Extraordinary Conversations for Engaging People

One of the fallacies held by leaders is there are more important things to be done than engaging directly and on a daily basis with the people who work for them.

Nothing could be less true. This is the most important activity that a leader can attend to every day.

Yes, strategy is important. Yes, customers are important. Yes, operational excellence is important. So is the board.

Who trump them all are the people that work for you and who deliver the products and services that keep you in business.

In the spring edition of my newsletter BREAKTHROUGH, I recounted the story of the executive who complained about having to talk to employees all day, who saw it as an HR job.

That sentiment is not an isolated one.

It’s not just aversion or boredom that gets in the way of building strong working relationships and ultimately, allegiance. “Too busy”, “preoccupied” or “conflict avoidant” are some other culprits.

There are four extraordinary conversations that leaders must have daily with employees if they are to inspire the kind of passion that enhances organizational motivation, morale and performance.

Conversations for Direction and Purpose

Your people want to know three things from you about direction and purpose:

  • "Where are we going?"
  • "How will we get there?"
  • "What can we do to make a difference?"

They don’t want to read about it in a newsletter, hear about it from middle managers, or watch it on a computer screen. They want the message face-to face from the person leading the charge. And, it is especially critical if you are leading a large-scale change initiative.

Make the time to meet as many of the troops as you can-especially if you have a large organization spread over multiple locations. It’s hard to get around, I know. But good planning and efficient use of your time can support you to stay close to your people.

Your job as a transformational leader is to embody the direction, purpose and values of your organization. The closer you are to your people, the more they learn how to embody it too.

Conversations About Opportunities and Challenges

Transformational leaders have a strategic and a tacticalperspective on their business. But many times, employees see things from a tactical perspective only. That’s because they are largely immersed in tasks and deadlines.

You can help your employees understand the big picture and how their division or team supports organizational goals and objectives.

Tell them how the organization is going to win in this economy. What would have to change or improve to get there?

People also need to know what kinds of challenges are on the horizon and what they should be thinking about and doing to meet those challenges with creativity and resourcefulness.

You’re vision of the way forward is urgently required. Use every means you can to talk to your people about the short and mid-term future.

Conversations of Acknowledgement

Your people need to know that they make a difference. Every time you meet an employee you have the opportunity to tell them what they’re doing right.

Transformational leaders inspire the people around them by acknowledging their gifts and talents, character qualities, skills, resourcefulness and team and individual contributions.

If you don’t know, ask your managers or team leaders to tell you who is going the extra mile and then make a point of seeking them out. Greet them by name and insist that they do the same with you. It doesn’t take much time to let your people know that you appreciate the difference they are making at work.

Never underestimate appreciation and acknowledgement. It is one of the most powerful tools in the transformation tool-kit.

Conversations For Tribal Knowledge

You are the steward of tribal knowledge. Tribal knowledge is made up of the important history, stories, unwritten know-how, people past and present, breakthroughs, lessons learned, humorous stories and anecdotes, and other key events.

Tribal knowledge is a cornerstone of company culture. Along with your vision and values, it provides a cohesive glue that keeps your people together, especially when times are tough.

Healthy pride in the enterprise is one of the most important elements of retaining top talent and attracting the people you need to succeed.

The character of your organization resides in its mythology. Become the CTKO – Chief Tribal Knowledge Officer. Make your people proud of their history, and keen to make a contribution today and for the future.

Transformational leaders know that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. You can’t legislate Engagement Programs for other people if you’re not going to lead the charge. As Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard said in every episode: “Engage!

Posted on October 1, 2009 .