Disengaged staff

The warning signs your staff are disengaging

Paul GreenUncategorized

I've written previously about the three types of staff you have within your business:

Engaged: Your very best staff who you can rely on whatever the circumstances.

Not engaged: People who are sleep walking through the day.

Actively disengaged: People who are consciously or unconsciously working against the business. 

There's no room for long-term actively disengaged staff (aka internal terrorists). They must be swiftly dealt with (fired) by you and your HR terminator. It's a short amount of pain to protect your MSP long-term.

Of course the actively disengaged people are easy to spot. A harder problem is the not engaged staff who are slipping lower, and lower... and lower.

Disengagement is a crippling problem in any small business. And it's probably caused directly by you.

Tough words to swallow, but very likely to be true. Because you're so busy running and growing the business, that it's hard to find the time and energy to keep your team fully engaged.

Working on staff engagement is easy when there's you and 2 or 3 staff in the business. Because you're a small team and there's nowhere for anyone to hide. Issues are there in front of you and get dealt with.

It's harder to spot disengagement when there are 5 or 6 staff and you're no longer part of the team every day.

Once you're up to 8 or 9+ staff, your team can hide disengagement from you.

These are some of the warning symptoms to watch out for

  • Clock watching
  • Excessive breaks (either number or length)
  • Skipping group gatherings
  • Unprofessional behaviour. In small ways so harder to spot
  • Solo mode. This is where people become distant from others, as they are busy doing their own thing
  • Moaning. Bitching. Whinging. Finger pointing

When you spot these symptoms, there have likely been caused by one of these three problem areas.

Problem area 1) You and your management team

When it's a small business, people work for people, not companies. Engagement levels are dictated 100% by you and your management team (this includes anyone who is close to you, whether they have a formal position of power or not).

This means you can kill engagement incredibly easy. And it's not through something big you do; rather through a series of small actions or inactions.

For example, displaying a lack of trust is a killer. When someone works for you, at a deep psychological level it's the same as being in your tribe 10,000 years ago (we are still wired that way in our brains).

So when you don't trust them, it forces them into action. 10,000 years ago, being pushed out of a tribe meant certain death. Humans were not at the top of the food chain back then, and there was safety in numbers.

In today's workplace, being pushed out of the tribe disengages staff, and they start to look for a new tribe to be part of. This happens at an emotional level at first (feeling uncomfortable at work), before it becomes a cognitive action (that's the point at which they start actually looking for a new job).

This is explained very well using a concept called the Circle of the Safety in Leaders East Last, by Simon Sinek.

Something else you and your management team might do is handle change poorly.

It's not the change itself that's the problem. It's the way you communicate it.

You have the luxury of spending days and weeks letting a new idea sink into your brain. You are in full control of whether you act on it or not. 

Then you call a staff meeting, introduce that idea to your team, and expect them to get it and buy into it in a few minutes.

It's like smacking them with a big stick and reminding them they have very little control at work!

A smarter way to introduce a big idea is just that. Put the idea in their heads, let them roll it around a bit, flick through a series of options and ideas, and get some level of involvement in implementing it.

Involvement = engagement.

Problem area 2) Lack of purpose, meaning, or buy-in

From your team's point of view, why does your business exist? 

It's not to prevent tech problems or fix them. That's just what the business does.

Why does it do it? And no, it's not to give you a better lifestyle.

You and I know that's one of the real reasons to grow your business. But your staff already think you're rich. They're not that motivated to make you even richer!

Another Simon Sinek book - Start with Why - explores the need for every business to have a why. To help staff understand why the business exists.

Tesla exists to make affordable but exciting electric cars the norm for every driver.

SpaceX exists to backup the species to Mars.

Elon Musk has clear whys in all of his businesses.

In my healthcare marketing business I sold two years ago, the why was helping business owners who were trapped in a prison of their own design, to unlock the cell and find freedom. That was a great motivation for my team.

Maybe your why is about beating a common enemy (another MSP that doesn't do things as well as you do). Maybe it's about helping businesses enter accelerated growth by giving them all the technology and support they need to thrive.

In an ideal world, you will find a why that can't be copied by your competitors. That unique why will keep your staff engaged because they'll be on a mission. Not just turning up for work.

Problem area 3) Lack of opportunity to grow and advance

This is an especially big problem in small businesses, where there is no clear growth path. First line support, leading to second line support, leading to business owner isn't that motivating for a 23-year-old.

There are two ways to fix this. First, I recommend you invest in formal training for every single member of your team.

Allocate a grand per person, per year for training courses. They can be directly related to tech work, or ancillary stuff (like improving their people skills). Importantly, though, your team should be free to pick their own training.

If they are throwing themselves into it with passion, you will get the benefit from that.

I also highly recommend you do coaching 121s with member of your team. 20 minutes per person, once a month will do it.

Go off-site (Costa, Starbucks, Caffe Nerd), and ask them these 3 questions:

  • What's gone well?
  • What's not gone so well?
  • What should you do differently next time?

This is an extremely powerful and flexible framework for an open conversation with anyone at any level.

The engaged staff enjoy some Daddy/Mummy time (critical, as we tend to focus our attention on our worst staff, at the expense of our best staff).

The not engaged staff will also benefit from that. And each month you meet their engagement will start to improve.

The actively disengaged staff will realise there is nowhere to hide their poor performance any more.

Some will up their game and engage. Others will leave. This is nothing to be scared of.

In fact, you should be more scared that your actively disengaged staff STAY than LEAVE.