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A 5 Minute test of Authenticity and Engagement.

No one does it as well as you do – right?

Have you ever had the feeling that, if you want a job done properly, you will have to do it yourself? Have you ever asked the question, why aren’t my people as committed as me? Both questions are indicators that employee engagement may not be as high as you would like it to be – but are your expectations too high or is engagement actually low?

There is a simple test that managers can use to gain some insight into the engagement levels in their teams.

What happens when you aren’t looking?

Many managers are highly engaged themselves. They set high standards and work hard to make sure their team maintains them. However, no manager can be watching all the time. In fact, leaders empower people, so they don’t need to watch all the time – and recognise that the need to watch is a reflection on them as a leader rather than on their people.

Inevitably, a manager will be out of the office – often for ordinary daily meetings that take them away from their team for an hour or two and, occasionally, for longer periods, either for business or on leave. 

So, when you aren’t watching your team, what happens? 

Do your people work to the same standards in the same way? Do they maintain standards but use their own approach? Or do standards go out the window? Each of these responses means something different for a manager.

By the way, if you feel like you can’t take leave because the team won’t function without you, you may already have a large part of your answer!

What does it mean when standards get lower when you aren’t watching? 

It means that your team only maintains standards because they have to and not because they want to or because they believe in those standards. If this is the case, you will probably also notice that they often meet, but rarely exceed, standards even when you are watching.

This is all about discretionary effort. When your people maintain standards with you watching, that is because they feel that they have to. There are consequences for not maintaining those standards – it is perceived as non-discretionary. 

When your people maintain standards even without you watching, they are making an effort they don’t have to make – they could probably get away with taking it a little easier, letting things slip a bit, or treating each other differently, but they don’t. This discretionary effort is a strong indicator of employee engagement. 

Another factor is how long it takes for standards to slip. If discretionary effort gets lower the longer you are gone for (ie in training for a day or on long service leave for three months), that often indicates that, when you are watching, people do what they have to and not what they are committed to – engagement is low.

When people make a less discretionary effort when their manager isn’t looking, it is largely because they feel they are disengaged with the standards – they feel like something that has been imposed on them but that don’t have any real validity. 

There are some indicators that will help:

  • Look at any ‘slippage’ in habits when you return. It is often hard for your team to immediately raise their standards again when you come back, especially if you have been gone for a longer period.
  • Pay attention to the metrics – do they indicate that intensity, quality, etc have dropped off?
  • Listen to the feedback from other team members, from other departments and from external clients.
  • Take time out from clearing the backlog on your desk and make your own observations. Have deadlines been met? Has expected progress been made? Have quotas been achieved? Were the teams values upheld?

Did standards drop or did processes change?

This is a critical question and the answer provides a strong message for managers wanting to maintain or improve employee engagement.

What we are really asking is ‘did they do it badly – or was it just done differently but equally good?’ If they have maintained high standards but used their own approaches, the message may be that your people are engaged and proud but are screaming out for some flexibility and discretion in the way they do the work. If they can have that flexibility without compromising the result, is there a good reason not to give it to them? What is almost guaranteed is that engagement will eventually decline if you don’t either give the flexibility or explain the reasons a more rigid process is needed. 

Six things to check or change if standards have dropped.

This may not be the message you wanted to hear – but it is a fact. Employee engagement and discretionary effort are a response to the climate your people are working in. The thing that has the single biggest influence over the climate your team works in is your leadership style. We absolutely accept that there are other influences – including the leadership style of the people around and above you, however, your leadership style has the most direct impact on climate for your team (we have had countless experiences of one manager creating a ‘positive oasis’ for their own team even among a broader, less positive organisational climate).

Here are six things we recommend managers do when they find their team is performing at a lower level when the manager isn’t watching:

  1. Go back to the question we asked right at the beginning: are your standards reasonable or are they too high? Are you a perfectionist who is expecting perfectionism from everyone else even though it is an unnecessary and harmful benchmark?
  2. Does your team have clarity around the standards (including the team’s values) and why they are important? Have you engaged them in developing and committing to those standards – or were they simply imposed on them?
  3. Have you eliminated unnecessary rules and protocols? For example, have you worked with the team to define standards but given them as much discretion as possible about how to achieve them?
  4. Does meeting standards make any difference to your team members? Is feedback, recognition and opportunity linked to consistently achieving agreed standards?
  5. Are standards consistent? When they are not met, is respectful but firm feedback given and corrective action taken – or are things sometimes ‘allowed to slide’?
  6. Does the team understand (and get to celebrate) the positive consequences of meeting standards? Have you worked to embed a real sense of team pride in what they achieve?

These six actions are all about getting standards embedded rather than enforced – which is much easier for a manager to manage as well.

System of control.

Watching people is a system of control. It allows you to feel confident that things are done – the way you want them done. However, it also creates dependence on you, disempowers and fails to develop team members, and results in low engagement.

A much more effective system of control is to agree on high standards (including values) with your team, trust them to work to those standards (because most people will), and coach them to get back on track when they don’t. 

The difference between these systems of control is one of the critical distinctions between being a manager and being a leader.

Read our blog on Management or Leadership and what is the difference? 

Want to check out how Authentic your organisation is? Take our free online Authentimeter Assessment tool here