Where “Engagement” Gets It Wrong

go to link I recently met the senior vice president for human resources at a $5 billion dollar company. It was an honor to meet him and I enjoyed hearing his philosophies about employee engagement…

…even though his philosophies were as old and hackneyed as a worn-out vaudeville performance. Unfortunately, that performance is still alive and well on the speaking circuit and within organizations.

The hot new topic among management and human resource professionals is employee engagement. It has come to the fore because of the challenges organizations face in finding profitability in the midst of a down economy and flagging consumer confidence. Typical reactions are to cut process and production costs, but most companies have already cut most of the waste from their organizations.

The only other way to cut costs is to cut employees. But the charge of management is not only to reduce costs but also to continue corporate growth. ┬áThe logical conclusion to this conundrum is to find ways to get the reduced staff to work harder. Hence, the interest in today’s employee engagement programs.

While the idea is sound, the application I’ve seen is not. As I did from the vice president, one commonly hear managers utilizing phrases like:

“This is how we can get our employees to…”
“This program will make them feel…”
“We can incentivize our employees by…”

When you hear people talking like this, run away. These practices treat people like cattle, implementing anything conceivable to get them to work harder.

Engagement is not something to do. It’s something to foster and develop. Culture change doesn’t happen by force; it comes from within.

watch True employee engagement happens only where the interests, goals and desires of the employee intersect with the purpose of the organization.

The challenge for management is to help each employee to discover their own purpose, then to seek intersections at which the employee’s purpose can be furthered by the purpose of the organization. When this happens, engagement happens, and it is absolutely magical. Any other method is the old carrot and stick routine.

I teach numerous methods that help organizations to come to a place of true engagement. For now, give some thought to how much more engaged you, yourself, could become if someone approached you with the following: “Forget about your job description for a moment. If this were your company, and knowing what the purpose of this company is, what of your interests, skills and drives would you want to employ here that would give you joy while advancing our cause?”

Posing this question isn’t necessarily the solution to employee engagement, but if it gives you the seed of the idea of drawing your employees in, rather than leading them on, I’ve done my job.

This entry was posted in 1. The Power of Who You Are, 3. The Power of Capacity, 4. The Power of Relationship and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Where “Engagement” Gets It Wrong

  1. Erin Roberts says:

    Jeff you raise a number of excellent points in this article. As a sidebar it occurs to me that most employees really don’t know “what the purpose of this company is” and perhaps that is the starting point for the conversation. It’s hard to be “engaged” if you really don’t know why you’re there.

  2. One of the reasons that many employees don’t know “what the purpose of this company is” is because they applied simply because they needed a job, and they were hired mostly because the organization needed somebody. All of the important things in our private lives happen around and because of relationships. More time needs to be taken, more relationship-building, needs to occur throughout the interviewing and hiring processes. Those relationships, those business relationships, need to continue to be fostered, nurtured, and developed, not so that employees feel engaged, but so that they are indeed engaged, encouraged, and invested in the success of the organization, which ensures their individual and professional success.

  3. James Mooney says:

    Thanks for the excellent article Jeff. Shared it around the company and one client suggested what “magic” happens at the intersection of organization and personal purpose fulfillment is better described as “enthusiasm”, the manifestation of which might then be described as engagement.

    James Mooney

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