When Leaders Embrace Engagement, the Organization Thrives

Editor’s note: While Ron Thomas is traveling this week, TLNT is reposting one of his more popular columns.

“If you want eggs, take care of the hen,” Kazuo Inamori told an interviewer. “If you bully or kill the hen, it’s not going to work.”

Inamori, founder and chairman emeritus of Kyocera Corp, used this analogy to explain his management style. I found it just amazing and reassuring that an older CEO could have this mindset.

The title of the article? “The Buddhist Priest Who Became a Billionaire Snubbing Investors.”

Engagement starts from the top

We have all heard the term trickle-down theory. In economics, this was supposed to work by making policy geared to the top earners on the theory that the benefits  would trickle down to the masses. In real life, however, it did not work.

In engagement, it is a given that if your senior team is engaged, the workforce, for the most part, is engaged. It also works the opposite way. Disengaged leaders produce disengaged employees.

The secret, as Inamori tells it, was to change employees’ mentality. After taking the CEO role without pay, he printed a small book for each staff member on his philosophy, which declared that the company was devoted to their growth.

There are not too many companies that will boast they are committed to their employees’ growth. We all hear the standard anthem, “People are our greatest asset,” and we all know that for the most part, it’s just a bunch of words. There should be a warning that flashes at the bottom of the screen that says, “The words you are about to hear have no meaning, we just trot it out when needed.”

You have the keys to drive it

Leaders today are in the driver’s seat whether it is about financial results, or more importantly, creating an innovative culture. There are many businesses that want to be innovative but are not because they lack the culture, environment, or  people that provide a foundation for innovation to occur.

However, if you look at any top organization you will find common threads, and for the most part, most are not run by innovative leaders who are highly engaged. That level of intensity is like a cancer that envelops the organization and reaches all the way to the bottom of the organizational chart.

That is why I struggle to understand when I talk with leaders why they just do not get it or really do not give a hoot. One day I will catalogue all the outrageous statements that I have heard coming from leaders as it relates to engagement discussion.

I’m talking about things like: “I do not really care — let them all leave” to “Let them quit; I will hire replacements at half the cost.” I get pretty wide-eyed when I hear that kind of stuff because with that level of intensity, there is simply no rational thinking going on.

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The numbers do not connect

Your employees don’t focus on things like market share, percentage of growth, margin share, etc. They just do not excite most of us. Numbers are abstract and they do not get people going. Hearing those numbers won’t motivate you to get out of bed in the morning, or work late into the night or on weekends.

Motivation must be on a more emotional level, something that is engaging, exciting and provides a compelling reason for your people to get involved.

Having a CEO that walks the talk is very reassuring. Think of Virgin’s Richard Branson, who decided that new parents in his companies take a year “to get to know their babies.”

Folks, this is not brain surgery. There are no short cuts to building this kind of organization. These simple meaningful gestures will resonate more with your people and give them a real sense of purpose.

Purpose, post-mortem

If you are ever committed wholeheartedly to a cause or an organization, take a minute to do a post-mortem. What you will realize is that it is about a level of connectivity that a paycheck, benefits, or perks for that matter, could never achieve.

So Mr. or Ms. Leader, think of your organization’s purpose and create your own strategy and organizational life-blood around it. Once that is ingrained, you will see a different organization, but if you keep you head in the sand, you will gradually began a slide downward.

“You take care of me and I will take care of you.” Yes, it is that simple.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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