Engaging the Team is Not Enough
A response to the Hogan’s view on Abstracting Leadership
Craig S. Ramsay
Vice President of Business Development, San Francisco Bay Office
Sirota Survey Intelligence
Robert and Joyce Hogan’s article titled Abstracting Leadership published in the [date] issue of [publication name] did a succinct job explaining how past models of leadership have placed too much focus on behaviorism (what people would do in a situation) and not enough on the role of personality in determining great leadership. And as a measure of greatness, their pragmatic view is that leadership should be evaluated in terms of the performance of the team. They conclude by citing several studies that have shown the link between leader personality and business unit performance: Those managers who possessed a personality signature that best fostered employee engagement had higher performing teams.
One of their concluding points really resonated with me: “…encouraging engagement puts specific demands on individual leaders, who must establish and maintain working relationships with their employees, one employee at a time.” Engagement doesn’t happen to the team en masse – it is an individual experience that when manifested in each team member will boost team engagement. It’s a boss’ job to provide an engaging experience for each individual on the team, and it’s not an easy task. It requires managers to spend time with each employee to really understand him or her as a unique individual, acknowledging her or his diverse perspectives, backgrounds and needs, and showing each one they are valued for who they are. To do this really well, managers must have a genuine interest in people that cannot be taught as a leadership skill.
The importance of that individual relationship to engagement is something that I undervalued in my first few years as an internal research practitioner at Intuit Inc. As Director of Workforce Research, my job was to help the company’s managers increase engagement of their teams through survey feedback and action planning. Each year beginning in 2001 we surveyed employees to assess their needs and engagement levels, aggregated the data at the team level, and provided custom results to each individual team manager. Each manager was then required to meet with the team to review the team’s results and create action plans. Because we designed the process to focus on team engagement, there was no explicit expectation that managers would have interactions with individual team members to understand their unique engagement needs.
In the first few years of this process, the CEO placed strong emphasis on leadership development at all levels and held people managers accountable for engagement of their employees. We saw our engagement scores across the company rise steadily, but we noticed that the lowest rated managers (bottom 25th percentile) were not making progress. Even where noble efforts were made to implement team action plans by some of these managers, they still could not engage their people.
In 2004, we worked with an Intuit executive ALP (Action Learning Project) team to conduct blind focus groups with 100’s of both highly and lowly engaged employees to determine what work experiences were most impacting engagement levels. We found that highly engaged employees had a better sense of the team goals and direction; felt trusted and empowered to do their jobs; and were appreciated for their efforts -- not very surprising findings. In addition, we discovered that the highly engaged employees were also more likely to feel they had a personal connection with their direct manager and received individual attention tailored to their specific needs. Lowly engaged employees experienced just that opposite: They did not feel their manager took enough time and interest to recognize them as individuals and truly understand their distinct needs. Among several response actions taken by the company, one was to educate leaders that individual (not team) engagement was the new objective.
One of my big learnings was that a company cannot inspire the best from its people if its mangers are not willing to truly and genuinely understand the unique needs of each of their employees and how to engage each one as a valued individual.