5 Key Ways To Build Engagement & Unlock People’s Full Potential

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Engagement means more than mere job satisfaction. Organisations comprising of people who are happy and engaged are more productive, have greater morale, and lower turnover. Currently, as found in the 2017 Gallup report, 51 per cent of employees are actively looking for a new job or watching for new job openings.

According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workplace report, only 15 per cent of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs, signifying that only a small number are emotionally invested in committing their time, talent, and energy in adding value to their team and advancing the organisation’s initiatives. More Gallup research shows that employee disengagement costs the United States alone upwards of $550 billion a year in lost productivity. Hence, one can see why there is a huge opportunity for companies to learn and master the art of engagement.

Learning is innate and inherently rewarding. We are motivated when we engage and enjoy an activity or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn, and actualize our potential. This is known as intrinsic motivation. We willingly participate without requiring any external (extrinsic) rewards.

The moment rewards become the focal point we begin to view our work as a means to an end and start enjoying it less. We stop focusing on the enjoyment the work brings and become fixated on receiving the reward. Consequently, the more emphasis an organisation places on performance bonuses, the more likely its employees will become disinterested in the work, exert minimal effort, and fixate on getting the bonus by any means possible.

The 5 key ways to build motivation, productivity and engagement are:


  1. Balance of Challenges and Skills

We are more engaged if we face challenges that either match or slightly exceed our current capabilities. If the tasks are too simple, we get bored. If they are too far beyond our skill level, we get overwhelmed. In either case, attention shifts from what needs to be accomplished and we detach and lose interest. We are motivated and engaged when both challenges and skills are high.

As our skills improve, we are able to take on greater challenges. This prevents work from becoming routine and boring. Intrinsic motivation becomes an incentive to learn and grow.

In the workplace, the opposite tends to happen. Our jobs get easier the longer we do them. In most organizations the goal is to minimise and simplify the complexity of work. This minimisation is a recipe for disengagement. When playing a video game, for example, how motivated and engaged in the game would you be if each level you progress to gets easier and easier rather than challenge you?

To create opportunities for motivation and engagement, people need to be in a position where their skills are challenged and stretched, they are learning, developing, and building their expertise.


  1. Purpose

A clear sense of purpose is not only beneficial in terms of engagement, productivity and performance, but also for the overall wellbeing and happiness of the workforce.

Individuals want to use their full potential to help the business fulfill its potential. Unfortunately, several studies have revealed that many individuals feel the hours at the office do not count for much. We are working harder and longer without much conviction. The result is an increase in detached and disengaged employees who are not fulfilling their maximum potential.

We view our work as more meaningful when we can see beyond our day-to-day activities and identify a long-term benefit. In most cases we are too far removed from the end result to truly understand how we benefit others.

Too many companies believe a pay increase, work perks, or promotions are enough to win back disengaged employees, when in fact, the real solution could be the most simple and cost-effective method – enriching their work with a greater sense of meaning and significance. Making their work matter with purpose.


  1. Clear Goals & Feedback

It is essential to have a clear understanding of the goal you are trying to achieve, at each step of the process. Engagement results from the steps you take toward attaining a goal, as well as when you finally achieve the goal. For a mountain climber, for example, it is the immediate goal of making the next cautious move without falling or slipping, and then at the end when reaching the top. When playing a video game, you are captivated with the tasks you need to complete before you can move on to the next level. The engagement takes place during the game, not when you finish the game.

People miss the opportunity to enjoy what they are doing because they focus all their attention on the outcome, rather than savouring the steps along the way. The pleasure in dancing, for example, comes from flawlessly flowing into each move, not just executing the last pose after completing the dance.

To be more concerned with the ultimate goal interferes with performance. The salesperson, for example, who only concentrates on earning his commission is not caring about the buyer’s needs or their mood, and is less likely to make a sale.

Once goals are defined, feedback is what pushes learning and growth forward. Precise, immediate feedback needs to be given when it is required so no one is kept in the dark and playing the guessing game. Without feedback, it is difficult to discern and be aware of your own actions, and, more importantly, where you must improve to get to the next step.

In the absence of feedback there is no learning, and there is no growth. The climber, for example, realises his move was successful if he is still attached safely to the rock. The video gamer is aware he successfully completed a level if he has moved on to the next level in the game. If we do not get immediate feedback, we detach and lose interest.


  1. Psychological Safety

Perception of threat or fear impairs engagement and productivity.

Worry and fear are negative emotions and these negative emotions cripple performance and increase stress levels. When we are stressed, stress hormones are released in our system. This influx of stress hormones weakens the immune system, kills brain cells, and largely affects the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning.

Once failure becomes part of the process and once the volume can be turned down on anxiety and fear, engagement at work will improve and growth from these failures can eventuate. Failure, per se, is not enough. It is important to mine the failure for insights that can improve the next attempts.

If you want to invite divergent thinking, promote curiosity, and help people thrive in an environment of ambiguity and complexity, they need to feel safe to speak up, experiment, fail and learn. 


  1. Workplace Design

We tend to assume that engagement is all about the work, that so long as we give talented people challenging tasks and the tools to excel, they will be happy and engaged. That formula is incomplete. Our mind responds to the signals in our environment. The less comfortable we are while doing our work, the fewer cognitive resources we have available.

There is something terribly wrong with the design of a workplace when the only way people feel productive is to physically leave the building, come in early, stay late, and work on weekends becomes an implicit requirement for keeping up.

No single environment is favourable to every task. By offering a selection of options, companies can support both quiet focus work as well as work that facilitates collaboration. This allows people to adapt their setting to how they work best and the demands of their work. By providing an environment that supports people to succeed, organisations empower team members, demonstrating trust in their decision-making abilities.

This is why design ultimately matters. Engaging people is about creating an environment that positions people to do their best work.

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