I’m not really much of a dancer. So, when I was at a wedding recently, I spent much of the reception doing one of my favorite activities: observing.
It was very interesting to see the ebb and flow of people and energy on the dance floor as the songs changed. At times, just a few people would be on the floor, dancing with slightly disinterested expressions, and at other times excited dancers would come running from across the room squealing “That’s my song!”.
The significant difference in emotions between these two situations caught my attention.
It was fascinating to see the energy and excitement of the dancers who were running to the floor, motivated by a particular song. In several cases, conversations were stopped mid-sentence and a maze of tables and chairs was navigated quickly. Frequently, they would round up a group of friends on the way, as their excitement became contagious. You could see in their body language that they had a special connection to the song, even a sense of ownership.
In a word, they were engaged.
Isn’t this what we would like from our employees and team members? A feeling of ownership. Excitement. Energy. A desire to share and collaborate with others.
How can we generate the “That’s my song” feeling in our organizations? Here are a few things I observed about the engaged dancers that could translate to our work.
It was obvious that many of the songs that elicited an excited response had a personal meaning to the dancers. They would often seek out specific individuals and share meaningful looks when their song began. There was a shared history between friends that was tied to that song. It provided a reminder or a connection to past experiences, memories, or relationships. This emotional connection provided the spark of energy that was evident in their actions.
If we would like a similar level of engagement from our employees, we need to allow room in the workplace for emotions. I know there is a tendency to downplay or discourage displays of emotion in professional settings, but that is where much of our energy comes from. If we do not feel an emotional connection to our work, our effort will not be as intense or enjoyable.
Different people will make this emotional connection in different ways. For some, seeing a strong connection between the mission of the organization and their work provides motivation. For others, it could be the strong relational bonds with coworkers.
At times, leaders may even need to encourage their teams to create emotional connections with their work and with each other. Stress the value of relationships. Remind them of shared experiences and goals. Celebrate achievements to create positive memories. Create a sense of ownership within the team. All of these things will lead to deeper levels of engagement down the road.
Not only did the excited dancers have an emotional connection with the music, they were also very familiar with the songs. They knew the words. They knew the dance moves.
When you know a song this well, it adds to your comfort level. It is easier to participate when you know what to expect. Removing the uncertainty of an unfamiliar song allows you to freely sing, dance, and participate without holding back. It gives you a clear path for turning your excitement and energy into action.
As a leader, make sure your team knows how to participate. If you want them to be engaged, make sure they know what engagement looks like.
It’s one thing to have the desire to participate, to do more. But it can be difficult to turn that desire into action if the situation is unfamiliar.
Establish routines and make sure expectations are clear. Provide examples of behaviors that you would like to see. Recognize and celebrate individuals and teams that are successfully demonstrating the type of engagement you desire.
In short, create a consistent environment in which your team knows what to expect and knows how they can contribute.
Over the course of the night, I observed one thing that seemed to break the flow of the dance floor more than anything. If the song style changed too drastically from one song to the next, the entire dance floor would change over, losing the flow.
In general, the type of song that appeals to one person, is not necessarily appealing to everyone. Playing a heavy metal song for country fans or hip hop for a gospel crowd probably won’t work. Having a sense of continuity helps keep people engaged from song to song.
This sense of continuity is important for our organizations as well. In this case, it takes the form of culture.
As leaders we need to make sure improvement opportunities and employee engagement efforts fit the culture of the organization. Pursue approaches that fit who you are and want to be as an organization. Hire employees that fit within this culture. Understand that, at times, we will need to say no to ideas, opportunities, or individuals that do not fit.
It is tempting to try to be everything to everyone, but this will result in a loss of continuity. We are better off focusing on the one or two things that we do really well and continuing to build on them. This way, we can avoid the problem of losing steam every time we switch gears or try to engage a totally different group of people.
“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” – Alan W. Watts
In order to meet the challenges of rapid change that we face today, a high level of employee engagement is a must, but it can’t be forced. As leaders, we need to create the proper environment for employees. One in which they can experience the “that’s my song” feeling. We need them to join the dance.