A few months ago, Josh Bersin proclaimed that, after all the years of corporate handwringing over the war for talent, the battle is finally over. But before you exhale and move on to the next issue, it should also be noted that he declared talent the winner.
At the same time that the job market has tightened considerably, organizations are facing some tough internal realities: overwhelmed employees, greater complexity in the work, evolving organizational structures, an increased reliance on cross-functional teaming that’s challenging the way business gets done, and more people who are willing and able to jump ship should the opportunity present itself.
The balance of power has shifted, and the hard truth is this: If your employees aren’t engaged and fulfilled in their jobs, they have more options than ever to find that satisfaction and contribute their talents elsewhere. You, on the other hand, will be facing a highly competitive market for talent to replace them.
Complexity and change aren’t going anywhere. But the good news is, managers and leaders still have a significant influence over the quality of the work experience and the contributions employees are willing to make. We need to expect more from our leaders when it comes to improving employee engagement, and we need to give them the tools to make it happen.
A powerful starting point? The connection between thinking, engagement and performance.
Here are five questions every leader should be asking:
- How do my preferences impact my effectiveness with different employees? Do I connect with certain people easily and pay more attention to their ideas over others’? Do some struggle with my directions while others have no trouble? It’s natural to, in essence, “speak to yourself” from a thinking preference standpoint. That works great for those who think just like you do, but the most effective leaders are inclusive leaders who value diversity of thought and know how to engage everyone.
- How well do I know my employees? Do I understand their expectations, job needs and preferences, and what they really bring to the table? As the director of operations at Lastar told us, once he learned how his team members preferred to think, he realized he had a wealth of “previously untapped resources.” The company is benefitting and so are the employees, who feel more valued and motivated because they can contribute in more meaningful ways.
- What are the thinking requirements of the work? Aligning people with the work they do best and find most stimulating, and helping people stretch outside their mental comfort zones when the job requires it, should be key priorities for every manager. Particularly as roles are evolving and structures are changing, it’s time to reevaluate job descriptions and assignments to make sure we’re setting people up to feel mentally energized by their work, not drained by it.
- Am I helping people bring their best thinking to work? The complexity of the environment means everyone has to be more agile in their thinking. Rather than allowing employees to become consumed by chaos, leaders need to encourage and give them the tools to use thinking to their advantage, to draw on all their mental resources as needed so they can make sense of the noise.
- Am I inspiring ownership and including everyone in the process? Now more than ever, we need the diversity of the organization’s thinking working to solve problems and find better ways of doing things. For leaders, that means listening for and valuing all the thinkers on the team, even—especially—those whose perspectives are different from their own. They also need to give people some control over the way work gets done. Engage employees’ thinking, and they’ll likely find efficiencies an outside observer would miss.
Now more than ever, to engage people we have to know how to engage their thinking—before it’s too late.
What are your leaders doing to create a culture where everyone’s thinking counts?