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Keeping the Flame Alive

By Peter Vajda

Something that is guaranteed to hit the energy of your business like a lead balloon is if one or more of your people start to act as if they would rather be somewhere else. Underperforming or disengaged employees adversely affect productivity because they impact those around them in many ways – all of them negative.

Disengaged employees are often at the core of the gossiping or critical group, affecting morale just as insidious cancer cells destroy the (workplace) body. Their behaviour can also have an impact externally, rubbing off on customers and suppliers, leading to reduced customer satisfaction or, worse still, a loss of clients.

In a growing business, one of the key issues can be that the leaders of the business and/or its managers are often too busy to take an active role in supporting their direct reports on a professional and personal basis. They come to view employees more as ‘functions’ than as people, creating an emotional distance that in turn leads to disengagement and underperformance.

When employees feel that they are regarded as drones whose tasks and responsibilities are laid out neatly in their job descriptions and who are denied opportunities to branch out, learn new skills or contribute in new ways, they tend to back off and become less engaged.

Something else to watch out for is inadvertently creating a “favourites” culture in which it is unclear whether it is friendship or productivity that gets rewarded. If it is perceived that individuals can advance on the basis of “who they know”, those who feel left out will tend to withdraw and contribute less.

Equally, a lack of accountability leads those who are engaged, focused and productive to become less so when they see others being absolved from being held accountable. These once-enthused employees become reactive, resentful, less enthusiastic and disengaged. A culture of resentment and mediocrity ensues. Morale suffers.

Another area that is often overlooked is the inability or unwillingness of a busy manager or owner to provide timely and effective feedback. People feel abandoned when they don’t know where they stand. Employees who aren’t clear on what’s working and what’s not working vis-à-vis their performance tend to disengage and go on “cruise control” to get by.

Finally, when employees lack clear goal statements or are not stretched by challenging goals, they become discouraged and disengage.  This also results in a disconnect between the expectations of that individual and those of the company. When someone feels that they are performing but that their employer does not have their act together, they tend to become disillusioned and settle in a “less-is-more” mind-set which ultimately results in disengagement.

Here are five top tips to help encourage your people to go that extra mile and create a culture where people consciously want to come to work and do their best.

Instil mutual accountability: Holding one another accountable lets no one off the hook and fosters mutual respect and trust. Mutual accountability leads to pride in one’s self and the team, increased enthusiasm and a willingness to contribute and go the extra mile, especially when the going gets tough.

Mine hidden talents:  Identify hidden talents that may lie beneath the surface and explore ways to nurture them. Morale soars and a “can-do” mind-set permeates the workplace culture.

Walk the talk: If you embody the values of your business it will send a clear message that values are more than marketing copy on your website. Authentic values communicate sincerity and self-responsibility. Shared values encourage people to move in a common direction, communicate commitment and foster engagement.

Recognize and reward effort early and often: Provide timely and constructive feedback. Mentor and coach proactively and consistently. Help your people to help themselves by giving them the tools, skills and support they need to do their best work. Provide opportunities for personal and professional growth and development.

Learn to listen: If you take a conscious and consistent interest in your employees, they’ll take an interest in you. Show people they are valued and have a sense of worth over and above the functions and tasks they perform. Remember to listen to them!


Peter VajdaPeter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating. True North Partnering’s focus in the business arena is on the interpersonal skills that enable individuals to work together productively with a high level of personal and professional satisfaction.



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