What we’ve learned from the American workplace has direct application to better engaging our volunteer firefighters
By Joshua Fowler, Hazmat Nation
So recently I found myself reading Gallup’s State of the American Workplace. The majority of the data and information found throughout this piece (along with some random thoughts of my own) comes from Gallup in one form or another.
In order to adequately give credit where credit is due, I will go ahead and cite Gallup(1) now in that as I sift back through more than ten pages of written notes over the course of three weeks, I am now kicking myself in that I wasn’t more diligent in writing down where they came from.
Let me first say that a leader that has little to no relationship with those that he or she leads is the engagement problem.
Thirty-three percent; thirty-three percent is the amount of U.S. employees that are engaged at work compared to the rest of the world’s best organizations. We have heard it, seen it and read it at one time or another the adage, “Our employees are our most important asset.” But is that in fact true?
First and foremost, not everyone can be a great leader or manager. While many organizations feel that if an individual is good at one job, then they are more than capable in moving up to manage, supervise or lead in another. This antiquated way of thinking could not be further from the truth.
Some are natural leaders. Others become leaders though knowledge and experience over time. As I see it, our engagement issues in the modern workplace come down to three very important issues.
- A lack of relationship
- A lack of direction
- A lack of communication
A Lack of Relationship
“Regardless of all the changes in the workplace, people remain the core component in an organization’s success or failure. The key to an organization’s growth has been and always will be its workforce.”(3) The growth and well-being of any organization hinges on one very important attribute – relationship.
First, great leaders know that in order to motivate and stimulate their team members requires the meeting of needs – physical and emotional. Having a solid relationship with those you lead cultivates a culture that is, above all else, trusting. Without trust, there is no relationship. Without relationship, there is no engagement.
Secondly, the most effective leaders are involved with those they lead which not only fosters relationship, it fosters development. Development is rooted in a strong leader/follower relationship and should never be looked upon as a finished product. It must be assessed, adjusted and fine-tuned to best fit the needs of leader, individual and team, alike. With and by relationship, development occurs through defining goals, collaboration, accountability and transparency.
Next, leaders don’t assume, rather they ask questions and seek honest and open feedback. By doing so, transparency is exhibited, communicated and followed by both the leadership and the membership which in turn builds stronger relationship.
Lastly, those that you lead need to know that they are more than just a number. Only four in 10 employees feel that their leadership cares about them as a person. If this number was increased to eight out of 10, there would be a 32% reduction in safety incidents and a 41% reduction in absent employees. This care must be genuine and cannot be manufactured. You will reap some serious dividends simply by making your members feel genuinely valued and respected. Care for those you lead as people first and employees second.
A Lack of Direction
“Only 22% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization has a clear direction for the organization.” (5)
Without vision, the organization fails. Direction and vision serve as the roadmap for any organization. If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you know when you’ve arrived? For example, you would not board a plane, train or automobile without knowing its destination. If those you lead have no idea what your direction is or ultimately, where your destination leads, why would they follow you? Organizations and especially your team must have vision and direction.
Direction and vision have a linear impact on engagement with your members in that, they create focus in an otherwise blurry environment. They bring order out of chaos while enabling those involved to see everything clearly.
“Candidates want to work for companies that provide solid footing and are poised for growth. The more stable they view an organization, the more likely they may be to see a future with it. To demonstrate stability in their brand, organizations can share their history or their vision for future growth. Any [organization] can say it has been around for “x” number of years, but employees need to hear a story that resonates with them — one that is unique, genuine and compelling.” (6)
Your members need to see the future and direction of the team and envision themselves participating in it. Leaders are pivotal in creating this vision and have a duty to show the direction of the team to its membership as well as where it’s headed. Leaders need to inspire their members to see a better tomorrow, especially when conditions change.
Direction and vision give members a deeper sense of job security and satisfaction which leads to deeper engagement.
A Lack of Communication
“Only 13% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization.” (7) Clear expectations are the most basic and fundamental need with members and leaders are required to define and discuss both explicit and implicit expectations with those they lead.
It is important that leaders communicate often and honestly while being intentional to not micromanage. Leaders partner with their personnel to set expectations while frequently providing the much needed formal and informal feedback without “hovering.” Those you lead need to feel that they can work autonomously while still receiving support from you as their leader. By doing so, this will assist those you lead in achieving their personal goals.
When expectations are clear and understood, both leadership and followership alike understand what outstanding performance looks like, individually and as a team. Personnel can walk away with an awareness of how their independent contributions align with that of their respective teams and organizations as a whole.
Of incredible importance and often overlooked, leaders are coaches. Defined, “coaching is about maximizing performance through people.” (8) When those you lead receive feedback that is immediate and specific, it encourages an environment that creates growth.
Circling back to relationship, coaching creates relationships that are more natural in order to develop the employee and help drive their performance. This is where great leaders serve as great coaches. They motivate, guide, and direct those they lead as they progress in their roles.
In closing, I would like to share the principle of Betari Box Theory. While the origins of Betari Box are unknown, what we do know is that Betari was an ancient Persian city spoken of in the Bible and is now in modern-day Iran. Betari Box is not a box at all, rather it is a cycle.
When looking at the cycle, one can only remember the playground comeback, “it takes one to know one.” That is exactly the Betari Box. The behavior you display is often the behavior you receive from others. It’s important to recognize the fact that individuals usually believe that others will react in a specific way, which hinders their ability to formulate different thoughts. Perception becomes reality which fixates one’s actions and does nothing more than create a self-fulfilling prophecy. So why is this important to employee engagement? Great question.
“The lack of engagement among front-line [leaders] could be wreaking havoc on engagement among front-line employees. Essentially, [leaders] engagement directly influences their employees’ engagement, creating what Gallup calls the “cascade effect,” and the link between the two is powerful. [Members] who are supervised by highly engaged [leaders] are 59% more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged [leaders].” (9)
Leaders have to create cultures that reflect the wants and needs of the modern workforce, regardless of job type or industry. They must give personnel a reason to choose them, stay with them and perform at their best. When it comes to employee engagement, you as a leader have two choices:
You can be a passive bystander or you can be an active participant. The choice is yours.
This article originally appeared on Hazmat Nation and is republished with permission.
About The Author
Josh Fowler is the District Chief of Beaumont Fire/Rescue’s 52 district in Beaumont, Texas. He is the program manager for the department’s HAZMAT team and Technical Response/Recovery Group. He has 18 years on the job and has served as a rescue specialist and technical information specialist with Texas Task Force 1 since 2006. Josh has been married to his best friend, Courtney, for 19 years and together, they have 6 children.
2 – Ibid
4 – Ibid
6 – Ibid
8 – Ibid