Ever since the Gallup organization began measuring employee engagement in 2000, the average percentage of workers who have been disengaged is 70%. Then Covid hit, and the aftermath of the pandemic had a devastating impact on our workforce. Last year alone, 38 million workers left their jobs, leading to what has become known as “The Great Resignation.” While many have speculated the causes of this mass workforce exodus, I believe the main cause was due to the pandemic pushing many of these workers to their tipping point after tolerating a working experience that has long fallen short of their expectations. While leaders have implemented many initiatives and programs over the years designed to improve employee engagement, many of them neglected to give proper attention to their employees’ working experience and well-being because they did not meet their critical needs.
Based upon Gallup’s Q12, the twelve elements of engagement that leaders can directly impact, these are the five critical needs of all employees, which drive their engagement:
1. The need to be equipped
To have clearly defined expectations of the job and organization’s culture, as well as the necessary supplies, equipment, and training to be successful.
2. The need to feel a sense of belonging
To be known and accepted for who they are and to have opportunities to connect with and build relationships with their co-workers.
3. The need to be valued
To be trusted, to have a voice, and to be recognized and cared for.
4. The need to engage in meaningful work.
To be engaged in their strengths and to know how their work impacts customers, co-workers, and their organization.
5. The need to have opportunities to grow.
To learn new skills, be able to make mistakes, and to have a career path.
For leaders to meet these critical needs, they must reframe the perspective of their role as a leader, from being a CEO, and prioritizing business outcomes, to being a Shepherd Leader, and prioritizing the well-being of their flock…their people.
Shepherds care about the well-being of those they lead, not just about their output. They are patient, compassionate, nurturing, and give their full attention to those they lead. These characteristics allow a leader to know their people well and meet each of their individual and unique needs.
The three primary practices of a Shepherd Leader are to Know Their Flock, Create a Safe Pasture, and Care for Their Flock.
1. Know Their Flock A Shepherd knows each of the individual and unique qualities of their flock by taking time to get to know each of them. Leaders must make time to get to know their people, both professionally and personally. Professionally, by knowing their strengths, what they need to be successful in their job, and knowing their career aspirations. Personally, by knowing their peoples’ life stories, their family, their talents, and their interests outside of work. How much a leader knows about their people shows them how much they care about them. And people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
2. Create a Safe Pasture To keep their flock safe, Shepherds have fences around their pasture, so their flock knows their boundaries. Leaders can create a safe work environment, one that is free from fear, doubt, and anxiety by making sure their people know their boundaries. They can do this by clearly defining expectations (job, organization culture, behavioral norms, and business outcomes), providing proper training, and keeping them well informed of what is happening in their organization. With a safe pasture, leaders will be able to confidently give their people autonomy and empower them to unleash their creativity and accomplish great things.
3. Care for Their Flock Shepherds care for their flock by coming beside them to feed them, protect them and provide for their needs. Leaders care for their people by coming beside them to support them, advocate for them, encourage them, and to help them grow. They also show their people how their work impacts the organization and other peoples’ lives. Leaders also care for their people by creating workplace environments where they have opportunities to connect with and build relationships with each other.
By knowing their flock, creating a safe pasture, and caring for their flock, leaders will meet all five of their peoples’ critical needs.
Recent research by McKinsey showed that the top two reasons employees cited for leaving their jobs or considered leaving their jobs was not due to pay or lack of work/life balance, it was due not feeling their work was valued and not feeling a sense of belonging. By reframing their role as a leader from being a CEO to being a Shepherd, leaders will not only overcome these reasons for their people leaving, they will also enable them to thrive, to grow and to deliver exceptional business outcomes.
When leaders prioritize the well-being of their employees, they will, in turn, will provide great service to their customers and the profits will follow. As Ken Blanchard says, “Profit is the applause you get for creating a motivating environment for your people and taking care of your customers.”