By Katy Tynan

In a 2012 interview with the New York Time, Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat described how they think about motivation in their organization in this way:

“Somebody once told me — and this is some of the best advice I ever got — that for any business there are three levels of leadership. One is getting somebody to do what you want them to do. The second is getting people to think what you want them to think; then you don’t have to tell them what to do because they will figure it out.

But the best is getting people to believe what you want them to believe, and if people really fundamentally believe what you want them to believe, they will walk through walls. They will do anything. People certainly know what to think at Red Hat. We also believe in our open, transparent culture, and so everybody knows why we’re doing what we’re doing. So they will go around obstacles because they’ve bought in.”

When, as leaders, we think about creating an environment where people can do their best work, what we’re often talking about is engagement – the idea that, when people are bought into the goal, and share that vision of an ideal outcome, they will feel emotionally invested in the work that they do. If this sounds familiar, and a lot like what we talked about in the accountability section, it should. Each of the ACCEL practices is fundamentally connected, and engagement and accountability are two sides of the same coin.

Let’s look back at our two friends from the first section, Marcus and Emily. It was clear that Marcus was more likely to get his piece of the project done, because he had a connection to the sales team, and a clear desire to make the event great. Emily, on the other hand, didn’t have a strong connection to the success of the event, and was just going through the motions of completing the task that was assigned.

In the first section, we described this as accountability, but what underlies that accountability is engagement.

Engagement happens when people feel a personal, emotional connection to their work.

Now I know what some of you are thinking here, because we’ve all heard it at some point in our career. Personally and emotionally connected to work? Isn’t it supposed to be “just business” and “not personal”? The idea that business is not personal has been around for a long time, and I want to take a minute to debunk that myth. The work that we do is absolutely personal, and the more connected we feel to it, the better job we do.

The original quote “It’s just personal, Sonny, it’s strictly business”, comes from the movie The Godfather, and the irony is, of course, that in that film, personal and business were so intertwined there was no way to see where one begins and the other ends.

When we spend over one third of our daily lives, if we work full-time, working towards a goal, it should be personal or else why would be do it?

If we want people to take things personally at work, and feel that emotional connection to the outcome of what they do each day, though, we have to think about what that means in context. What are the key elements that create engagement?

  1. Clear Vision – At both the organizational level and the team level, people need to understand the goal that everyone is working to achieve. As a manager, your goal is to help paint the picture of that goal, and bring the focus back to that when things get tough.
  2. Meaningful Work – No one enjoys doing work that is meaningless. We all want to feel like what we do matters. Connecting the work your team does to the bigger picture is a great way to help your team feel like their work has significance beyond the day to day grind.
  3. Collaboration and Teamwork – The spirit of teamwork comes from sharing goals and values. If that goal is clear and meaningful, it’s a short step to working together to achieve it. Collaboration happens when each member of the team sees how their strengths and abilities and help achieve that goal, either in an active way, or through supporting the rest of the team.
  4. Recognition – The final step in the process, which is too often overlooked, is the appreciation of great work. As a leader, one of the best things you can do is to recognize hard work, appreciate creativity, and thank people for their efforts on behalf of the goal.

We tend to talk about engagement as if it’s a static thing, but it’s not. While Emily might be fully engaged with her other projects, she’s utterly disengaged from the customer appreciation event. Marcus, on the other hand, seems to be very engaged with planning this event, but that doesn’t mean he always feels that way.

Small, subtle aspects of your management style can have a huge impact on your team’s level of engagement, and this is truly where most of the challenges related to management come into play.