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5 opportunities for boosting employee engagement

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How engaged are people where you work? According to business owner Kevin Kruse, author of Employee Engagement for Everyone, the essence of employee engagement is “the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.”

How does a leader foster “emotional commitment”? Sounds like a tall order, right? Of the myriad employee engagement opportunities presented each day to leaders, certain situations present maximum bang for a leader’s buck. I call these the pivot points for employee engagement — crucial situations that, when properly capitalized upon, can amplify employees’ commitment to the organizational cause.

On the surface, pivot points appear to be nothing more than the ordinary aspects of organizational life — interviewing job candidates or kicking off new projects. Look closer and you’ll see that these seemingly mundane circumstances have the power to open up or shut down development in employees’ emotional stake in company goals. Like a door hinge, employee engagement pivot points are the fulcrum upon which commitment swivels.

Here are a few examples of pivot points leaders should look to leverage:

Employee selection. Even before an employee joins the team, leaders have the chance to influence employee engagement. What messages are you telegraphing about your department when you interview prospective team members? Are your comments truly in alignment with your management style and how your team operates?

Onboarding. How are newly hired employees treated in your organization? Are they paired with positive role models the first few weeks on the job? Or are they left to their own devices to form conclusions about “how things run around here”? Keep in mind that colleagues can kill employee engagement just as quickly as a negative manager can.

New projects. How are new projects launched at your company? Do all the players fully understand how their role fits into the larger picture and how it adds value? When people believe that the projects they’re involved with are valuable, they’ll work harder to see that project to completion. This, in turn, leads to increased emotional commitment in their work. Conversely, projects that don’t have a clearly defined vision or outcomes suck the life out of engagement.

Reorganization. Organizational change represents a huge opportunity to gain commitment along with a corresponding amount of trepidation from the employee base. That’s why it’s critical for leaders to fully understand the emotional component of department shuffles. When your organization announces changes, is there ample time built in to address employee concerns? It’s not enough to focus on the financial or efficiency benefits of reorganization; savvy leaders understand that they must also respond to the psychological aspects of change.

Ethical issues. Many leaders grapple with ethical dilemmas privately; it’s the nature of the beast. Even so, occasionally leaders will be presented with a public opportunity to show integrity. It’s at these times that employees see their leaders in a new light — as human beings who struggle with a tough predicament and come out the other side with their integrity intact. When leaders shine the light on their decisions, they maneuver this pivot point toward building the team’s trust. When was the last time you showed some vulnerability and shared a challenging decision with your team?

When leaders view the notion of “emotional commitment” through the lens of pivot points, they gain a practical application that can increase team trust and productivity. Consider your organization; what are the key pivot points that you can apply to increase commitment to your department or company goals?

Jennifer V. Miller, managing partner of SkillSource, helps midcareer professionals strategize their next big “leap.” She is the co-author of “The Character-Based Leader,” blogs at The People Equation and tweets via @JenniferVMiller.