I don’t need to rely on the stock recommendations from prepackaged employee engagement surveys to gauge and improve a staff’s emotional commitment to the business, and neither do you. All I need to do is to gauge the degree of the three freedoms of employee engagement listed below, and that will tell me what I need to know.
- Freedom to decide how to use one’s own time.
- Freedom to use resources independently to effect a positive business outcome.
- Freedom to innovate.
What do these freedoms look like in practice? Below are examples of the kinds of behaviors and practices I have seen in companies where engagement and commitment on an emotional level are high. While these are just some examples, as you read them, try keeping a tally of how many apply to your own business.
Freedom to decide how to use one’s time:
- Most staff have no fixed desk at the office, particularly salespeople. Rather, there are hot desks, meeting rooms, and communal spaces.
- Apart from meetings, most staff are not required to be present in the office.
- Meetings are called only when there is a decision to be made, and not just for “information sharing.”
- Managers set clear objectives for staff, and hold all staff accountable for achieving those objectives, without concern for how much or how little time it might take or when staff choose to work and choose not to work.
- Promotion is merit-based, not seniority based, whether in policy or practice.
- The business has IT infrastructure that allows all staff to do work from anywhere, any time they choose.
- People organize their work around family, discretionary time, and leisure as opposed to organizing family, discretionary time, and leisure around work hours.
- The top-performing people work less than forty hours per week.
- Geography is of little concern when making organizational structure decisions. For example, a manager based in Tokyo can lead a sales team based in Osaka without having to relocate.
- Most fathers take paternity leave.
Freedom to use resources independently to effect a business outcome:
- Front line staff can independently resolve customer issues on the spot within a clear budget and guidelines of how to use that budget.
- A salesperson does not need to apply for permission or budget for most domestic travel.
- A sales manager can independently decide to hire administrative support if it allows salespeople to spend more time with customers rather than filling out paperwork in the office.
- Any manager can decide to hire external services rather than using his or her staff as long as there is clear ROI for doing so, without having to go through a purely bureaucratic approval process or otherwise be constrained by “preferred vendor” rules.
- A manager does not need to ask permission from HR to invest in development for staff, but rather may seek advice if desired.
- No one ever quotes policy as the reason for doing or not doing something.
- People describe their jobs in terms of what they achieve for the business as opposed to the tasks for which they are responsible.
- Everyone in the business, regardless of level, can cite current strategic priorities without having to recall slogans or attempt to parrot “vision statements” memorized by rote.
- Managers and staff alike don’t talk in terms of cost, but rather ROI when making decisions.
- A manager is free to remove people from his or her staff.
Freedom to innovate:
- There is a clear and transparent process for proposing and adopting new products, processes and technologies for all managers and staff.
- For any idea proposed that is not adopted, the reasons why are explained.
- A staff person has flexibility in means for doing his or her own work to bring performance to a higher level as long as business ends are met.
- People are rewarded for good ideas even if they don’t work.
- Innovation is something that is also scheduled, not just anticipated ad hoc.
- People are rewarded for coming up with ideas, regardless of success or failure.
- When presented with a challenging change, managers and staff will talk about what would be needed to make it possible, even if it exceeds current budgets and capabilities, as opposed to coming up with all the reasons why it won’t work or can’t be done.
- Junior staff speak freely about ideas they have to improve the business.
- If you are a manager, you propose ideas to your boss in the same way you expect your staff to propose ideas to you.
- Failure is viewed as learning rather than something to be avoided at all costs.
If you found that seven or more of each freedom applies to your business, emotional engagement and commitment ought to be pretty high. If, however, you found five or less apply, you have some work to do.
Note that the three freedoms are interdependent. If you find that in your business the degree of freedom varies depending on which one you are talking about, your level of engagement will be no greater than the lowest. So for example, if people have little freedom to decide how to use their time, even if you have good practices in place for innovation, results will be lackluster and emotional engagement will be dragged down.
If you lead the business, and you promote the three freedoms with your direct reports, that’s excellent. However, do they do the same with their staff? And how about the mid-level managers below them? Most organizations have strong engagement at the top. It is at the middle layers of management where things become murky, what I call the refraction layer.
And what about the employees who choose not to exercise their freedoms even if they could? Well, do you really want people who are averse to autonomy over their own time, indifferent to the authority over resources to solve a problem for a customer, and choose not to innovate themselves to improve the business? Let such people go elsewhere. The world has no shortage of businesses that lack the three freedoms. They will find plenty of other work.
As a leader, if you want to improve engagement and commitment to the business on an emotional level, focus on the three freedoms first. It’s these freedoms that make all the difference in the world between working in your business as opposed to anywhere else.
If you support and promote the three freedoms in your business, the best people will come to you and stay.