Webinar Notes: Engagement At Work: How To Get More from Others and Yourself
This week’s webinar notes are from a November 13th event presented by Aubrey Daniels, a clinical psychologist who is sometimes referred to as “the father of performance management”, as he was one of the first to make extensive use of the science of behavior analysis in business (Wikipedia). I did not get to listen to the event live because a week and a half in advance the registration for the live event was already full – a clear nod to the importance of the topic and the credibility of the speaker.
Daniels is a very effective storyteller – and he shared a number of great illustrative stories during the event that clearly made his points. I happen to believe that the majority of the challenges faced in procurement today need to be resolved by people rather than systems or even processes. Failing to take an increased behavioral focus is a mistake, both with suppliers and internal stakeholders.
Story #1: “I just drive the truck”
A cereal commercial shows a woman in her car pulling up next to a truck driver making deliveries of her favorite cereal. She frantically waves to get his attention and then goes on at length about how much she loves the cereal. In the end, the driver responds by saying, “I just drive the truck.” Although the comedic point is made, from an employer standpoint, this is not an engaged employee. Any of the easy alternative responses (Thank you! We’re proud of our product. I’m so glad you enjoy it.) would have reinforced the woman’s brand loyalty and given the driver a feeling of pride and engagement in the success of the moment.
According to Daniels, people are engaged when they do more than they have to because they want to. The challenge of increasing engagement falls to leaders and supervisors, who need to understand the motivations, perspectives and behaviors of their team members. Since it is not possible to demand engagement or ‘discretionary effort’, leaders need to demonstrate what each employee stands to gain when they make efforts beyond the minimum expectation and provide constant reinforcement for desired behaviors.
There are both positive and negative norms for engagement. Behaviors that save time and effort (shortcuts) are naturally reinforcing and are therefore easily adopted. Unfortunately, negativity in the form of complaining is equally easily adopted and quite contagious. An engagement program should first focus of the easily won-over parts of a team and then move on to address the motivations of less motivated individuals.
Story #2: Lessons from a Little League Outfield
Anyone who has watched young children (and occasionally their adult counterparts) play outfield in a baseball game has seen the result of feeling out of the loop. Being positioned far from the pitcher, coaches, benches, and the stands makes it hard to focus and provides little external encouragement to engage. They look at the sky, watch cars in the parking lot, or fiddle with their gloves – often right up to the moment where the ball rolls past them on the field.
The reinforcement required to drive engagement is more than any one person can provide. As a result, personal (or social) reinforcement needs to be supported by reinforcement in the physical environment and from within each individual. Individual engagement is usually a product of someone’s background and upbringing, and the desire to learn and self-engage is either present or not before the time of hire. A person who does not know how to draw themselves in may feel lost or adrift even if they want to make an additional effort.
In Daniels opinion, a lack of engagement in an employee is not their problem but their managers’, as frustrating as that may be. One effective way to get started is to simply ask for help, as most people will respond positively and will take away from the exchange that they are valued.