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Culture of Engagement: Intellectual Engagement

Posted on November 30, 2017

Culture of Engagement: Intellectual Engagement

Emotional regulated organizational culture set the stage for change and the potential for innovation and excellence. Whether I’m thinking about a client or an entire system, the ability to regulate emotional states allows the full realization of an individual’s or system’s cognitive potential. In this post, we will examine how we can maximize the cognitive potential and set up our culture for change. Always keep in mind, these concepts lose their effectiveness in dysregulated emotional environments. That is why we start with emotional health THEN move to the more concrete approaches.

We mentioned in the last post, that leaders have a discorporate effect on the emotional states of teams and organization. Strong leaders bring a mix of humility, honesty, and mindfulness to their work. These characteristics result in trusting and safe relationships and a psychologically healthy environment. I want to add one more characteristic of strong leaders as it relates to intellectual engagement: discipline.

One of the most important roles of leaders involves helping people know where to place their focus and energy. Great leaders bring consistency to their work. Remember that an aspect of trust is our ability to predict another’s quality of work. Successful leaders set clear performance goals, help ensure behaviors and resources are dedicated where their impact is maximized, and work each day to improve quality (Collins, 2011)

We also discussed the importance of relationships in the last post as it relates to emotional health and regulation and engagement. In addition to trust, safety, shared values, and positive regard, high performing groups have high levels of accountability. Accountability is crucial for ensuring everyone’s actions align with the groups shared values and further mission and shared vision (see below) of the organization. Effective accountability depends on high levels of honesty, trust, and safety as well as concrete expectations.

Interestingly, research demonstrates that most employees state that they really do not know what is expected of them and the majority of those do not ask for clarification (Wagner & Harter, 2006). How do you hold someone accountable without first establishing shared expectations? When expectations are not shared we too often fall into the accountability fallacy. Connors and Smith (2009) say that the accountability fallacy

“…captures a common mistake people make when they assume that others fail to follow through because there is something wrong with them…When leaders fall prey to the Accountability Fallacy, they not only assume that their people are flawed, but that they themselves can do little or nothing to change those flaws except punish people for having them.”

Whether an individual or group fails to meet expectations it is important to first identify the real issue behind the problem. Depending on the problem, this might entail a great deal of work especially if it concerns poor organizational outcomes or other larger issues. The next step is to own the problem. Even if you are a leader taking disciplinary action against an employee, you need to step back and consider, “what role did I have in this situation.” An honest appraisal most often brings parallel processes and other larger system issues to the surface. Owning it brings mindful reflection into the accountability process and, when larger system issues are identified, helps prevent similar mistakes and problems from occurring in the future.

The third step is assessing for trust and safety. There are two reasons this assessment is important. First, you want to identify any breaks in relationships and resulting emotional dysregulation. Interpersonal issues and disrupted relationships account for a wide variety of behaviors and reactions. Second, the next steps in the accountability process might disrupt the relationships in the short term. Even when done mindfully, critical feedback is hard to hear. Assessing the relationships before these difficult conversations help identify repairs to focus on after the difficult discussions.

Next, you meet with the person to redefine expectations. You want to make sure the person or group knows what is expected of them and how their behaviors and actions fall outside those expectations. In most situations, it is appropriate to share your insights on larger issues, breaks in relationships, and how you are dedicated to improving trust and safety moving forward.

The final step is crucial. Holding someone accountable will change the relationships, whether it strengthens or weakens it depends on the interactions after the difficult conversation. It is the person (often leader’s) obligation to check in with the person often, work on reestablishing trust and safety, and recognizing positive steps to correct the behavior. Accountability ensures that change processes stay on course and that everyone is working in a common direction aligned with their shared values.

The final characteristics of an intellectually engaged culture are strategies that support and structure the change process and directs the focus on those involved. Fit, or getting the right people in positions to maximize their talents and passions, is one of the most important predictors of organizational excellence and successful changes. Handing over a change process to a group of people who do not have the skills or passion to see it through will fail no matter how strategically you structure the process (Collin, 2001).

Maybe the most rewarding part of my leadership experiencing involves hiring amazing people and watching them change lives. There is another side of fit that is less rewarding but just as important. People who are not a fit for their position must either get the trainings they need to succeed or, usually after training, find a different position inside or outside the organization in which they can be successful. While difficult I believe it is better to help someone find a position where they succeed than keeping them in a position where they are hurting the organization’s ability to provide quality services to clients.

Fit promotes engagement as people experience individual success and work with others who are passionate and motivated to make change. At the beginning of a change process, the most important question is “who is a good fit for the change process?” Great organizations put their best people on their most challenging initiative. Not only do the people see their involvement as a reward for past success, the additional challenge will keep them fresh and invested in their daily work activities.

Once the right people are identified another strategic approach is needed. Most change processes involve handing over power to a group of people invested in improving some aspects of the organization or system. Collective decision-making and democratic processes brings forth the expertise from a variety of perspective. Study after study demonstrate the power of tapping into a diverse range of expertise when taking on a major change. If you put the right people on the team, give them all the information they need, and empower them to make meaningful change great things happen. Organizations who practice top-down decision-making hurt overall engagement, lack crucial information that only those doing the work know, are less innovative and creating, and must take much more time implementing decisions made in isolation (Hamel & Breen, 2007). We will discuss specific collective decision-making processes in a later post.

The final aspect of intellectual engagement is a shared vision for the future. Change initiatives are directed at changing a behavior or old methodology to get different outcomes in the future. These initiatives are much more successful when the people making the change understand how the process fits into a larger exciting vision for the future. Collins (2001) found that great organizations establish a shared vision at the intersections of their mission statements (why the organization exists), what drives people’s passions, and what we want to be the best in the world (or some defined area) at. Human beings have an innate desire to be part of something truly great (just look at the money we spend on sports!). Providing them the ability to fulfill this desire every day as part of their work increases morale, engagement, and motivation to ensure the success of the change process.

Putting all the pieces together. A mission statement tells everyone why we do what we do. Change processes outline the concrete steps that will move us closer to our shared vision. Shared values guide our actions and decisions on the journey to fulfill our vision. Accountability is our dedication to holding each other accountable when before fall outside our values or disrupt our progress towards our vision.

As with emotional engagement, intellectual engagement pays off in the form of a diverse range of organizational outcomes. Here is what the research shows.

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