Employee Engagement: The New 80/20 Rule That Gets Results

“Engagement” is such a corporate word. It conjures up visions of HR and the perks and policies you hope will ultimately win over employees. If HR leads the parade of free lattes, trendy Facebook pages, and company-branded baseball caps, your people will get on board with your mission, right?

Wrong. It doesn’t work that way, and the stats show it. As many as eight out of every 10 people are disengaged at work. Not exactly the 80/20 rule you want.

Researchers have found that an individual’s immediate boss, not that free latte, is the biggest influence on employee engagement, well-being, and drive. The logic holds that what goes on by day goes home with people by night. The influence of a boss is enormous.

However, bosses have challenges as well. Including the pressure to perform, to enable teams to perform, to meet quarterly numbers, to experiment, and to be more innovative. Leaders, managers, and supervisors have so much coming at them; it’s little wonder employee engagement suffers.

How leaders behave impacts how people engage

So, is it culpability or capability—or perhaps capacity—that prevents leaders from better engaging with their people? I don’t think it’s culpability. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “I’m not going to engage my team today. In fact, I’m going to completely ignore their needs and just focus on me.”

No, they wake up and know they need to balance both their teams’ productivity and employee engagement. They simply don’t know how to do it all. People don’t know how to solve the many issues that might be preventing their team from achieving results. They don’t necessarily understand that if you better engage employees to begin with, the results will ultimately flow.

The new 80/20 rule

As a team member, a full 80 percent of your engagement comes from the way your manager engages with you—from their behavior. The other 20 percent of your engagement comes from the corporate ecosystem itself: how effective your workplace is; its processes, technology, equipment, and tools; and if policies and structures work for people, not against them.

This means that as a manager or supervisor, 80 percent of your job should be spent engaging with your people and removing any barriers to success. Spend the remaining 20 percent of your time improving the ecosystem. That’s it! That’s the job. When you do it right, results follow.

What does “engaging” your people look like?

Engaging your people is physical. To start with, it means taking your nose out of your device or stack of reports and connecting, person to person. I’m not talking about a casual, “Hey, how goes it?” but, rather, instituting a formal rhythm to your managerial role.

How do you practice it?

  • Have a presence. | Do you have a visible presence in your company? Be active in your employees’ day-to-day lives. Be aware of what’s happening around you and if your teams have processes and tools that work for them.
  • Think micro and macro. | How do the everyday actions of your team connect with company goals? Communicate the connection between the two—the micro and the macro—so people know what they’re working toward.
  • Be tech-savvy. | Today, everyone needs to be both data and digitally literate. Use data to drive conversations about progress and performance. Create stories from the data itself. Help your people use technology to leverage results and get more out of every workday.
  • Coach routinely. | Do you coach your team members to build their capabilities and, in turn, their confidencePeople thrive when they learn more. Keep in mind: learning comes not only from formal training but also by putting people into situations that create opportunities to learn.
  • Collaborate with people outside of your team. | Do you spend time with the people at the outer edges of your company or with those who don’t report to you? By collaborating and building community, the best and brightest ideas will emerge—rather than ideas from the loudest voices (or the boss).

If you want to be a great leader using the new 80/20 rule, you must first manage to engage.