We have received a great deal of feedback on our recent three-part series on Team Member Engagement. As you may recall, we defined an “engaged team member” as “one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about, his or her work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interests.” We previously explored three elements of employee engagement including trust, communication and participation. One question that many of you have asked is – which of these elements is the most important? In my 29 years of building teams, I have found the most important element in building an environment that fosters team member engagement is…trust. You see, trust is the secret sauce.

In an earlier article about trust, I introduced you to Hartigan’s Engagement Pyramid. We need to keep this in the back of our minds as it highlights the ultimate goal engagement at the top of the pyramid where managers in an engaging culture spend most of their time. In our earlier article about trust, we looked at what Cynthia Olmstead refers to as the “ABCDs” of trust in her article “Confronting Workplace Realities to Build an Environment of Trust.” The elements of the ABCD approach included Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable. As managers, you must demonstrate your competency (Able), your integrity and honesty (Believable), your care and concern for your team (Connected) and your accountability and organization (Dependable). The question many of you have asked is: “What behaviors can I exhibit that will drive these perceptions with my team?” And to that, I offer the following recipe for the secret sauce – Trust.


Be Reliable – What I “say” and “do” are the same. Similar to believable and dependable, being reliable ties what you say to what you do. Essentially, the words you use are consistent with your actions. This includes everything from making commitments to the jokes you tell. How can team members believe you value the contributions of others when you summarily dismiss ideas the team brings to you? How can they believe you really value a diverse workforce when you tell off-color jokes or forward inappropriate e-mails? Being reliable means you may have to think differently too. Why? Because what you think influences what you say and how you behave. Stinkin’ Thinkin’ is the root of lost reliability.


Be Open – I am genuinely interested in your thoughts and opinions. Similar to connected, being open means you actively seek timely and constructive feedback. At a behavioral level, it means Asking More Questions. I have found this to be particularly difficult for new managers. I still remember the first morning I awoke after being promoted to Assistant Front Office Manager at a hotel. I woke up that afternoon (hey – I worked the second shift, cut me some slack) and immediately knew all the answers. That’s what I thought was what managers had that the rest of the team didn’t – they knew all of the answers to all the problems. I see that in today’s young managers still. Asking questions is a critical part of building trust. I demonstrate that I trust you by asking for your thoughts and opinions. It’s the glue that binds “Listen” to “Learn” in our “Listen, Learn, Act” mantra we preach at Orgwide.


Be Candid – What I “say” and what I “mean” are the same. This one is a bit different from the ABCDs we covered. Being candid is different from being honest. Honesty is an important component of being candid, but being candid is much more. To be candid, you must give useful feedback while respecting the dignity of individuals. Your feedback is comprehensive in that you don’t avoid difficult messages. How many times have we heard the saying: “It’s difficult to tell someone they have an ugly baby.” Immediate, specific, and neutral feedback helps to maintain self-esteem and focus on issues, not people. Finally, being candid requires a commitment to being part of the solution – like assisting in finding a good plastic surgeon for that ugly baby.


Be Accepting – You don’t have to be like me for me to respect you. Creating an environment that fosters engaged team members requires valuing the differences that each individual brings to the team. I’ve said many times: “If everyone brought potato salad to the picnic, it wouldn’t be much of a picnic!” and that means valuing and enjoying the variety that a group of humans (aka your team) bring to the table. In a nutshell - “what you are" is less important than the “who you are." Value the individual and you will earn their trust.


There you have it – Be Reliable, Open, Candid, and Accepting. Incorporate these behaviors into your daily routine and you will be well on your way to building the critical foundation of Trust required to create an environment where team members are engaged, involved, enthusiastic and act in ways that further their organization’s interests.


Do you have a recipe for improving Team Member Engagement that has worked for you? Drop me a note and tell me about it, I’d love to hear about your success – just click here: Share Your Secret Sauce. Also, don't forget to register to win a new iPad. Click here to enter the drawing. Until next time, remember my favorite secret sauce - Take care of the customer, take care of each other, and take care of yourself.

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