I’ve always believed that the best jobs are those where you get to learn something new. Being a Gen Xer, I’ve seen attitudes change from valuing a set career path of opportunities to the opportunity to be flexible and grow. As I spoke to a friend from my professional past, we discovered that we were both in violent agreement that the way you think and ‘plan’ your career has changed. From our observations, when you find an idea that intrigues you, is interesting and can connect it to solve a sticky problem, work becomes fun. As a leader, as you learn, you have the opportunity collaborate with team members along the way. If you approach the idea and solution in a collaborative way, you are developing a team that is engaged in building something new and useful. And you become a leader of a team that knows how to work complex problems together where change and innovation becomes the norm.
I made a leap from employee-consultant to founding my own consultancy because I found a set of relational skills that when applied, increases the energy around work - which results in more engagement, more productivity, and most importantly, it feels like fun. As I have gotten deeper into the work, I’ve become intrigued with the results of employee engagement results from organizations like Gallup. These results show that only about a third of the U.S. workforce is engaged. And when engagement goes up, so do sales, productivity, and profitability. As I was having this conversation, I wondered if there was a connection between the learning and engagement concepts.
What is the connection between learning and engagement?
I found that Whitney Johnson has some great ideas about engagement and learning. She suggests that there is an inflection point at about 4 years in a role, where you have learned pretty much everything about that job. At this point, you have probably mastered what there is to learn and if you don’t disrupt what you are doing, it's likely that you will become disinterested and unengaged. And the same goes for your team members: if you have an all-star on your team, are they ready for a new challenge? How can you help them find their next thing, and how will you engage each person based on where they are on the learning curve? Ms. Johnson even goes so far as to say if you do not help this all-star find their next challenge, you will likely lose them either from disengagement or finding another role outside your organization.
“The tasks of a leader is to get people from where they are to where they have not been.”
- Henry Kissinger
If, as a leader, you can support each of your team members in their growth, the benefits to your team and your organization are those of engagement - increased profitability, sales, and productivity. The challenge is knowing where your employees are in their journey in their current role and being open about exploring what’s next for them. In conversations with team members, it is really important to use a combination of resonant listening and feedback skills to keep the conversation going. These steps are not intended to be used during a formal feedback task, such as a performance review, but rather as a regular, standard ongoing dialogue you commit to with your team members. (At Crafted Leadership, we believe an ongoing feedback loop is a sign of vibrant teams). During these conversations:
Come to the conversation with an open and curious mindset. Be more interested in learning about this person’s development than your ego or career - this is about them.
Give the the team member’s ideas and feelings about their development thoughtful consideration. Have you heard a theme? Do you see a pattern? Have they asked for specific assistance before?
Appreciate the team member for sharing their challenges and thoughts about next steps with you.
If you are providing specific guidance/feedback for them, be sure to focus on a task, skill, or measurable behavior. Stay fact-based, i.e. relay what a camera would record, not a backstory you have in your mind.
Finally, each of you should take responsibility for any agreement you have discussed.
I’ve shared some ideas from the perspective of a leader leading a team. Don’t overlook yourself and your learning curve. Take responsibility for talking with your boss to figure out your next move too!