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Raising the Bar from Engagement to Ownership

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Missing the Mark

If you think employee engagement is good for business, then you aren’t alone. And if you think business isn’t good at creating employee engagement, then, again, you aren’t alone. A recent global survey by Deloitte confirms other studies and what many of us instinctively understand — that there’s a gap between what leaders know to be important (employee engagement) and how well business creates that engagement. That’s why studies routine show that only about 40 percent of full-time workers are highly engaged. That leaves the other 60 percent feeling unsupported, detached, or disengaged.Clearly, such numbers don’t engender a great deal of confidence in the ability of businesses to provide the performance lift needed to win in a competitive global economy. Typical attempts to improve engagement often involve small changes like free coffee in the break room, relaxed dress codes, or flexible work schedules. More enlightened companies might go further by increasing opportunities for employee growth and development, more clearly defining career paths, or encouraging greater work-life balance. None of these changes are inappropriate. In fact, they are likely to be helpful in small ways—steps in the right direction. Winning in a highly competitive global marketplace, however, requires something more than worthwhile programs; it requires us to raise the bar on engagement in a different way–a shift to an ownership mentality. Owners not only embrace accountability for getting things done through commitment and hard work, but they also nimbly use a wide array of strengths to engage others in their cause. In short, owners willingly accept responsibility for making it happen no matter what it may be.

Raising the Bar

How can it make sense to raise the bar when the evidence suggests we’re not even clearing the present bar of employee engagement? Shouldn’t we take a first-things-first approach? Yes, but the broader solution to increasing employee engagement and achieving a higher level of commitment that results from an ownership mentality is found in the same place–an understanding of motivation. Since the 1960s, psychologists and motivation theorists have understood the need people have to connect their sense of purpose (what gives them a sense of meaning) to the work they are doing. When they make this connection, the work becomes meaningful and they embrace it. Their devotion to a task increases because it becomes an expression of who they are at their core. When work is meaningful, people feel significant and empowered to take initiative—to make smart choices about how best to accomplish their daily tasks and achieve organizational goals. Carl Rogers (, the founder of the humanistic psychology movement, suggested that people who feel connected to their motives or sense of purpose experience a freedom to be who they are even in fluid and dynamic environments. That translates into people who proactively make things happen even in the face of obstacles or uncertainty.

Clearing the Hurdle

Developing employees who think like owners requires a connection to each person’s motives. Motives, however, are difficult to see; they are beneath the surface. This is why personality assessments that focus only on behavioral preferences or cognitive processes fall short. And one-size-fits all, technique-based training doesn’t address the uniqueness of each person, so the prescribed approaches are often misaligned with the needs of the situation and the people involved. The Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI), the centerpiece of Core Strengths Accountability training, provides people with a vivid way of seeing their own motives and the motives of others. It reveals the frequency with which a person expresses concern for people, performance, and process and how the blend of these motives influences choices of strengths in different situations. The SDI also creates a common language for motives in the context of relationships—a critical element for managers who need to tap into intrinsic motivation in ways that benefit both employees and organizational performance. Developing an ownership mentality across the workforce will most certainly increase employee engagement, but it also does much more. Connecting what is most important within each person to the work that needs to be done makes the work meaningful—a deeply felt need in every human no matter what the country or culture. People involved in meaningful work are not only energized and experience a sense of fulfillment, but they also get better results. And isn’t that ultimately what we all need?

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