how to improve employee engagement

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employee engagement

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I loved high school English. We read everything from Potok to Shakespeare to Angelou. I was introduced to new ideas and spent a great deal of time working out my feelings about those ideas by writing essays I knew only my teacher, Mrs. Chavez, would read.

In the spring of my senior year, Mrs. Chavez asked me if I would apply for a particular state English award. “The English faculty would be particularly delighted if we could recognize the strength of your skills publicly,” she said. I was floored. English? Me? Although I loved discussing great authors, I had never considered writing to be a core skill of mine.  “Really?” I questioned. “Really,” she responded. “Think about it.”

I did. And still do. Often. I applied for the English award and I won”“in many ways. I went on to major in Journalism. Writing remained a core skill as I moved through my graduate program. A simple observation by an astute leader changed my course. The truth is, Mrs. Chavez did for me what any good leader should do for their people: observe, recognize and encourage strengths.

Gallup recently asked almost 20,000 employees to rate their agreement with the statement: “In the last three months my supervisor and I have had a meaningful discussion about my strengths.”  The average score was 3.71 on a 5-point scale indicating that this is definitely not happening as often as it should.

“Too often, when supervisors or managers have conversations with their employee, those interactions are focused on tasks,” observes Jim Asplund, Chief Scientist, Strengths-Based Development and Performance Impact Consulting with Gallup. “While it’s helpful for managers to understand the tasks each employee is working on”¦a more effective way to develop an employee is to center performance conversations on the employees strengths”¦People who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job and three times more likely to be happier with their lives in general.”

Creating a strengths-based corporate culture relies on observing and encouraging the use of natural talents. Don’t assume employees know what they are good at doing. We all need our own Mrs. Chavez to help identify ways we naturally excel. Once you know the strengths of your employees, you can begin to generate greater employee engagement ideas.

Are your employees good relators? Strategizers? Activators?  Learners?  Clifton’s Strengths Finder is a great resource for identifying dozens of core strengths that are worth your focus. Want to get in a little closer? Identify core skills: writing, organization, presentation, team building.

Too often, we ask people to accept stretch assignments and endure far flung opportunities in the name of career advancement, hoping they will discover and share their strengths somewhere along the way. In reality, employees are better served and would find greater success if we help them identify key strengths that move with them, no matter the assignment. This approach honors the individuality of team members, while offering up critical opportunities as adaptable learning experiences. This is not about rote career paths that mold employees into a predetermined role. This is about what this person can contribute that is core to their natural abilities, any time, any place.

As engaged employees, if we commit to identifying and building core strengths, the opportunities will come. As leaders, if we commit to identifying and building core strengths, the employee engagement will come. When employees understand how they are uniquely suited and valued for the strengths only they can bring, they will show up ready to share those strengths in spades.

How will you choose to guide your people? To strengthen your company? To make a difference? Strong leaders observe and call out natural strengths in others. It makes for stronger teams, happier people and healthier organizations.

By mindi cox
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