Leaders: Stop doing these 3 things and improve engagement

I often ask leaders what they could stop doing that would potentially improve the engagement levels of their direct reports. As leaders, we usually spend time focusing on what we need to be doing, not what we need to stop doing, so this is a challenging and powerful exercise. Think about it for a minute. What could you stop doing that wouldn't be missed? What could you stop doing that might actually improve the culture of engagement in your workplace? Here are three ideas to get you started.

Stop doing things for others

I know this is a familiar scene. An employee grabs you in the hall or stops by your office to complain about something that's happening that's a problem. It might be technology that isn't working or a coworker who is not on board with a work project. I'm sure you can fill in the blanks with examples from your typical day.

The natural tendency for most leaders is to jump in and solve the problem, to take the concern away from the employee and let him or her get back to work. The leader makes the appropriate calls, smoothes the ruffled feathers and pushes other work to the back burner. The employee feels relieved because you are doing all the heavy lifting.

Stop. Next time someone comes in with a complaint, really listen. What is he or she actually upset about? Ask questions to dig deeper. What did he or she try to do to improve the situation? What ideas does he or she have to correct this? How can you support him or her?

At first, the employee is going to wonder what happened to the "pushover boss" who always did all the work. Then he will begin to understand the ownership role he has in the problem solving. Of course there will be times that you should jump in with all your leadership ability (safety issues, bullying accusations, HIPAA violations, etc.) but those events will hopefully be few and far between.

Stop doing everything for others. When you do, you're cheating them from the opportunity to learn, grow and effectively problem solve.

Stop reporting by exception

Recently, a wise manager said, "We audit by exception so we are in the habit of pointing out what folks do wrong with no mention of what they do right."

What a powerful observation about a common practice that is not helpful. Of course, it often makes sense to audit by exception from an efficiency standpoint. Here is where your leadership skills come in. This could just be a matter of your choice of format for reporting. Are you reporting the 98 percent accuracy or the 2 percent error rate? Yes, I understand you are shooting for zero defects, and that is a good thing. However, you can keep your goal, report on your success and manage the errors.

If your audits are done at the individual level, then by all means share success rates and talk about ideas to get to 100 percent accuracy. With each employee, look at quality trends that highlight what is working, celebrate success and work with each person to ensure the decrease in errors.

Stop reporting only errors to team members. "No news is good news" is definitely not true at work. People want news that gives them information about how they are doing in their leader's eyes. Reporting the success and coaching out the errors will improve engagement as you appreciate and recognize good work.

Stop micromanaging

You probably knew this one would make the list. No one wants to be micromanaged, but it's so easy to fall into the trap of doing it. Since our beliefs and mindsets drive our actions and outcomes, it's easy to transfer your own preferences onto others.

When I'm working with healthcare leaders, I often share a story about how my husband is a stickler for loading the dishwasher a very specific way. As youngsters, my two sons, who often were in charge of doing the dishes, learned this detailed process but frequently didn't take the time to operationalize it. You can imagine what dish time was like at my house. Don't get me wrong, my husband wasn't the only micromanager in the house, I had my fair share of "right ways" to do things. I'm sure you get the picture.

What are the "dishwasher loading" moments in your day? Where are you inserting the "better method" wisdom that really has no impact on the outcomes? Where are you usurping the knowledge, skills and abilities of your engaged and talented staff because it's hard to let go?

Enough said about this one. Stop micromanaging. Be very clear about the desired outcomes. Share the "what" and the "why" so that everyone is crystal clear about the desired result. Let the team come up with the "how" and be a resource when needed. Then sit back and enjoy how well folks do in a way you never even thought of.

You already have too many things on your to-do list. You are crunched for time, running from meeting to meeting and trying to fit in everything you want to accomplish for today. Now it's time to give yourself permission to stop doing these three things that inhibit engagement and start being more engaged yourself.

Vicki Hess, RN, is your go-to resource for transforming employee engagement at the individual, department or organization-wide level. As the author of four books, keynote speaker, trainer and consultant; Vicki inspires clients to take action in a real-world, relatable way. Organizations that implement Vicki's ideas experience increased engagement, productivity, safety, quality, retention, client satisfaction, creativity and more. For more information, please visit www.HealthcareEmployeeEngagement.com.

To download free tools to positively impact employee engagement from Vicki's book, "6 Shortcuts to Employee Engagement: Lead & Succeed in a Do-More-With-Less World," visit www.6ShortcutsToEngagement.com or send her an email at vicki@vickihess.com.

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