Inspiring engagement through a coach approach

Motivating employees is a perennial challenge for most managers and leaders, and measuring their engagement is big business. Organizations spend millions of dollars each year, tying up valuable resources to measure how engaged people are in their work. And managers are held accountable to improve the engagement scores of their teams.

Yet, research confirms the needle hasn’t moved much overall. Roughly 30 percent of employees report being energized and fully immersed in their work most of the time. That means if you manage 10 people, three report being fully engaged and seven are anywhere from mildly engaged to fully disengaged.

There’s a clue about why and how people stay engaged that’s often overlooked: People are more motivated and engaged when they feel understood, appreciated and connected.

Managers play an essential role in creating that environment — and it can feel like a daunting task. A place to start is to adopt a coach approach and be deliberate about connecting with associates and peers in authentic, resonant ways.

Here are three steps you can take to be a better coach.

Adopt a coaching mindset. Inspiring others to be engaged starts with seeing your role more as a coach and less of a director, evaluator or adviser. As my colleagues and I suggest in our book, “Helping People Change, Coaching for Lifelong Learning and Growth,” coaching is fundamentally about helping with their intentional change. Before you can effectively “help” as a coach, see yourself as a supportive partner in a person’s growth and development. Prioritize nurturing a resonant relationship, where you are in sync and in tune with the person’s hopes and dreams for their career and life. This is only possible through intentional conversations that leave people connected to the very best of themselves and others.

Ask positive, powerful questions. Everything we know about motivation and engagement reinforces a fundamental truth: Adults don’t like to repeatedly be told what to do. Mandated change never sticks. If your style leans heavily on telling and over-asking, you won’t have much success inspiring others. Instead, ignite an inner flame of desire rather than a fire underneath them. A coach approach means asking open-ended questions anchored in genuine curiosity and interest. It means seeking to understand the other person’s story or opinion over yours. Questions like, “What’s on your mind?” and “What are your insights?” acknowledges you want to hear their ideas.

Listen beyond what you hear. When we take time to genuinely be present and listen deeply to another person, we demonstrate that we value them and what they have to say. Active listening involves giving the other person your full attention and noticing the verbal and nonverbal cues with all of your senses. This is powerful because it fulfills a person’s basic human need to be understood and appreciated. When experienced over time, a psychologically safe space can take shape, fostering empathy and openness to new ideas. Deep active listening is essential to building relationships anchored in trust, and only when trust is present can engagement flourish. To keep yourself in check, consider the 80-20 rule, where your associate or peer speaks 80 percent of the time to your 20 percent. ●

Ellen Van Oosten is Professor, Organizational Behavior; Faculty director of executive education at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management

Ellen Van Oosten

Professor, Organizational Behavior; Faculty director of executive education
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