
- Emphasizing the negative consistently in conversations
- Dragging projects down with constant harping on the risks, with no acknowledgment of the balancing rewards
- Champions of sticking to current practices and procedures, whether useful or not, while complaining constantly about how inefficient and bureaucratic these current practices are
Uncovering and defusing these landmines is hard work, but very rewarding if done properly:
- Understand that the actively disengaged employee probably wants to be engaged, but has never been involved in engagement activities that actually work (a sustained personal development program, in particular.)
- Understand, too, that the person is talented. He or she would not have been hired in the first place if they did not exhibit a set of skills that the organization deemed useful.
- Expand “performance reviews” to a monthly activity for all employees, knowing that your main goal is to find and engage the Guy Fawkes that are lurking in the ranks, collecting and guarding gunpowder.
- Have a frank discussion about what troubles the employee, and why past efforts to engage him or her have not worked. “Remove the fuse from the gunpowder barrel,” if you will.
- Follow through on your promises to engage the employee and his or her concerns.
This last step is the critical success factor. How many times in the past has the organization started an engagement process with this person (or the team, or department, etc.) and failed to sustain the process?
An actively disengaged employee represents a failure of management to actively lead on a consistent basis. Transformational leaders make it their main priority to be on the watch for the Guy Fawkes in the ranks, and covert every one of them into passionate, contributing members of your organizational society!
What do you think? Is disgruntlement a failure of leadership, or does the fault lie with the employee, who may be refusing any effort to be engaged? Why would an employee resist such outreach from management?