Some engagement efforts don’t go as planned.

You mean well. You conduct your employee survey or focus group sessions. You collect all the data, review all the spreadsheets. You invest a lot of time, energy (and money) on your engagement efforts. And then they fall flat on their face. Ouch.

You do the right things, check the right boxes. But employee morale remains in the tank. Often the explanation is simple. Even if your heart is in the right place, you might be forgetting to walk the talk. If there is a gap between what you say and do for employees, you’re toast.

We are currently neck deep in one of the best examples of saying-doing gaps you can find – the US presidential primaries. As crazy as this year’s election season has been, are the promises that different from 2012? Are they that different from 2008? Or 2004?

Every candidate in every election promises to fix healthcare and jobs. To take care of immigration and national security. But we have made zero headway. This is what explains the surprising campaigns of Bernie Sanders (a Socialist trouncing a Clinton?) and Donald Trump (a reality TV star trouncing a Bush?)

People seem ready to push the reset button on our politics. We are sick of agreeing on the problem but then running in place. We are sick of promises with no follow through.

The same thing happens in companies. We’ve heard about the engagement gap with employees for decades. We all agree that engagement is important. It reduces turnover. It improves company culture and business results. But like our national politics, we seem to be standing still. Why? Lack of follow through.

This is one of the key points of Approachable Leadership. Our model is based on 3 fundamental behaviors.

improve engagement efforst using the approachable leadership model

The first are welcoming behaviors. You have to create the right space where employees feel comfortable and safe. If you don’t get this right your engagement efforts stop in their tracks.

Next, leaders have to achieve understanding. They must treat employees with empathy and make them feel understood. Employees should feel better when they leave a conversation with their leader, not worse.

Finally – and most important – leaders must take what I call “right action.” Even leaders with the best intentions often stumble on this critical last step. Real engagement is about follow through – taking what you learned from the first two steps and putting it to work.

Action is what validates the rest of the conversation. Lack of follow through destroys any credibility you build in the first two steps.

A recent study examines this “pseudo voice” problem. Pseudo voice refers to a leader who asks what you think but then doesn’t do anything with it. This behavior destroys credibility. Specifically, the study found that:

negative consequences are particularly likely to occur when employees perceive the opportunity to voice opinions to be ‘pseudo voice’ –– voice opportunity given by managers who do not have the intention to actually consider employee input (i.e. managerial disregard).

The researchers saw that employees of “pseudo voice” leaders are 61% less likely to give feedback in their organization. More troubling, employees of these leaders are 65% more likely to have conflict with coworkers. On the flip side, when done right:

the positive effects associated with offering voice opportunity are well documented and include increased feelings of fairness, trust, decision control, inclusion in the group, and respect.

A welcoming and understanding leader can fool people for a while. But it’s not enough to be warm and available. You have to prove through your actions that you really are receptive to employee feedback and ideas. You have to take action. Otherwise you just push employees away and create conflict at work.

Have you ever experienced a saying-doing gap with a leader? Do you ever struggle with follow up or follow through? Use one of the links below to share your experiences with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

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