Patrick Lencioni: An engaged employee is a happy employee

If you want to know if your employees are fulfilled and happy in their job, the signs are very easy to spot. You probably don’t need to be given new instructions to do so either, says Patrick Lencioni, founder and president of The Table Group, named by Fortune magazine as ‘one of the ten new gurus you should know’. It’s more a matter of being reminded about what you already knew.

“Most of us know what we need to do in life but we forget so easily,” says Lencioni, whose latest book, The Truth about Employee Engagement, identifies three different sources of employee disengagement – “the three things that can destroy people’s ability to enjoy their work” – and offers simple, cost-free remedies.

“This is my favorite of the books I’ve written, and probably the most important one,” he says.

He recalls his own childhood and memories of his father returning from his work as a salesman at the end of the day. “He was good at what he did. But he came home every night and complained about his job. There was a thing called management which drove him crazy. Even as a kid, I thought this is just wrong. Why should my dad be frustrated every day? I thought, one day I’m going to have a job and I don’t want to be like this.”

Lencioni’s father was showing signs of the first symptom in his triangle: Anonymity.

“I asked myself, why do some people hate jobs they ought to love and others love jobs they ought to hate?” he says. “Within months of taking my first job which was supposedly the best, I was still miserable. Why? Because leaders didn’t talk back to me. It’s a simple point: if you are not known by the person you work for, you cannot love your work. All people need and deserve to be recognized by their leaders. I have known people who just dig ditches but they are happy in their work because their leaders know them.”

It’s amazing thing to see an employee lose their joy because managers aren’t prepared to get to know the people who work for them, Lencioni says. “You should be embarrassed not to know what’s going on in your employees’ lives. If the excuse is that you are not allowed not to talk to people about their personal lives – well, that’s ridiculous.”

The second side of the engagement triangle is Irrelevance. “What would it take to make a sandwich maker in an airport love his or her job? It dawned on me: most people who have jobs like that don’t have a sense that their jobs are relevant. You need to know that your job matters and makes a difference. Our job as managers is to make sure people know why their jobs make that difference. And if it doesn’t make a difference, maybe the job shouldn’t exist!”

So if it’s so easy and obvious, why don’t managers do this? “We might not tell people because we are not sure what the answer is. More often than not, it’s because we are too lazy to care. It’s noticeable that the happiest athletes are the ones that get involved in a charity or something meaningful outside their sport.”

The triangle of disengagement is completed by a sense of ‘Immeasurement’. “If people have no way to measure whether or not they are succeeding, if the only way to find out is to ask their manager or wait for their performance review, then they are in a bad job. Everyone needs some way of assessing if they are being successful without having to wait for their boss to tell them. Most of us want a metric, an easily quantifiable way of finding out. We need to work out a way for people to be able to assess how successful they are. It’s our job as leaders to figure it how. Go through your list of employees and ask yourself, how many of them know how successful they are?”

If you have an employee who is well known, who knows why their job matters and how good they are at their job, you will have the most loyal, most productive and happiest employee, Lencioni concludes. “I believe management is a ministry. You are having a greater impact on your employees’ lives as a manager than any charity work. You can fundamentally change a person’s life by doing these things. It costs you nothing, and your company nothing, and not to do so is like throwing money in the fire.”


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