Kevin Cashman is Korn Ferry's Global Leader of CEO & Executive Development.
In our work with CEOs and senior leaders, there is one enduring tenant: Engage or die! A 2016 Korn Ferry research study found that the most highly engaged organization achieved 4.5 times greater revenue growth than the lowest engaged firms do. The world belongs to the most engaged. Human energy fuels drive and human engagement harnesses that drive.
But how can you and your team elevate engagement to a higher level? We suggest a few key pathways:
Engagement Pathway One: Be the change you wish to inspire.
Find tangible ways to show how you are changing (or stumbling with the challenge of change) to engage others in the journey. As John Smythe put it in his book, The CEO: Chief Engagement Officer, “the leader must make the challenges personal.” Demonstrate your own engagement to inspire others to join you.
Engagement Pathway Two: Elevate engagement with purpose.
Clarifying the “why” is the soul of engagement. “What” and “how” clarify our roles and focused priorities. “Why” gives us the energy, inspiration and drive to be there in the first place. Engagement requires a deep sense of “Why is it so important that we exist? Why is it so important and urgent for us to impact the lives of people?” Strategy gives rational clarity; purpose fosters hopeful inspiration and a deep sense of care.
Engagement Pathway Three: Have the courage to go longterm.
Nothing sabotages engagement like sacrificing a well-articulated longterm strategy for shortterm cost-cutting. According to Aspen Institute, longterm investors, which are 75% of the U.S. public markets, are much more concerned if a CEO announces spending cuts on innovation or research than if the CEO stops providing future quarterly earnings guidance. Engagement requires the courage to think and behave for the longterm.
Engagement Pathway Four: Systems and rewards support the strategy.
Inconsistency between the strategy and the values, systems, rewards, and processes kills engagement. Are people resisting change? Then examine how your systems and processes are fostering or hindering purpose. Ninety percent of strategy is execution; 90% of execution is people. Make sure the systems and rewards support people to do what is most important and enduring.
Engagement Pathway Five: Identify development and engage top talent.
According to a Korn Ferry Hay Group study, highly engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave than disengaged employees. Finding, developing and rewarding the highest of the high potentials may be one of the greatest jobs of the CEO as chief engagement officer.
Engagement Pathway Six: Balance results drive and people connection.
In their HBR article “How Managers Drive Results and Employee Engagement at the Same Time,” Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman shared research on leaders who (according to 400,000-plus 360-degree assessments) ranked in the top quartile for both results and people skills scored in 91st percentile of all leaders. Zenger and Folkman posited, “Interestingly they also found that leaders under 30 years of age were two to three times as likely to be effective in both results and engagement than their older compatriots. Around 40, it seems, leaders appear to have made their choice between results driven and interpersonally strong.” The moral of the story? Don’t get “old” in your leadership!
In the end, being the “chief engagement officer” is not merely about measuring engagement. It is the tangible experience of sharing a more purpose-driven, caring culture where leaders and employees passionately co-create the future together.
A version of this article appears on Forbes.com.