Does Employee Engagement Matter Anymore? Is “Command-and-Control” the Opposite of Engaging Leadership?

First Question: Yes—Engaged employees mean greater success:

1. Engaged employees deliver a higher return on any payroll investment:
Organizations with higher ratios of engaged workers to disengaged workers are significantly more profitable than their competitors (Gallup’s 2013 Report on the State of the American Workforce).
2. Engaged employees mean accomplishments come more quickly, with fewer errors:
Good leaders keep their folk engaged by asking them for their thoughts, before deciding. Leaders gain fresh insight and valuable intelligence regarding what needs to be done and create a sense of shared commitment to see plans through.
3. Engaged employees improve customer satisfaction:
Today’s employees expect to be listened to and want to participate, so involving them in some aspect of decision-making decreases turnover. Customers then interact with loyal, experienced employees, whose superior guidance helps to ensure satisfactory outcomes—a distinct, competitive advantage.

Second Question: No—Organizations still need to ‘employ and deploy’ people as they pursue goals.

While not advocating ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ leadership, organizations must still accomplish objectives.

1. Organizations that don’t achieve, die.
I once visited an outstanding organization. The tour was conducted by a team lead—with no supervisory responsibility. She skillfully answered touring executives’ questions and concisely described their quality, innovation, and leadership development. Visitors were impressed by an amazing work environment constructed by thoughtful leaders. Within a year, however, the plant closed. A peer facility in the organization delivered the same outputs at a lower cost. Shareholder considerations won. This is a powerful lesson—enlightened leaders must still deliver competitive results.
2. Employees who can’t accomplish, encumber.
One of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to direct people and hold them accountable for crucial activities. Yes, informal, verbal instructions can influence a few employees, however, most need to be told what’s expected and will only start to act when they know they will be held personally accountable. Unaccountable employees demotivate others when they don’t exert the individual effort which can make the difference between success and failure.
3. Leaders still need to exercise authority, but in a firm and positive way.
Leaders are placed in authority to direct the activities of others (the ‘command’ equivalent) and to ensure things happen by holding people accountable (the ‘control’ component). But it’s how leaders direct others and how they hold themselves and others accountable which makes all the difference. Workplaces should be a place where the self-esteem of workers is never injured by overbearing managers.

A Model of Balanced Authority is Needed:

Few leaders have received instruction as to how we should conduct themselves as we involve, direct, and evaluate others. There are a multitude of ways we either enhance or erode our influence and authority, every day. Even a single rude, disrespectful manager can cause widespread disengagement, for as employees observe poor management behavior they question senior leadership’s commitment to valuing people. We as leaders must see how our behavior impacts our organizations.

Leaders need a model of considerate, but firm leadership which engages employees while still delivering the results organizations need to keep everyone working. The superior flexibility, profitability, responsiveness, and morale of an engaged workforce is worth the effort.

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