Failure to Ignite – Why efforts to give employees a voice often diminish motivation at the frontlines

Rick Tucci • February 17, 2022

Leaders chomping at the bit to roll out new initiatives for putting their organizations back on the growth and improvement track will face elevated challenges when it comes to motivating their people, particularly at the frontlines. Expectations for better pay, more flexible hours, and other tangible benefits are way up. Additionally, polls by Gallup and other engagement measurement firms report that getting employees to go above and beyond their day jobs now requires leaders to do more than just ask. It requires actually creating the opportunity for employees to experience greater job satisfaction while doing well for the organization.

Unfortunately, most programs designed to engage the frontline in change and improvement do anything but create greater job satisfaction. In fact, they often diminish employee motivation. Why? Because leaders fail to recognize a simple truth about job satisfaction: For frontline employees it’s about having the opportunity to make a meaningful difference.

However giving frontline employees the opportunity to make a difference requires going beyond suggestions systems, idea management software, town halls, and even teams. Our experience working with organizations across industries, government, and healthcare has taught us that these well-intentioned initiatives to value employee input only go halfway – at best – toward driving increased job satisfaction.

Providing employees with the opportunity to make a real difference is not as simple as asking for their ideas. It is about giving employees the tools to develop their ideas and empowering them with the authority  to convert those ideas into actions. When executed effectively, employees given the means to make a difference add to their skills, feel more valued, and are more likely to stick around. In short, they experience greater job satisfaction.

How can leaders go beyond conventional approaches for engaging their frontline workforce in important change and improvement initiatives?  Our research and work with teams across multiple industries, government, and healthcare identifies four leadership practices for igniting frontline motivation to contribute to change and improvement, while providing the opportunity for greater job satisfaction:

  1. Connect Top to Front: Employee ideas end up on an interesting road to nowhere if not connected to what leaders really care about. Avoid making up assignments with muddled compass headings. Instead, do the work to connect key objectives to opportunities where employee ideas can make a difference.
  2. Improve through Teams: Employee ideas improve exponentially when processed in a team setting with simple-to-apply tools to assess benefits, costs, and risks before taking action.
  3. Limit the Time: Motivation to go above and beyond is perishable. Set a timeline that creates pressure to get things done.
  4. Make it Easy, but Reliable: Take the mystery out of the team process by providing tools that free up employees to focus on putting their best ideas into action.

With the pandemic winding down, now is the time to re-ignite frontline enthusiasm for change and improvement. Making it happen will require leaders to go beyond platitudes and checking off a program box to embracing the challenge of crafting initiatives that give staff the opportunity to affect meaningful change with their ideas, and create for themselves a more fulfilling work experience.

Empower your leaders and employees with the 
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