What’s Right With People

Drive engagement by looking for the positive.

by Kat Schulte | November 2022

Employee Engagement – the level of enthusiasm and dedication a worker feels toward their job – is on the agenda of business leaders now more than ever. We know that engaged employees are more productive, healthier, and contribute to healthier workplace cultures. And yet there is much to discover for how to truly impact the engagement of our people. Lucky for you, dear reader, we are going to give you the answer. It is simple, but not always easy. To increase engagement, you have to find what is RIGHT with your people.

Feedback Matters

Gallup notes a very clear relationship between employee engagement and feedback from their supervisor – you can find it in Wellbeing.

When supervisors focus on their people’s positive characteristics rather than their weaknesses, employee engagement rises to 61% up from 45% and active disengagement drops to 1% from 22%. Yikes. Highlighting where people are shining has an immense impact on engagement. 

What if we can’t find anything to highlight, Kat?

Great question. All feedback, positive or negative, can increase engagement. The only thing worse than highlighting people’s weaknesses is ignoring them. Don’t ignore your people. When employees receive no feedback, engagement plummets to 2% and active disengagement doubles (40%).

It takes work to find what is right. All of your people have great strengths and assets or you wouldn’t have hired them. It is not about glossing over the bad and faking the good… the good is there, but the human brain is not typically wired to see the very present greatness in people.

Brain Barriers

Thanks to evolutionary biology, our sweet brains have a couple biases embedded in them that make it hard to see the very real good that is there. Negativity Bias puts more weight on negative events than positive events. Negative events are more easily noticed and remembered than good. This informs the beliefs and assumptions we hold. A person showing up past the accepted start time more than once can lead to the belief that “Jack is always late.”

Confirmation Bias builds upon this and helps the brain notice and remember instances that support these beliefs, while it discards instances that counter. If I believe “Jack is always late,” I will notice all the days Jack shows up late. I will miss the moments when Jack is on time and early.

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”

– Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird)

Humans are wired for negativity. The distinguishing leadership move is to be intentional about noticing and finding the positive in our people.

If you already have your CliftonStrengths and Positivity is in your Top5, you have a lot to teach the rest of us. 🙂 

Find What’s Right

Finding the good in people needs to be intentional, but it’s not complicated. Here are simple tips to start noticing the magic all around you:

1. Slow Down
We are all moving so fast we often don’t stop long enough to look up from our to dos or inbox. Pause. Take three deep breaths. Multiple times a day. Pause long enough to notice who and what is around you.

2. Notice
Once you have slowed, pay attention to your people. Here are some questions to consider:
– What are your people juggling right now?
– What can you count on them for?
– What trait would be missing if they weren’t on the team?
– What is one thing in your last interaction you can appreciate?

3. Share
Our people do not read our minds. Thanks again to Negativity Bias, if your people do not hear from you, they will assume you hold a negative message and perspective of them and their work. Make sure to take a minute to draft the quick email or pull them aside to share what you notice and appreciate. Regular check-ins can help to make sure this is not missed.

Inside Leadership

The single biggest variable in employee engagement is their direct manager/leader. Take the road less traveled to explore and refine who you are – to lead with greater influence and impact. This 5 month leadership experience includes 4 full day Group Learning Sessions, 6 Coaching Sessions, Monthly Peer Pod Groups, and the CliftonStrengths Assessment. 


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