Employee engagement is dead, long live… leadership climate?

2016, a year of turmoil, dividing headlines between the political shocks of Brexit and Trump, and the cultural shocks of losing cherished celebrities. The New Year is traditionally time for optimism and resolutions: renewed gym memberships, dry January dedications, going tech-free one evening each week. Likewise at work, we set goals and objectives: navigating Brexit, raising productivity, increasing employee engagement. However, 2016 left us with one more under-reported shock, putting such plans at risk: UK productivity figures* showed recovery since the 2008 financial crash has only been achieved through working longer hours. The bad news is, we’re all working much harder to produce the same amount of goods and services than we did in 2007.

Engagement – a red herring?

The trend for measuring engagement kick-started by government policy in response to a 2008 study suggested that more engaged employees are more productive – therefore to promote economic recovery, we should invest in increasing employee engagement. Engagement has since become big business, but the expected productivity boost is missing. It may be time to re-think the assumption that engagement is an input to productivity – what if engagement, like productivity, is an output of getting other things right?

On this basis, we need to measure different inputs, namely the conditions that enable people to perform. There are many variables, and in uncertain economic times organisations hold back on costly ‘hard’ investments such as infrastructure or technology. CEO’s are prioritising ‘soft’ variables such as better leadership (2016 Deloitte human capital report) – and this is where leadership climate comes in.

Leadership climate – driving engagement and productivity

Leadership climate measures employees’ experience of leaders’ behaviours – critically, both the positive behaviours that enable well-being, engagement and performance AND the negative behaviours that de-motivate, stifle innovation and block effectiveness. Research into leadership climate*** shows significant positive relationships with employee empowerment, commitment and organisational financial performance; meanwhile the absence of trust generated by a negative leadership climate undermines the impact of otherwise transformational behaviours.

Developed in 2012, and now benchmarking to responses from over 3,000 employees, JCA Global’s Leadership Climate Survey measures six positive leadership behaviours, six negative leadership behaviours and three levels of impact on employees:

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Through leadership climate, you gain insight on which leadership behaviours are enabling your organisation’s success, and which are preventing it. As an input to engagement and productivity, measuring leadership climate tells you how help your leaders be the change they want to see. In the spirit of New Year ambitions, we think that’s real cause for optimism!

5 ways to enhance leadership climate

Following Timothy Gallwey’s formula ‘performance = potential – interference’, the secret to enhancing leadership climate is to both accentuate the positive and minimise the negative; JCA Global research has identified the most impactful positive and negative leadership behaviours. Here are some to note:

  • DO say frequently why each employee’s work matters, to provide meaning and purpose
  • DO have ambition and set the bar high, as challenge promotes learning and achievement
  • DO keep reinforcing what success looks like, to give shared clarity of vision
  • DON’T demand success overnight, as over-focus on short term goals is de-motivating
  • DON’T be distant from your team, as personal understanding is key to building trust

Curious to learn more about leadership climate, why it matters and how to enhance it in your organisation? Join our free webinar ‘Leadership in 2017 – setting the tone for success during uncertain times’ on Tuesday, 24th of January at 2pm, hosted by Dexter Davies-Smith and Jill Pennington. Click here to register.

* Productivity in the UK

** Engaging for Success: Enhancing performance through employee engagement

*** See Chen, Kirkman, Kanfer, Allen, & Rosen, 2007; Schyns & Van Veldhoven, 2010; De Jong & Bruch, 2013; Menges, Walter, Vogel & Bruch, 2011

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