In our work inside organizations, we find ourselves called in to help with disappointing engagement surveys or to help teams learn how to give, receive and ask for feedback on an increasing basis. Yet when we dig into the real issues underlying the disappointing engagement surveys or the dysfunctional team, we start to see the real story. Morale ratings and a lack of cooperation among teams or team members, only tell us there are symptoms. Relationships—real relationships that matter are what people long for at work and at home. This is why most employee engagement/satisfaction surveys look hard at the power of relationships at work with an employee’s manager and peers.
So if increasing the quality of relationships at work is such a key ingredient for a highly engaged workforce, what are the best ways to lay the foundation for successful relationships? In our opinion, the two biggest factors with the most immediate impact are:
#1 - Learn to listen to others
Value what others have to say without having an agenda, without waiting to get your point across. Really learn to listen in order to learn what others have to say. This takes being curious. This takes understanding that someone could teach you something. This takes self- restraint and management. It takes an emotional maturity that all too often we find sorely missing. Think about it, when is the last time someone really listened to what you had to say? And most importantly, think about the last time you really listened to someone else? With your peers, this goes a long way towards increasing the chances the two of you will build a collaborative effort to tackle the company opportunities and problems. With your direct reports, truly listening sets up the opportunity for effective development of your team. With listening you get to move into asking the best questions that allow the employee to learn and grow.
#2 - Eliminate the tendency to win all discussions/arguments
This is easier said than done. We see peers in the workplace actively engaging in point and counter-point constantly. If an organization is set up in silos, we see this behavior even more pronounced. Winning at all costs makes everything an opportunity for debate, keeping score and competition. We find most of these battle lines are inhabited by leaders on both sides who do not listen, and start all responses with “but, that will never work, and here’s why.” One of the most valuable tools we share with organizations is the need to replace their “buts” with the word “and”. Most of us respond to any conversation that has a “but” in it, with a rebuttal of our own. It brings out the defensiveness in all of us and fosters less opportunity for us to really listen to the other person.
Learning to find a way to be more collaborative and less combative you're your peers allows for higher productivity. A recent survey from CEB stated that to get work done we have to interact and engage with an average of 8-10 workers to be effective. Our recent workshop poll with 250 women showed 70% of the leaders had to work with 10+ people on a daily basis to get work done. With your direct reports, eliminating the need to be right or win every discussion, moves the dialogue to one of development versus command and control. In its place, employees become more productive because they believe their boss wants the best for them.
We recently began a new assignment with company in high growth mode. They have acquired a dozen companies in the last few years and business is amazingly good and profitable. They just completed their first ever engagement survey and the results were disappointing and not surprising. A culture of competitiveness and aggression has led the employees to question their value to the organization. Silos exist and winning at all costs has become the prevailing sentiment in not only top leaders but in the managers that have grown up in the culture. Morale is suffering and the reputation has hurt their ability to hire top talent for their accelerated growth plans. Their HR leader has been instructed to get it fixed and fixed fast. The program is being built to address relationships and managerial competencies that value the need to get work done with and through others.
According to Bersin Research from 2012, organizations spent $720 million on engagement surveys and only 50% of the potential marketplace has been tapped. Pick up any business magazine or read any HR or leadership blog these days and you will find someone somewhere telling us the latest engagement scores. Headlines scream “only 30% of your talent is actively engaged!”
What if the solution lies in building up the quality of your relationships at work by being a better listener and learning to be more cooperative and collaborative?