Many people have a rather simplistic view of how people and teams perform. People don’t perform based on their abilities alone. Any person’s performance is the sum total of their own abilities and effort plus the prevalent culture in the company (and team). A high-trust and high engagement culture can enhance performance just like bad culture can degrade performance.
Engagement and trust are incredibly important facets of a high-performance team yet according to Gallup, employee engagement is now at an all-time low. The benefits of high engagement at work are numerous. Here are some of the key advantages of an engaged workforce:
- A more positive job outlook
- Willingness to share opinions
- Readiness to ask for help when needed
- The inclination to offer alternative solutions
- Eagerness to achieve more and improve on a personal level
- Providing guidance for colleagues
- Understanding the importance of their contributions
Conversely, disengaged employees tend to :
- Become easily frustrated
- Develop unclear/unrealistic expectations
- Feel undervalued and demotivated
- Become complacent and disinterested
- Fail to understand the importance of their contributions
It is estimated that just over half of workers in America (and an even higher proportion worldwide) are not engaged in their jobs. The figure for engaged employees worldwide could be as low as 13% (Crabtree, 2013). Therefore, It is clear that it is within a company’s interests to increase engagement and trust in order to boost team performance.
8 Things Leaders Can Do To Increase Trust, Engagement, and Performance
1. Prioritise Trust and Relationships Over Tasks and Projects
Too many companies believe people are interchangeable, and treat them as just resources to get work done. That is why most work conversations revolve around what we do – the tasks, projects, deadlines, budgeting, strategy, etc. I believe we are missing a trick here if only focus on the tasks, and ignore the relationships between people who do these tasks.
Good leaders understand that it is the people and the relationships among them which decide the quality of work done. Hence they focus on building strong relationships and creating a culture where trust, honesty, and accountability are prioritized.
Leaders build strong relationships by understanding people’s deepest beliefs and ambitions, by coaching them to figure out their values and empowering them by setting relevant milestones and then providing support along the way. This way the relationship becomes the bedrock of everything being done and the conversations shift from being project-based to relationship-based.
Gallup found that people who have a good friend in the workplace are more likely to be satisfied. With good relationships, precious time and energy that would have been spent in fixing bad relationships and solving conflicts is now instead spent productively. This results not just in increased wellbeing but also increased business productivity.
2. Give People Control of Their Work
Giving people more control over their day-to-day decisions and work is a fantastic way to improve engagement. Autonomy creates accountability and accountability leads to engagement (Saragih, 2011).
Good leaders allow people to have a greater say in their work and they become more involved and engaged by extension. Nobody likes to be told what to do. Nobody likes to be micromanaged. We hire people after extensive interviews. I think we disrespect their skills when we don’t listen to them.
Resisting the temptation to micromanage and involve yourself in every task can be difficult. Allowing your people to do what they do best without interference will, however, lead to better results in the long-run. Provide them the assurance and freedom they need and desire to do their job. Give them ownership, so the work is theirs, not yours. This makes their tasks, their projects, and their responsibilities more meaningful.
3. Promote a Growth Mindset
Mistakes are unavoidable when chasing big goals but how you deal with them can make a world of difference. Instead of viewing mistakes as negative, strong leaders see them as an opportunity to learn. This begins by showing your own vulnerabilities as a leader. If you make a mistake, it’s important to admit it. Be willing to accept feedback on your performance and then use the information for positive change.
Strong leaders promote a “growth mindset” among their people. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. As Carol Dweck, who studies human motivation, says in her book Mindset : The New Psychology of Success, “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”
With the growth mindset, people become students for life and see each success and failure as opportunities to learn. With this attitude, everything becomes a journey and people avoid getting stuck in defeating self-talk like “I can’t do this.”, or “This is beyond my abilities”.
Strong leaders create a growth mindset by promoting a culture where people are not blamed for mistakes and failures, which will eventually happen. Instead these are seen as learning opportunities so that the same mistakes are not repeated in the future.
4. Develop People Based on Their Strengths
Have you worked in a company or with a manager where every conversation focussed on what you are not doing well, and what you need to do to improve your weaknesses? Have you been asked to create measurable goals to show progress in an area where you have not been doing so well? How does it feel when your manager talks about your weakness in every 1-on-1?
If you are like most people, you will find this experience extremely frustrating. As human beings, there are always skills which we do well, and some skills where we don’t do as well. Focussing on weaknesses brings our fears, insecurity, and anxiety to the fore, and impairs learning and growth.
In a massive study by Gallup involving 1.2 million employees across 22 organizations in seven industries and 45 countries, it was found that focussing on strengths lead to increased sales, profits, high engagement for employees, and safety. By focussing on weaknesses, the true potential of employees where they can shine and do their best work is often neglected.
Researchers have also found that receiving praise releases dopamine, which is the chemical associated with rewards in our brain. Praise basically tells our brain “Do that again.” This is why, when good work is praised and recognized, people will tend to do more of the same in the future.
Praise works best when it is specific and not vague. So instead of praising someone’s work as “brilliant” or “wonderful”, be more specific in appreciating the effort. Below are some specific examples of praise done well :
- “I liked how you have used juxtapositions to add humor to your sentences.”
- “I loved the report, especially the solid research you did and can be seen in the statistics you presented.”
“If you focus on people’s weaknesses, they lose confidence.”
― Tom Rath
5. Balance Performance and Wellbeing
Performance needs to be balanced with employees’ health and wellbeing for the best results. Overworking employees leads to a decline in engagement and performance over time. Instead, good leaders encourage days off, reduce overtime, and allow weekends off to ensure people get enough rest to recover and come back fresh to work every week.
Overworking will have detrimental effects on your employees’ physical and mental health in the long-run (Wong, Chan & Ngan, 2019). It goes without saying that this is not a good outcome. Your people’s health and wellbeing should be your number one concern, as it can impact everything the business does.
There are no winners when people are overworked and it is bad for the long-term success of your company. Managers should encourage people to focus on their health by providing and promoting adequate health insurance, healthy food, and sports facilities – whether inside or outside the physical space of organizations.
Just like overplanting plants drain the soil of all its nutrients and lead to failed crops, overworking people leads to sick employees and poor work performance.
6. Create A Safe Space Where Employees Feel Comfortable
The working environment you create is vital to the performance of your team. Employees should feel comfortable to voice concerns, open up, and make suggestions. They should not fear repercussions for taking initiative or speaking up. Everyone should be aware that they are working in a safe space absent of blame or retaliation.
Organizational behavioral scientist Amy Edmondson defines psychological safety as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” Psychologically safe teams understand and give the opportunity for people to stand out because of their uniqueness, rather than attempting to fit people in boxes (or roles, titles, etc).
In a safe environment, you don’t have to wear a mask and can be completely honest about what you know and what you don’t. When you do that, others step in to help and close the gaps in skill and knowledge, leading to faster learning and better execution. This is leaps and bounds better than the alternative – when people fake knowing something they don’t, and this leads to mistakes or other faults down the line.
Some ways in which you can create a safe and comfortable workspace include:
- Listen to and take action based on inputs and feedback provided by your team.
- Remove blame and punishing people from your culture. Instead, focus on learning from mistakes.
- Delegate decision making and remove unnecessary processes and approvals. Let your team own their own decisions.
- Lead by example by sharing your own vulnerabilities.
- Ask for support from your team when you need help. Show them that this doesn’t make you weak. It only shows you are human.
“Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” – Patrick Lencioni
7. Define Team Purpose, Vision, and Values
The ‘why’ is arguably more important than the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. In more specific terms, the purpose, vision, and values behind a project have the potential to influence its success as much as the details of the project itself.
Continuously offering reminders of the bigger picture when working on daily tasks is key. People are motivated by meaning and this concept is perfectly illustrated by Dan Ariely. Research has shown that acknowledgment or meaning behind work, even in small quantities, is associated with more engagement and higher ownership.
Ariely research indicated that not only are people motivated by meaning, but they are also aware of this. When asked to predict their output for two conditions of varying acknowledgment, participants correctly predicted a greater output in the meaning condition. Perhaps most interestingly, it has been suggested that even if you like something, you are still demotivated by a lack of meaning.
Everyone wants to contribute to something bigger than themselves and make a difference. Strong leaders show people how their work impacts the customer and the wider benefits to the industry/society. A wonderful example of this is the below story –
During a visit to the NASA space center in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man, and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?”
“Well, Mr. President,” the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” – Henry Ford
8. Use Simple Language to Make Expectations Clear
Corporate language is known for being unnecessarily complicated and boring. Cutting down on corporate jargon increases engagement, transparency, and understanding. Often, simple and clear statements will get the point across. Corporate jargon is unpopular and often confusing, so use it sparingly, if at all. There is research to suggests that plain and simple language is effective in a business setting.
Leaders should stop using complicated language or hiding behind jargon. Trust people and share information openly. Let people ask anything about everything. Transparent communication involves people in problem-solving and they see the team’s or the company’s problems as their own. And, you never know where a good solution to your biggest challenges might come from.
A few simple tips for clearer language in the workplace are –
- Use shorter sentences
- Make your most important point first
- Use headings and bullet points to make your message easier to skim
- Keep your target audience in mind when communicating
- Use visuals aids like graphs and chart to make it easier for people
“When corporate executives get really excited, they leverage their learnings against comprehension to revolutionize English.”
― Tanya Thompson
Treating your employees as just employees will make them just employees. Treating them as people will unlock their full potential by creating more trust, higher engagement, and better performance.
Finding out what your employees need and providing the opportunities to access them is one of your primary goals as a leader. Create stronger relationships, communicate transparently and regularly, and encourage participation. These are all key to an engaged and trusting workforce, that will perform better as a result.
The single best way to increase performance is to create a culture that enables people to do their best work. Culture should enable performance, rather than stand in its way. By using the 8 things presented in this article, leaders can ensure people feel connected to the larger vision of the organization and supported by peers, subordinates, and leaders.
- Historic Drop in Employee Engagement Follows Record Rise
- Worldwide, 13% of Employees Are Engaged at Work
- The “IKEA Effect”: When Labor Leads to Love Working Paper
- THE FUTURE WORKPLACE
- Inbound Recruiting: HubSpot’s Approach to Employer Branding
- The Effect of Long Working Hours and Overtime on Occupational Health: A Meta-Analysis of Evidence from 1998 to 2018
- How to Create Safe Spaces at Work
- If We All Hate Business Jargon, Why Do We Keep Using It?
- Why Plain Language is Good for Business –
- (PDF) The Effects of Job Autonomy on Work Outcomes: Self Efficacy as an Intervening Variable
- Trust Employees: 3 studies showing the power of trust in the workplace