Employee engagement has been the brass ring of leadership efforts for decades, and with good reason: High-engagement organizations report greater retention, safer workplaces and higher productivity. And yet engagement remains elusive — while it is at a 20-year high, still only 34 percent of employees report feeling engaged.
Employees today, led by millennials, report that meaning in their work is more important than ever before. A recent SHRM study, “The Millennial Impact Report,” found that 94 percent of employees want to use their skills and abilities to benefit a cause. They want and demand to use their strengths, to find their calling and to make a difference beyond themselves. Given that employees spend an average of 90,000 hours at work over the course of their careers, it is understandable that people are requiring more than engagement in their work; instead, inspiration is the key to meeting these desires and reaching extraordinary results.
Leaders already know that inspiration is the new resource to cultivate. In an IBM study, “Leading Through Connections,” 60 percent of CEOs reported the single item they found most critical to their organization’s success was inspirational leadership. Inspired employees perform better, are more strategic and visionary, build more collaborative relationships, and are more determined and persevering. Perhaps most important, they are more agile in responding to ever-present market, industry and organizational dynamics that require leading change and growth. By identifying with the company and why it is important, inspired employees take ownership of driving the organization’s growth and success.
Traditionally, engagement is considered the employer’s responsibility. Inspiration differentiates itself in an important way by being a two-way street. On the employer side, the best companies cultivate inspiration as a resource through inspiring environments and leaders and by holding their employees accountable for being inspired by their work. This accountability includes employees bringing their whole selves to work — from their distinctive strengths to their personal values, aspirations and their own search for meaning. Employees drive their own inspiration by crafting and shaping their work and career, helping them realize their calling while driving success and growth toward a cause they believe in, resulting in success for the organization in tandem.
The best companies build a corps of inspiring leaders who walk the talk of being inspired in their work and leading successful projects and teams through inspiration. This is beyond what people currently think of as engagement. It is a co-active model where work not just satisfies or motivates or even engages, but rather compels passion, innovation and commitment in the most rewarding ways. This is inspiration.
The building blocks of inspiration are leaders, teams and cultures. Begin with what lights you up. Notice patterns in what inspires you and start to reactivate the most enlivened behaviors deliberately. Turn to your team to see where they are most inspired. What takes the team to the next level; when are they performing at their best and what makes this possible? Then, zoom out even further and look for where your organization currently is truly inspired. Who are the leaders inspiring those around them? What are the teams that are exceeding expectations? What are the parts of your culture that you know are driving the best results?
Next, activate a companywide inspiration strategy. The key to sustaining inspiration once it is sparked is to build a practice around it, to build it into the organization’s culture. It’s helpful that inspiration is contagious — once it takes hold among some individuals in the organization, momentum will build naturally. An inspiration strategy includes alignment to systems, structures and operations that activate and sustain inspiration further. For example, one of our clients implemented companywide meeting effectiveness guidelines that include celebrating progress and wins in every meeting while also formulating plans to address obstacles and challenges.
Finally, strategize for the future. Organization-wide inspiration requires a strategic perspective and approach. Turning to inspiration aligns individuals within the organization to see new possibilities in their work and gives them greater courage and confidence to go after them.
Don’t settle for engagement — strive for inspiration. The return in next-level results will be extraordinary.