The Disconnected Leader = The Disengaged Employee

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On Friday I was invited to speak at the Employee Engagement Summit in London. The theme of the summit, 'Technology: The Great Engagement Enabler' - was particularly fitting.

My talk, titled: 'Fuzzy Definitions: Why Most Digital Strategy Fails' - focused on one of the key challenges faced by organisations when implementing digital strategy / digital transformation programs. The challenge of employee disengagement. And one of the key drivers of employee disengagement, the disconnected leader.

I know from first hand experience that many a new initiative coming out of the boardroom can be met by some serious sceptical arms folded eyeball rolling when communicated to employees. Admit it. We've all been there and felt it - (even if you're a fellow radical optimist). Whether it's as part of the leadership team hearing yet another change to the implementation program that you have to communicate to your wider team, or indeed as an employee hearing all about the next great thing - there's a silent mantra of 'here we go again'.

Such cynicism is of course pretty normal. We're only human after all - and change is the unknown. And our level of feeling 'involved' or 'informed' or both - can drastically impact our levels of enthusiasm, anxiety, concern, engagement and indeed scepticism.

There's often a very different viewpoint and level of enthusiasm in the boardroom than throughout the rest of the organisation. In fact, I heard from a L&D director recently that one of the challenges they had was that employees didn't know who the leadership team were and were unclear of roles and what they did - a problem they were trying to address. And so whilst human resource professionals and internal comms teams can work tirelessly to bridge the gap between the boardroom and the rest of the organisation - and as much as we hear about 'flat' organisations - there's still a communication gap.

There was an interesting study I referred to from Cap Gemini looking at digital transformation.

The following short excerpt speaks for itself:

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Two things clearly jump out. Firstly, the most obvious is that leadership agreement and employee agreement isn't aligned - indeed, there's a significant gap. And secondly, at just over 60%, even the leaders weren't that confident that the digital strategy and vision were well communicated to the whole organisation. How better to address that - than straight from the horse's mouth?

The other finding I shared from a piece of research from EY, is that 80% of digital transformation fails due to lack of employee engagement. Their report went further to look at the cost of employee disengagement - and to put some numbers around it, estimating a loss of $10,000 in profit per employee, per annum.

At the #EngageSummit there were a number of great stories and case studies around practical and inspirational work that teams are doing to engage employees. It's big business - with apps, measurement tools, surveys and programs a plenty. Organisations clearly understand the commercial necessity of ensuring their employees are as engaged as possible.

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I only caught a few talks before my own, but from many their key message echoed with my own - around the importance of the role of the leader and leadership teams in driving employee engagement.

Leaders can't be locked away in the boardroom when it comes to influencing and connecting with their employees. A number of years ago, Tom Peters, leadership and management guru extolled the importance of 'walking the floor' - and the many benefits gleaned from getting to know your employees, being visible, accessible and indeed, engaged and informed first hand around what's really going on with the troops.

And this brings me back to the core theme within my talk - 'The Connected Leader' and the many benefits social media technologies offer leaders to be both visible and accessible - as well as tuned in, acknowledging, reassuring and communicating.

There was a body of research done by Brandfog around how leaders that are on social media are more trusted by their employees - not only due to them being visible and accessible, but also, there was a stat showcasing 84% of employees felt that leaders that used social technologies to communicate were better equipped to lead in this hyper connected digital world.

In my book, Get Social - Social Media Strategy and Tactics for Leaders and indeed now as I build up to the launch of my The Connected Leader Podcast - I interviewed, and continue to interview, leaders around their use of social technologies. I have yet to find a leader that has advised that there have been zero benefits when communicating, networking and listening via social technologies. In fact, it's quite the opposite, with many championing social technologies and the connectivity and insight they bring within their organisations and teams - sharing stories around improved productivity, innovation and engagement.

Communication is not a one way street. Many leaders don't feel it's necessary to have an external facing presence on social media technologies; they don't have time, or it's just not deemed as important or relevant and - to some degree, I agree. If there isn't a business case and it simply doesn't fit and insights are being gleaned elsewhere and it doesn't make sense and there's no appetite or buy in - then one shouldn't feel pressured to have one. However, from an internal communications perspective, I believe it's a very different story. Social media technologies offer organisations the opportunity to break down silos and encourage more open discussion and collaboration. And for leaders, when it comes to being visible and accessible - and truly influential, social technologies enable the opportunity to connect and communicate, consistently - AND importantly, provide a simple way to regularly tune in and listen to the pulse of the people within the organisation, in real-time.

Indeed, I've learned from the leaders I have interviewed, and indeed from my own experiences within organisations - that many great and actionable ideas are borne by individuals that would never ordinarily have the opportunity to have a chance conversation or share an idea or opinion with a senior leader. Yet with social technologies - there's a sense of freedom from boundaries - aligning everyone who wants to participate in networked conversations. It's like a form of social glue - bringing everyone together in a way that creates unity, a sense of working together, the shared development of practical and often innovative solutions.

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And indeed, whilst many leaders are still reticent, in this digital age, where business strategy and digital strategy are inextricably linked, there's clearly a business case for leaders getting involved. Back to the Cap Gemini report, when they looked at the organisations that were successful with digital transformation - these 'frontrunners' had leadership acting as role models - leading by example and utilising the very technologies they were looking to roll out across the organisation. Which makes sense. Walking the talk!

For a leader concerned about employee engagement (which from a business perspective, should be pretty much all of us), then social technologies provide the opportunity not only to 'walk the floor' - but to 'walk the floor at scale'.

So... what are you waiting for?

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Michelle Carvill - Digital Consultant. Author. Marketer.

Michelle Carvill