Those in the United State celebrated Independence Day on July 4. The celebrated day and it’s history inspired a question: have their employees been fighting for their own independence long before? Does this independence impede performance and resemble the mutiny of the Boston Tea Party? Specific signs tell leaders the truth about employees’ level of loyalty. Their behavior reveals their interest and motivation, but this intel only benefits those leaders who are paying attention. These signs will tell you what’s really going on and may reveal the key barrier to the authentic employee engagement you desire.
Much as Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, if employees are exploring for solutions that don’t include you, this could indicate a much bigger problem. A time line of exploration before the famous date in 1776 indicates many ventures away from the main land. John Cabot explored what we now call the East Coast in 1497. Ponce de Leon explored Florida in 1513. Sir Walter Raleigh explored Carolina in 1584. All events were hundreds of years before the actual independence event, decades before Ben Franklin’s creativity and years before the Salem Witch trials. In the comparison and use of analogy to US History, do you see areas in which employees are exploring other “lands” or companies, being judged for what they believe and taking risks, driven to perform only by fear, or ridiculed for crazy inventive ideas? If so, recognize that exploration is the first step to what could be another, far more definitive step to showing they’re not engaged in your ideas or the organization.
The organization in this case could be compared to the US or could be compared to the formation of the US from what was once considered British domain. Texas has discussed for years, secession from the Union. The US was formed because they seceded from British rule. What are your employees looking to do? Are they considering their own venture? Are they quitting, but forgetting to tell you? Keeping your ear to the grapevine will reveal key clues. Assuming that no news is good news may take you by surprise, not unlike many in US History’s untimely demise. If employees begin to discuss what they would do if they were in your shoes, it’s likely they’ve thought about leaving, or the equivalent of seceding. If employees show less ownership and interest in the projects at work and can’t wait to leave, it’s possible they have a side passion up their sleeve. Not every discussion of leaving results in employee loss, but it’s important to know this kind of buzz when you’re the boss.
If you weren’t sure where you belonged; no longer felt like your company was the right home; and were starting to roam around looking for other options, it would be a stressful internal time. Yet stress is a powerful force and not everyone knows how to handle the emotions it can create. Most cope in the best way they know how and often that results in what appears to be unprofessional clowning around. Failing to take their role seriously; nonchalantly blowing off any feedback and treating what are announced as serious changes or needs of the company with a high degree of frivolity, are serious signs this employee is stressed and soon to not care. While stressed, there’s still hope so take their jokes and casual demeanor to mean it’s time to lean in and find out more. What’s at stake? What do they need to engage? Are they looking for an out? Is their contribution exactly what you need or is it in fact the right time for them to secede?
A more playful Monday Moment about a serious issue of missing employee engagement, this segment combines a bit of fourth of July analogy in the hopes that as leaders we don’t let the problem persist until a new “country” exists. In your organization, how do you keep employees interested, loyal, and engaged in what they’re doing? Rule 1: make it meaningful for them. Actions that resemble dictatorial rule or asking them do things that only matter to you will counteract the engagement you seek, but maybe we address that topic next week.