Organisational development

22 Sep 2015

Want an Engaged Workforce? Help them ‘Finish the Business’

My previous blog on ‘unfinished business’ highlighted the importance of complete or ‘whole’ experiences to people, a principle that extends to our motivations and emotions. We are bothered by things that are incomplete or unfinished and they may stay with us until resolved and potentially interfere with our working relationships. So what further lessons might we draw from this phenomenon for people engagement and collaboration in organisations?

Give people whole tasks that are meaningful and realistic. Tasks are meaningful when they have clear added value in the wider scheme of things, depending on the nature of the organisation. Jobs may lack meaning if people are working on a small part and are uncertain where they fit in and the contribution they are making overall. This also contributes to silo working. Realistic means there is a realistic prospect of completing a quality piece of work given the context and expectations. Giving people whole tasks that are meaningful and realistic makes it more likely that people are going to be engaged in their work, identify with their team and organisation and collaborate with others.

Be disciplined in following through on things. Managers must never be complacent with their view of a situation or their own sense of satisfaction. They have to constantly engage with others to help them achieve completion. For example, following input from a team, explaining to them what decision was made, action taken and why. Lack of feedback and follow through is frustrating and team members will not forget when tasks are interrupted. In addition, individuals and teams need time for ongoing review, consolidation and learning in the context of the wider organisation. This reinforces the value of well managed performance review conversations.

Acknowledge the whole person. People don’t just come to work to perform, they perform in order to live. Acknowledging the whole person means taking a holistic approach to people as human beings. This includes paying attention to the different thoughts, feelings, motives, styles and preferences that people bring to working relationships that often extend beyond the work they do. It also includes getting to know people beyond the work and acknowledging that in the context of the team. By taking a more holistic approach people have the opportunity to integrate aspects of their personal and work lives and feel more complete, rather than the two being separated and potentially ‘alienated’. Sometimes my work in coaching leaders involves helping them to be more who they are in the broadest sense rather than feeling constrained by who they think they ought to be at work.

Coach people. Coaching is consistent with giving people whole tasks that are meaningful and realistic, following through on things and acknowledging the whole person. Coaching people to think through and solve their own challenges draws on their internal resources, releases energy and potential, connects them with others and results in learning, satisfaction and ownership.

Help people to see differently in a changing context. Our previous experiences are organised ‘wholes’ of experience or patterns which are often referred to as ‘mental models’ – how we see and make sense of the world. In a changing and complex environment we cannot always recognise the patterns that help us draw on this experience and this results in confusion. The prevailing mental models may also just be the wrong ones to make sense of the new situation– something the big supermarket chains have recently experienced with the competition from Aldi and Lidl. Leaders need to engage with people in change, facilitate perception-sharing and help them see things differently in order to find the right direction. This needs to be a proactive process rather than one that makes sense of the change when it’s too late. There are a number of meeting methods available for leaders to draw on. Action learning used in the right way can be a powerful method for engaging people in the change process, challenging assumptions and existing frames of reference whilst supporting people through the confusion. Conference methods such as Future Search and Open Space get the ‘whole system’ in the room, including partner organisations, to work on common challenges.

Develop open cultures. In the previous blog I mentioned the importance of developing open organisation cultures which minimise the risk of unfinished business in working relationships. Open cultures also support the lessons explained above. Leaders have a key role to play here as role models and team facilitators. More strategically, they need a clear focus on relationships as an important part of their role – giving relationship management equal priority alongside the task and process elements of organisation. More information on this can be found in my book.

In summary. If people:

  • see the bigger picture
  • see the value of their contribution
  • are given ownership and responsibility
  • learn from experience
  • are acknowledged for who they are in the broadest sense
  • are engaged in making sense of change
  • are encouraged to be open about how they think and feel

then this will help achieve a more engaged and collaborative workforce.