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Oct 2, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Today’s workforce requires empowerment for inspiration and motivation more than money.” — Shannon Kinney, Founder and CEO of Dream Local

“Everything matters” when it comes to decisions affecting a brand, according to Scott Bedbury, former Nike and Starbucks brand manager and author of A New Brand World.

There are no insignificant decisions or interactions with the marketplace or with customers. Each has the potential of strengthening or weakening a company’s brand.

“Everything matters” is just as true in the realm of leadership and employee engagement as it is in branding. Every decision and interaction with employees matters.

Each has the possibility of affecting employee engagement for better or for worse. Each decision made and each interaction with employees communicates what leadership thinks about employees, and whether they care about and respect employees.

Each message has the potential of boosting — or damaging — employee engagement.

With a beer fridge, it’s not about the beer

At a conference I attended recently, I heard a great example of this truism during a discussion of “beer fridges.” Two members of the panel stated that a beer fridge was part of their casual, fun cultures. They were asked by two members of the audience about potential downsides of this practice.

In talking about the effect of the beer fridge on her company’s culture, Shannon Kinney, founder and of Dream Local, a digital marketing agency, noted that when it comes to the beer fridge … it’s not about the beer.

To illustrate, she shared a conversation she had with a Millennial employee about the beer fridge. This young woman commented in an employee survey that the presence of the beer fridge meant a lot to her. Kinney was puzzled by her comment because she had never seen this employee partake of its contents.

Explaining what the beer fridge meant to her, the Millennial told Shannon that its presence communicated that,

I’m treated with respect from the minute I’m here and I’m empowered to make my own decisions and use my judgement. That’s inspiring to me in my day to day work.”

The message you’re sending employees

Continuing to put the beer fridge in a larger perspective, Kinney talked about the message it sends:

We hear this consistently … the fact that it’s there and there are no rules around it, that’s what people respect, even more than whether they partake or not. It’s a culture of ‘we’re all grownups here and we do whatever it takes to get the job done’ …

You’re empowered to make decisions for yourself as adults about what you think is the best way … the best approach to get things done.”

Contrast this message with the message employees get when rules and policies manage to the lowest common denominator.

In these companies, rules and policies are created to prevent the small percentage of C and D players — people who should have been fired in the first place — from gaming the system and making bad decisions. In these companies, managers don’t manage in ways that give employees freedom to think and act like high functioning adults, they manage in ways to prevent sub-par employees from wreaking havoc.

This practice communicates that “We see you as little kids. We need to regulate everything tightly because you don’t have the ability to make wise decisions.”

Manage them like children and they’ll act like children

When employees are managed like they are little children , they are more likely to act like little kids.

They are more likely to get involved in petty infighting, continually getting caught up in daily dramas, and expecting their manager to solve their problems.

The moral of this story is obviously not that you need to have beer in your workplace to show you respect your employees or to have an empowered workforce.

What you can do, though, is to use it to examine your management decisions, rules, policies, and all interactions with employees in terms of the messages they send.

Here are four questions to aid in the process:

  1. “What message does this policy, decision, or approach send to employees about how we see them and what we think of them?”
  2. Does this communicate we trust their ability to respond maturely or that we see them as children who cannot be trusted?”
  3. Does the way we are handling this situation communicate professional respect; does it communicate interest in their perspectives, input, and opinions?”
  4. Does this decision, and how we are executing it, communicate we care about how we affect them … and therefore does it demonstrate respect for them as human beings?”
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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