Numerous employee engagement surveys have corroborated the premise that positive interactions in the workplace cultivate a sense of purpose, bolster employee morale, and improve work satisfaction. The opposite can be said about negative interactions, which generate confusion, anxiety, unhappiness, and uncertainty, which adversely impact work efficiency and company productivity. The ability to create positive interactions is a future leadership skill that managers (and organizations) need to develop now.
Martin Seligman (2011), one of the founding fathers of positive psychology, notes that happiness cannot be achieved without social relationships. So, if organizations want to ensure their employees are happy, they need socially engaged leaders. However, being socially engaged, undoubtedly a critical future leadership skill, is not necessarily an innate characteristic of a leader. It is a leadership style that must be learned and developed.
Implementing an open-door policy, conducting regular staff meetings, holding one-on-one meetings with employees, and scheduling quarterly progress reviews are all effective ways for managers to engage with their team members in a way that fosters “positive interactions”. Furthermore, these are fairly low-cost measures for organizations to implement. However, they do require an investment of managers’ time, which already overstretched managers—more often than not on the go—will tell you they don’t have any to give.
The result is a growing gap between organizations’ employee well-being objectives aimed at caring for their most valuable assets, and their managers—who are on the frontline and most frequently charged with the responsibility for employee well-being.
The myths fueling the leadership skills gap
There are three main misconceptions—corporate culture myths—at play here. In fact, these three myths come together in most organizations to create the perfect storm for employee recognition efforts.
First up is the claim that bad managers drive away employees. This is an idea widely promulgated by management consultancy Gallup, which sums it up with the blanket statement “people leave bosses rather than companies.” Not to say that there isn’t some truth to this statement (because there is) but there is a growing consensus that this is only a piece of the puzzle. Managers matter, but not nearly as much as leadership and development opportunities.
Second, managers don’t give more feedback because they don’t have the time. Wrong. A survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults found that 69% of the managers admitted that they were often uncomfortable communicating with employees. Over a third of managers surveyed said that they were uncomfortable giving direct feedback about their employees’ job performance if they thought the employees would take it badly. The bottom line: managers make time for what they feel comfortable doing or what they believe they’re good at, and employee interactions make them uncomfortable. The bottom line: a necessary characteristic of a leader in organizations committed to employee engagement is strong intrapersonal skills.
Third, feedback and employee engagement is time-consuming. This falls on everyone in a company: from top to bottom and bottom to top. It is a complaint heard from both employees and managers. Recognizing your team members’ contributions to a project or letting them know how they can contribute more do not have to be time-consuming processes. But they do require the right technological solution to help streamline the process and make it easier for managers to recognize employees.
How can leadership teams help time-strapped managers overcome today’s leadership challenges and create more opportunities for positive interactions with employees? Hint: technology leadership is the future leadership skill your organization needs.
Technology is solving common leadership challenges
Whatever a manager’s leadership style is, whether strategic, or democratic, or transformational, it should provide employees with ongoing direction, support the company’s culture and values, and foster positive interactions that drive engagement and motivation.
Because socially engaged leadership is not an innate skill, most managers have to develop it, and organizations’ leadership teams need to make sure managers have the training, tools, and opportunity to do just that.
Connecting with employees in more traditional ways, such as one-on-one meetings and face-to-face interactions, is increasingly challenging, which is why today’s most effective leaders are using technology to keep in touch with their teams and motivate them. Technology opens the lines of communication and ensures accessibility even when leaders aren’t physically available to meet and interact with their teams.
Technology provides opportunities for companies to transform their traditional workplace culture into modern think tanks for sharing thoughts, ideas and strategies. In many ways, social media has enabled people to collaborate more effectively across various boundaries, and organizations have taken notice. While many businesses today leverage social media to message customers and prospects, an increasing number of leaders are now seeing the value of using this technology in a similar way to reinforce the social connections between their employees.
Using technology platforms enables leaders to create collaborative environments while yielding real-time analytics that can be used to make informed business decisions, create new strategies and increase interactions among employees, departments, and divisions. Successful leaders realize that they don’t have to be everywhere in order to interact with employees, and by creating an organizational community for open, transparent and inter-department collaboration, they can propel their business to new levels of effectiveness.
Below are three recommendations on how to develop future leadership skills through technology:
Engaged employees are inspired employees, and employees that fall into this category will be far more productive and involved than their peers. In a survey conducted by Harvard Business Review and the Economist Intelligence Unit, less than half of respondents said they agree or strongly agree that their leaders were inspiring or were unlocking motivation in employees. That same study also found that fewer felt that their leaders fostered engagement within their organization. Employees are looking to their managers and leadership teams to create and encourage a culture of engagement, and leaders with a leadership style that is socially engaged can bring out the best in their employees.
By focusing on encouraging peers and interdepartmental interactions, leaders can empower their people to think more creatively, speak more freely, and contribute more ideas to the company. When leaders keep the conversation open and ongoing, they can inspire their employees to participate in areas that may be outside of the scope of their work. Through technology platforms, employees can feel empowered to become the best version of themselves and become an even more significant contributor to their company through peer interactions.
With studies showing that employees want to be challenged and appreciated, this is a way to make them feel valued and that employee growth is a top priority. While managers may not always have the time for face-to-face interactions, they can still stay connected with employees through technology platforms to give and receive peer evaluations, give recognition for a job well done, and provide work performance insight that displays the involvement of management on the projects that employees are working on every day.
Organizations that embrace data, analytics, and AI technology to help their managers to inspire their employees can tap into powerful resources that boost engagement levels and productivity. By collecting insights and analyzing data, they can make better decisions about their most valuable assets: their employees.
Through technology, managers can put into practice this crucial future leadership skill, and organizations can ensure those managers have the tools to build a unique corporate culture that celebrates personal interactions. By fostering a socially engaged corporate culture, organizations will see a greater return on employee recognition initiatives.
Demystify the resources, especially time, socially engaged leaders and organizations need to close the gap by focusing on finding the right technological platform for your workplace well-being efforts.