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Employee engagement doesn't just happen

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It seems almost foolish, we put people in a business, tell them what to do and because we pay them to do it, we expect them to be fully engaged and committed to doing what they are told. But that rarely happens.

They usually show up engaged on the first day, but often, only a few short months in, we wonder why they aren’t performing like the superstar we thought we hired.

Some managers then start trying to find incentives, compensation programs, bonuses, and other “carrots” to get the team fired up and cause them to bring their A game every day. And sometimes it works... for a little while. Then we resort to new tricks in an attempt to keep the momentum from falling back to its comfortable place, somewhere near mediocrity.

Forced Employee Engagement

We might start wielding the “stick.” The “stick” goes something like this: “Either follow the handbook of rules management has created or we will fire you."

First we call you into our office and give you “verbal warnings,” then we put you on a “performance improvement plan,” and then we fire you. I’m sure it’s happened, but I honestly can’t think of one person I’ve ever known or heard of who became more engaged or committed to the business because their job was threatened. They may have stepped it up a bit when the boss was looking so they can pay their bills this month, but has that ever really caused anyone to want to work harder for the success of the business?

Incentives and Threats Don't Work

Engagement, commitment, accountability: These things aren’t driven primarily by pay or incentives and they certainly aren’t driven by threats, verbal warnings, or the employee handbook. If they were, research would show the majority of employees are engaged, because most businesses certainly use these kinds of tactics.

However, most studies show only around 30 percent of employees are fully engaged. This means you are likely trying to run your business with those who show up for the paycheck and with the goal of doing only enough to get by. I’ve never met anyone who feels this is a good strategy for success.

Employees Aren't Bad People

Here’s the good news, they aren’t bad people, disengagement is not part of their DNA, and there are ways to turn the situation around. You can create a business where most of the people show up every day focused on the contribution they make, and thinking about ways to grow the business, accomplish more, and be part of something they care about just as much as the owner or CEO.

Believe it or not, we often teach our employees not to innovate, not to contribute, and not to care about the organization. We can stop teaching them those things any time we choose. We can instead teach them we need their thoughts, ideas, commitment, and energy and stop settling for their presence and their compliance.

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