“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head…It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a while.” – A.A. Milne
In my work coaching and training technical sales teams in fast-growing companies, I sometimes encounter individuals whose brilliant selling skills and accomplishments have pushed them into leadership positions. However, at a certain point those skills aren’t enough to take them further. They haven’t yet learned how to be a powerful leader who can inspire and energize their team. They need to know how to stop bumping their head so they can engage their reps and employees.
What is Employee Engagement?
Employee engagement is not the same as job satisfaction.
Engaged employees care about the company and feel a connection to it. They are willing to invest the energy to be great instead of settling for “good enough”. When measuring engagement, Gallup frames questions around major themes of how employees view their workplaces.
- Having clear expectations and everything needed to do their best job every day.
- Feeling that leadership cares about employees as people and is interested in their professional development.
- Getting recognized for good performance.
- Having a voice.
- Feeling a sense of purpose.
- Working among people who want to do quality work.
So what’s the relationship between employee engagement and company performance?
According to Gallup:
- At world-class organizations, the ratio of engaged to disengaged employees is roughly 10-to-1.
- At average organizations, that ratio is just about 2-to-1.
Does disengagement affect company results?
Again, according to Gallup:
- Disengaged employees cost U.S. companies roughly $800 billion in productivity losses annually.
- Engaged organizations have a 3.9 times better earnings-per-share growth rate than organizations with lower engagement in the same industry.
Be a student of ‘engaging’ leadership skills
Think and learn about leadership in the same way you do about sales, marketing, finance, and all other aspects of your business. Take your leadership studies seriously: read, take courses, talk to other leaders ... and know that no matter how effective you are, you can still learn more.
Here are some of the leadership books I regularly re-read:
- Co-Active Coaching, by Henry Kimsey House and Phil Sandahl
- Strengths-Based Leadership, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie
- Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest, by Peter Block (and anything else by him)
- Tribal Leadership, by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright
- What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith
Two ways to begin setting the conditions for engagement
- Take a hard look at what it’s like to be a member of your sales team. Notice how much people talk in meetings, and how candid they are. As the leader setting the context for engagement, you should be talking less and asking more powerful and provocative questions.
- Increase your use of the phrase “Yes, and …” I thought I was pretty open-minded until I noticed how often I said, “Yes, but ...” or “The problem with that idea is ...”
In improv theatre there is a two-part concept called “Yes, and . . .” The first part is that no matter what you say or do, I am going to say “yes” to you, accepting whatever you have offered and increasing your engagement. In the second part I add “and”, building on what you said...”
It may feel like a struggle at first, but keep at it. “Yes, and…” is particularly helpful when you don’t agree with someone’s idea. “Yes, and…” is a conversation; “Yes, but…” is an argument.
“Yes, and…” is a way of thinking and leading that opens your mind, helps you listen and creates a supportive environment. Try it and see how it helps you stop bumping your head.
Nicki Weiss is President and Co-founder of the SalesWise Academy (www.saleswiseacademy.com), an innovative online sales development program designed for sales leaders and teams that sell technical or complex products and services with long selling cycles. SalesWise Academy trains more effectively by teaching the way adults learn best, in frequent, “bite-sized” lessons, delivered via 10-minute audio podcasts and support materials to members’ inboxes every two weeks.