What do accountability, conscientious recognition and extraordinary moments have in common?

Alone or combined, these three unconventional actions can help you improve employee engagement at your organization—however you define engagement.

Here’s how.

1.Build in accountability. Engagement without accountability creates entitlement, according to Cy Wakeman, founder of Reality-Based Leadership, best-selling author, and family therapist. Based on her research and experience, she maintains that employee engagement doesn’t drive business results. Instead, personal accountability drives both employee engagement, including scores on engagement surveys, and business results.

What’s the action? Involve the willing — employees who want to volunteer to step up and suggest improvements for the workplace that will contribute to better employee and business performance.

These willing employees also are the likely ones to take actions. Even better, they’re also likely to be held responsible and accountable for making the improvements happen.

Minimally, Wakeman recommends building accountability into your post-engagement survey action planning.

At the extreme, Wakeman says to stop listening—and even surveying—employees who view themselves as victims.

2. Recognize conscientiously. We humans like being seen, heard and appreciated for what we do. That’s why recognition is so powerful at work, especially when the acknowledgement is timely, specific and sincere.

Yet, recognition is often by rote – if anyone takes time to do it. Comments generally are glib and generic.

Just as bad or maybe even worse, when we do make the effort to be more considerate with our comments, we could be sowing seeds of doubt – if some new research about letters of recommendation extends to the field of recognition.

Here’s why. Research conducted at Rice University shows that when men and women wrote recommendations for women the language used in the letters had the opposite effect. The letters were more likely to raise doubts about the women’s qualifications than the letters written for men.

The doubt-raising words and phrases fell into four categories: tentative (cautious, hedging or vague terms); irrelevant (going off in a tangent unrelated to the point of the recommendation); faint praise (indirect criticism of someone or something by giving a slight compliment); or even negative (directly saying something bad), according to the research.

Considering how we say and do so many things without full consciousness, it’s highly likely we could be giving back-handed recognition to women — and men too. Ever hear anyone say? “You handled that feedback well—for a woman. I expected you to cry.”  Or? “You expressed lots of empathy—for a guy. I thought you’d be stoic.”

What’s the action?  Make recognition enjoyably concrete, not clouded in doubts.

First, make the effort to recognize. Next, make sure you personalize your comments for the individual, whole-heartedly acknowledging the person’s specific actions that deserve the recognition and avoiding any doubts.

3. Celebrate extraordinary moments. In their latest book The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, best-selling authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath explain the science behind positive moments. Remembering the experiences behind these positive moments—even when they’re brief—can change our lives.

The research shows that “our most cherished memories are clustered in a relatively narrow window of time: roughly age 15 to 30.” That’s a time for firsts—first time leaving home, often going to college, falling in love, getting married, and having children.

Yet, working adults, including those of us older than 30, can experience more moments that matter if we or others take the time and effort to make an impact.

What’s the action? First, think in moments. That is, spot the occasions worthy of investing time, effort and maybe money to punctuate a moment.

From the perspective of employee engagement, the obvious ones include transitions, both personal and teams. These include starting a new job, moving into a new office building, and reaching a new milestone.

Milestones can be traditional, such as a 5th work anniversary, and also the more unusual, such as 100th customer call answered or 1,000th new client signed.

The point is that you celebrate the moment in a meaningful and therefore unforgettable way.

According to the authors, four elements dominate our memorable moments: elevation, insight, pride and connection.

Once you learn about these elements and consider their examples, you then be on your way to  create powerful, engaging moments.

And if you’re looking to discuss these and other aspects of employee engagement, please head over to the Employee Communications and Engagement LinkedIn Group. This group that Jeremy Henderson-Teeklucksingh started and now manages with Joe Howell and me has more than 39,475 members.

Ready to engage? Let’s do it!

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