The Secret to Employee Engagement - Engaging the Head AND the Heart

Dana Brownlee

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Most seasoned leaders know that the key to a strong workforce and high morale is fostering and encouraging high levels of employee engagement, but the million dollar question is HOW DO YOU DO IT???? As a corporate trainer for more than a decade counseling leaders and teams, I've found that in many ways the key to employee engagement is having leaders and organizations who consciously work to consistently engage and feed the head and the heart simultaneously.

In many ways finding the right employee/fit for a particular position is much like dating. Clearly, it's important to look for fit in terms of similarities in background, but we all know that just like dating... a candidate/employee can be a great fit on paper but not in reality. So how does the resume review often lead us astray? It doesn't take into account chemistry which often is the real magic that creates lasting excitement/interest. While reviewing resumes is important for assessing fit with the brain, it oftentimes is a poor barometer for assessing fit with the heart. Clearly, for employees to feel a true sense of passion and engagement with their organization/position, just checking the boxes of whether or not they have the requisite experience/skills is not enough to forecast levels of true excitement about and connection to the work and the workplace.

How Does a Leader Engage the Head and the Heart?

Typically, engaging the head comes more naturally. Managers are programmed to ask employees about their work and constantly assess where they might need training or other support as it relates to their tasks, projects, corporate objectives, and overall industry. Managers regularly conduct project/team meetings, email reports/tasks, conduct training sessions, and spend most of the day in some form of communication focused on engaging the brain. Unfortunately, engaging the heart while not as natural or intuitive for most managers, can oftentimes be a more critical component for developing authentic employee engagement. Managers can engage the heart in a variety of ways:

Most importantly, get to know your team as people, not just colleagues. Conduct one on one lunches with each member at least twice a year with the rule of "no work talk."

Extend the "no work talk lunch" concept to the full team and sponsor at least one group lunch/month.

Ask each team member to share what they like most/least about their role at least twice a year. Also, ask what they're most interested in personally and professionally so that you're tapped into their true interests/passions and can look for opportunities to tap into those with their work assignments and otherwise.

Create opportunities for regular recognition (don't just wait until the end of a big project). Consider opening team meetings with 5 minutes of kudos where team members can acknowledge great work of their colleagues.

As much as possible try to tap into an employee's natural strengths and passions when making project/task assignments. If you're not able to provide a role that has a strong fit, allow them a certain percentage of time to work on a specific project that taps into their passion.

Conduct periodic team building retreats that encourage colleagues to build relationships within the team and discourage cliques.

The best managers don't think of engaging the heart as some separate additional activity that they conduct to check that box. Instead, they acknowledge it as the key to true employee engagement and put as much if not more focus on engaging the heart as they do engaging the head. Indeed, engaging the head will oftentimes get the job done; engaging the heart will create a sense of excitement about the workplace; engaging both creates true lasting dedication.

Dana Brownlee is an acclaimed keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and team development consultant. She is President of Professionalism Matters, Inc. a boutique professional development corporate training firm based in Atlanta, GA. She can be reached at danapbrownlee@professionalismmatters.com. Connect with her on Linked In @ www.linkedin.com/in/danabrownlee and Twitter @DanaBrownlee.

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