An Almost-Guaranteed Cure for a Disengaged Employee

Here’s a news flash: People are different! That’s one of the many reasons leadership is so challenging. However, of all the strategies I’ve experienced in my career to raise engagement, there is one that is almost fool-proof… Give people real responsibility.

I’m confident hearing that advice surfaces at least one of several questions. So, I’ll do my best within the constraints of this format to give you a few answers to help you move forward.

What type of responsibility are you referring to?

Responsibilities come in many shapes and sizes. They can be as simple as a task or as complex as a multi-faceted, cross-functional global assignment. They can also include decision rights and accountability for outcomes.

How do you decide what type of responsibility is right for someone?

To give someone the right opportunity, you should consider several factors:

  • readiness (skills and attitude);
  • current workload;
  • the consequences of a poor outcome (brand, customer or client, cost, relationships, etc.);
  • the employees track record with similar assignments;
  • the level of support the person will have during the assignment.

Is this the same as delegation?

Maybe. However, people often associate delegation with tasks not outcomes, decision rights, or complex projects. But don’t let the similarity discourage you, delegation done well can also boost engagement.

What if the person doesn’t want the responsibility?

My counsel would be to try and figure out why. Is it a confidence issue? A skill gap? A workload challenge? Or perhaps, the person doesn’t have sufficient trust in you as a leader. Maybe they sense you are looking for a scapegoat for a flawed strategy or doomed project. Or, maybe the person has different career aspirations. Regardless, reluctance needs to be investigated.

What happens if the person fails?

If you’ve chosen the right task, project, or decision, based on all the factors listed above, the best next step is to learn what happened. Next, help the person process the entire experience. Ask them to tell you what they were thinking during critical phases of the work. Ask them what alternatives they considered before making their final decision. Think back to your own experience as a leader; I’m guessing you learned more from your failures than from your successes. Give this gift to your team members – help them learn from their mistakes.

I define engagement as how much someone cares about their work, their co-workers, and the organization. If you can find the right responsibility for them, they will care more about their work. Give it a try and let me know what happens.