By Mike Cook
For the Bellingham Business Journal
If you read this column with any regularity you know my focus is on improving the quality of management in our places of work. You’ve also quite possibly seen me quote statistics that show the level of employee engagement in most places of work is tragically low. Since I do primarily write to an audience of managers you might be tempted to draw the conclusion that I am placing the blame for low employee engagement at the feet of management or business owners. That would be incorrect.
In fact, I am not about to blame anybody in particular for the current state of our workplaces because I think what we have is more a conspiracy and product of beliefs than I do an outright case of someone doing something to someone else. Employers, managers and employees all have their part to play in the workplace and they all have their part to play in the ensuing conditions of low engagement. Are all the players equally responsible? I’ll leave that for others to judge. For my part I will continue to write primarily to managers and employers about what they can do to both improve the engagement in the workplace and at the same time improve the performance of a business. It is my belief, backed up by experience, that there is every reason to think that in our workplaces we can have both high employee engagement and high performance and profitability, but to do so we have to address the roles that all players have in producing these consistently low statistics. And make no mistake, like any relationship in life, all parties are responsible for how it’s going.
But for now I’d like to speak to each of you as an employee and that role in particular and how it can be played to the eventual benefit of both you as well as everyone you work with.
To some extent almost all of us are employees, whether we are managers or not but I wonder this; aside from showing up, do we think about being a good employee?
That’s a serious question: Do we think about being a contribution in our workplace or do we simply think about getting to work and once we are there doing what we are told?
There is a very different experience when you consciously go to work intending to make a contribution versus when you go as a function of your own sense of scarcity or fear, or worse, if you just go unconsciously. In fact, going to work with the intention of making a contribution is the first step towards improving your level of engagement.
“Good employee” is not like a grade you get on a report card. Good like an asset, good like noticeably missing when you are not there, good like things were OK before you got here but now they are really improved, good like we hope you like it here because we’d hate to lose you.
When I first started working as a management coach I would ask managers what constituted a good employee. Their responses were often disappointing because they focused on whether employees were well behaved versus were they productive. As time has passed and our organizations have become leaner and our jobs more sophisticated the emphasis has shifted and if you are not in some way exceptional, and few of us are, the smart money says to you as an employee to focus on being “good” in the sense of being at the top of the list when managers think about who they want on their team.
Here’s some ideas about what to focus on: Can you answer yes to the following questions?
Great to work with
Honest, cash register honest for sure, but also in terms of expressing yourself honestly
Focused on constantly improving
Accountable for yourself and your work
Reliable, you consistently do what you say you will
Able to stay out of office politics
A willing mentor to others who need to be supported
Proactive, constantly looking for what needs to be done
Willing to speak up
Focused on doing complete work, all the details get covered
Conscientious, self-starting and self-managing
For more on the meaning of these characteristics see “Eleven signs you are a stellar employee, whether you feel like it or not.”
If you are reading this as a manager or employer and realize that you have employees like this and you’ve been taking them for granted, you should be aware that some of them may be thinking about leaving right now and going someplace where there is more appreciation. My advice, take them aside tomorrow and tell them how much they are appreciated.
Does all this sound preachy? I hope so.