“When you encourage others, you in the process are encouraged because you’re making a commitment and difference in that person’s life. Encouragement really does make a difference.” Zig Ziglar

You can’t go a day without hearing or reading about the benefits of engaged employees. Why is there so much attention and focus on employee engagement? Because when engagement increases within a company, productivity, profitability, and employee retention increase as well. Some of the preeminent studies about employee engagement come from the Gallup Corporation. One of the areas of expertise Gallup is known for is its Q12; twelve survey questions used to measure the level of employee engagement, which was developed in the mid 90s.

The majority of these questions focus on the direct impact a manager has on the level of employee engagement. These questions include:

  1. Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  2. Do you have the materials and equipment you need to do your work right?
  3. At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  7. At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  8. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  9. In the last year, have you had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

Question 6 specifically highlights encouragement, yet I would argue that for an employee to answer in the affirmative to most of the questions above, a manager should be using her skills, ability, and empathy to encourage her employees.

Encouragement is the act of providing positive feedback that focuses specifically on effort and/or improvement rather than specific outcomes. Encouragement is different than praise, which is given only when a person achieves “good” results.

For instance take a look at question 7, “At work, do your opinions seem to count?” For an employee to be able to answer in the affirmative, she needs to be encouraged to speak up by her manager. By asking great questions AND actively listening to understand the perspectives of others, a manager is encouraging. By modeling this behavior of questioning and listening, you show that you care about the thoughts and opinions of others and that their voices are being heard.

And with question 9, “In the last year, have you had opportunities at work to learn and grow?” a manager needs to be encouraging employees during times of growth. Giving an employee the opportunity to grow is not enough. She needs to be successful during the process, which means receiving encouragement to drive through the difficult times when her energy may be at a low or her progress has slowed down.

When coaching leaders, I spend much of the time working with leaders on their communications and emotional intelligence, which are critical to the act of encouragement. Most leaders don’t have the benefit of a coach and if you are one of them, you can start by reviewing the questions above and determining which one question you want to focus on first with your employees.

Should you are have difficulty narrowing the list of questions down to one; my recommendation would be to start with question 4. When recognition and praise are done consistently it should have a domino effect and impact question 5 as well. Remember that regular encouragement is different than praise, which is given when there is success. Recognition is a method for encouraging employees to continue and repeat behaviors that result in success and high performance. And when given in the moment or as close to when the behavior was displayed, it can be highly effective.

Convinced that Encouragement is an Important Leadership Skill?

Then start your journey to improving your encouragement skills this week by first reviewing the list of questions above and asking yourself the question “Will all my team members be able to answer ALL these questions in the positive?” If you are being truthful to yourself, the answer will be no.

Choose the first question you want to work on. Develop a set of open-ended questions that will create a dialogue with the team member that revolves around that question. Then start a cadence of meeting each team member for a monthly one-to-one conversation that will include the questions you develop.

For example, if you choose question 3: At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day? One question you could ask is: “What are the things you accomplished since our last meeting that stretched you and gave you a sense of accomplishment?” A follow up question could be: “What things about your job do you believe your strengths aren’t being used?”

Encouragement starts today and it starts with you.