Over the past two decades, Free To Grow, a consulting company based in South Africa, has created rich, stimulating and meaningful learning experiences for well over 1 000 clients and has trained almost 90 000 people during this time. Through many years of experimentation and research in the field of adult learning, Free To Grow has developed a distinctive learning methodology that makes learning stick. This is achieved by addressing the underlying values, beliefs and attitudes that shape behaviour and not merely a focus on the transfer of knowledge and skills. In their post-workshop feedback evaluations and in answer to the question: “What is the ONE most important suggestion you have for your manager in his/her leadership of you?” the most frequent suggestions relate to two themes, viz.:

  • Connect with me emotionally
  • Grant me a learning opportunity through meaningful and consistent feedback

The pressing need for quality relationships is evident in the above suggestions. Employees desire management presence and meaningful interaction – facilitating emotional security. They also need to know how well they are doing in relation to the company/departmental goals – facilitating performance and achievement discussions or career security. There is a craving for engagement at all levels, but apparently insufficient attention is given to employee engagement by those in leadership positions. A close friend of mine suggested three tenets to accelerate and make engagement more meaningful in projects:

  1. Expectations – leadership expectations should be outlined clearly. This doesn’t just mean explaining the proposed project outcomes, but also the levels of innovation, streamlining and creativity that should be applied. It should link the interdepartmental requirements and contributions and assign tasks appropriately. Communication should be in the form of dialogue, not instruction – utilisation of the thinking abilities of all concerned in the project.
  2. Education – are there any skills gaps that will need to be addressed to enable those working on the project to complete their respective portions of the project requirements successfully? Is exposure to certain client stakeholders not perhaps a great way to ramp up focus and understanding on the exact needs of the client? The interaction of the employees with the client also enhances a sense of ownership of the project.
  3. Experience – a feedback loop needs to be established to examine the following:
    • Project progress – in relation to set milestones, budget, resources, etc.
    • Performance – how well the employee is doing with respect to his/her role in the project (as your leader, what is my experience of you and your work?)
    • Leadership oversight – how well the manager is doing in providing feedback, recognition, encouragement, resources, support, etc. (as your employee, what is my experience of you and your leadership?)
    • Obstacles – individual/departmental resistance needs to be identified and resolved for the smooth progress of the project

Engagement not only focuses employees on the things that matter most for both clients and company, but also provides the manager with a valuable dipstick measuring attitude and available energy at the company’s disposal. Employees give their best when managers care about the emotional wellness and career security of their staff.

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