To maximise business growth, make people significant

If you’re a leader who wants to grow your business, maximising employee engagement should be one of your top priorities. 

A recent Aon Hewitt study reports a five per cent increase in employee engagement is linked to a three per cent increase in revenue in the following year. And managers make the difference; they account for about 80 per cent of employee engagement. One of the most important things managers can do to positively impact engagement is to make people significant. While making people significant takes time, it costs nothing else, which makes it one of the most cost-effective ways to increase employee engagement.

When we talk with managers and leaders about making people significant, they often morph the idea into making people feel significant. But that’s not the point. It’s not about how people feel it’s about how people are in the eyes of the manager. If you’re a manager, be honest with yourself. Are your employees significant to you? Do you make them your top priority? Do the people on your team know they matter to you – not just for what they produce but for who they are? That’s making people significant. Here’s an illustration:

The African Zulu greeting, “Sawubona,”goes beyond the routine, “Hello,” or, “How are you?” so many of us say without thinking. Sawubona means, “I see you. I see past your skin to your soul. You are a person with dignity, worthy of my respect.”

Ngikhona, the traditional response to sawubona, means, “I am here.”

Sawubona says, “I see you. You are a person.” Ngikhona says, “Because you see me, I am here.”

Most of us don’t speak Zulu, but the question underlying this call and response greeting applies to us all: If you don’t see me…do I exist? The longing for significance is a basic human desire, and when people know they are significant – to their manager and to their company – they will go to great lengths to reciprocate. Here are a few ways managers and leaders can be intentional about making people significant.

Cultivate strong, individualised relationships

One of the worst pieces of advice managers routinely follow is this: Don’t get too close to your people. Resist any pressure to follow that advice. The person who comes to work each day is the same person who woke up to a car that wouldn’t start this morning or to a child who was too sick to go to school. It’s the same person who comes home every day to a chronically ill family member or to a spouse who was just made redundant last week. The whole person comes to work, and managers who relate to their employees as whole people make their employees significant because they understand and respond to each person’s unique needs and concerns.

Show up

Managers who cultivate strong, individualised relationships with their people are more likely to be invited to celebrate significant personal life events like graduations, weddings and baby showers. Show up. Showing up when you are invited is a powerful expression of a person’s significance to you. And don’t just show up for the celebrations that come with invitations. Show up for the hard parts of life too. Visit the hospital. Go to the funeral of a family member. Be there for the significant life events of the people you manage because showing up solidifies their significance and assures them you care about the things that matter to them.

Give people your time

Imagine for a moment your best client or the CEO of your company arrived in your office unannounced and wanted to spend time with you. You would most likely set aside whatever you had scheduled so you could spend time with such an important visitor. And during that time, such an important visitor would have your full attention. You wouldn’t be checking your phone or looking at your computer screen. Do you do the same for the people you manage? How easy is it for the people on your team to get time with you when they want and need it? Do you fit them in only when it’s convenient for you, or do you respond with greater urgency to them? And when they get time with you, do they have your undivided attention? Time equals significance. The more significant people are to you, the more freely and fully you will give them your time to focus on what matters to them.

Ask the right questions

Managers who make people significant have mastered the art of asking questions. When they spend one-on-one time with their employees, that time is less about telling and more about asking. Here are two of the most powerful questions for making people significant:

Tell me about your recent successes and high points. This may be the most important performance-related question a manager can ask because it allows the employee to define success. Answers to this question provide insight to the kinds of work and achievement that are most satisfying to the person. Answers often reveal areas of passion the manager didn’t know about before and can create new pathways for employee growth.

How can I help? Just asking this question conveys significance because the underlying assumption is that you will help in whatever way you can.

Beware! You don’t know the answer to the question when you ask it. Be prepared to deliver. Doing so is a potent demonstration of that person’s significance to you.

Many managers accomplish business goals and progress in their own careers without making a positive difference in their employees’ lives. Those managers are not the ones who positively impact employee engagement and create, as a byproduct, sustainable financial growth for their companies. Managing to make a difference starts with making people significant. Leaders who want to achieve optimal performance need to select and develop the kinds of managers who are committed to making their employees significant as the first step in optimising their employees’ engagement and growth. 

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To maximise business growth, make people significant
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