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Employee engagement is out. This is the new goal

Leaders must inspire their people with a strong and achievable vision, an inclusive culture, personal growth opportunities, and competitive rewards.

[Source photo: Immo Wegmann/Unsplash]

What have you been capable of when you felt inspired? Did you run a marathon? Turn an incredible idea into a money-making business? Write a book? Perhaps the better question is, what can’t you do when you’re inspired? Tapping into that emotion is increasingly the holy grail for leaders seeking to capitalize on their most precious resource: people.  

According to a January 2022 survey by Gartner, 52% of those surveyed said the pandemic made them question the purpose of their day-to-day job. Speaking to the ad industry in Cannes, LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky said data shows this shift is most pronounced among Gen Z and millennials. “Motivating and inspiring this generation is going to be critical to the future of the ad industry.” 

Employees, tired of being treated as interchangeable and lucky to have a job, have demonstrated their market power by finding new, better-paying positions and demanding more money and flexible hours. As companies face high turnover rates and pushback about returning to the office, much of the friction comes down to employee sentiment. How connected do your people feel about their role, the business, purpose, and the future? Do they understand the why? If not, it’s time to embrace the future of business and communication through inspiration.  

“Leaders need to be open and transparent about the strategy, what’s working, what’s not working, and why,” says Tawni Cranz, former chief talent officer at Netflix and venture operating partner at VC firm SignalFire. “Once you get over 150 people, you need unity and connection, and that has to be created,” Cranz adds,” You can’t command it.”   

To compete in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, leaders must inspire their people with a strong and achievable vision, an inclusive culture, personal growth opportunities, and competitive rewards.  

“An inspired employee comes to work lit up about what they’re doing because they feel they matter, their work matters, and the impact they’re having matters. What burns people out is when they don’t have a sense of the impact or contribution and that it matters,” says Stephen M.R. Covey, author of Trust & Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others. 

So how can leaders inspire employees? Here are some ways to drive the change.  

NAIL YOUR NARRATIVE

Can you crisply provide your company’s reason for being in 30 seconds or less? Most leaders and communications professionals sadly can’t, and this miss lies at the heart of uninspired people. Being able to articulate your purpose and business strategy simply is critical to aligning your people around that goal and helping them understand their role in achieving it.  

During a time of major change in the defense industry, my business unit at Lockheed Martin put a sharp focus on our strategy and transparency about why decisions were made. In the next year’s employee opinion survey, understanding of the strategy notched double-digit increases from the year prior and employees felt good about the future despite layoffs and leadership changes. 

START WITH TRUST

The whole notion of someone needing to earn your trust means you are commencing a new relationship by being distrustful, thus needing to overcome a negative rooted in nothing. I’ve seen the power of trusting people from the start and it’s truly powerful and, dare I say, inspiring.  

Netflix’s culture has long been immortalized in the so-called Culture Deck, but the reality is quite startling when you join from other big companies. For example, literally hundreds of people know the quarterly earnings results weeks before they report, and no one (except for one former employee, who now is doing time for insider trading) ever traded on or leaked that information. Why? Because trust given freely is rarely squandered. 

BE INSPIRING

No one is inspired to tackle that big project if you, their fearless leader, is less than enthusiastic. “To inspire, you have to be inspired,” says Cranz. “Leaders need to ask themselves: where have I been on empty and then look through that lens at the entire organization.”  

We’re all running on fumes sometimes, but it’s essential as leaders to recognize when it is happening and do whatever you need to do to recharge your inspiration battery early and step back before your exhaustion or frustration flows to the team and their work. 

EMPHASIZE WELL-BEING—YOURS AND THEIRS

recent study by Deloitte found that one in three employees and executives are constantly struggling with fatigue and poor mental health, with an enormous dichotomy between perception and reality. For example, only 56% of employees believing their company’s executives care about their well-being, while 90% of C-suite executives surveyed think their employees believe they are cared about.   

Caring about someone, in my experience, has less to do with what you say and more to do with how you act. If you say you care about your team but are regularly interrupting their nights, vacations, and weekends, then your actions are saying otherwise. Also if you want your people to take vacations seriously, it helps if you do the same. 

CREATE GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES

One of the top qualities I look for in people is curiosity and a desire to learn. Top talent wants to grow their skills, experiences, and paychecks. Yet many leaders hold back their best people from stretching because they don’t want to lose them to another team or company, a short-sighted view that inevitably results in just that. Investing in your people and their development is critical. When I led marketing and communications at Xerox, we launched a monthly program that brought in outside experts to share knowledge with the entire team so we could all learn and apply those lessons. The feedback was tremendous because the team felt like we were investing in their success, not just ours.  

EVOLVE YOUR CULTURE

If the pandemic taught us anything, it is just how flexible we all are as individuals and businesses. But while culture change has long been a buzzword, there are few cases of its actual success. And that’s because it requires a holistic, top-down approach that starts with the CEO and flows through every part of the business consistently.  

Covey cites Microsoft as successfully achieving this goal, in large measure because CEO Satya Nadella reinvented the company by embodying the culture he sought. “They were very intentional about bringing purpose into what they were doing by modeling the desired behavior, coaching, and caring about their people,” Covey says.   

Times of major change make it easier to evolve and progress, because people are already feeling uncomfortable. Don’t miss the opportunity to inspire your people to new challenges and rewards.  

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