There's a school of philosophy that holds Big R Reality can be gained by understanding what it is not. A Seeker's inquiry is organized to peel away the layers of maya, of illusion, created by pragyapradh, a mind too focused on the material, bereft of its spiritual center. What's left then is what it is.
There's a lot of noise in the market about this thing called employee engagement. Some of it's mine! Increasingly it seems more it is designed to divide and distract the minds of those seeking its source. I've shared my list of Go-To Sources for all things Employee Engagement.
I thought it might help to start listing all the things employee engagement is not. What's left ... theoretically ... at the end of the list might be what it is. You tell me.
Let's start. Employee engagement is not:
a slogan your corporate communications team worked up, got approved and slaps across your intranet.
a passing fad
That's a big one. A little blowback, pushback, is rising up saying employee engagement is a fad. The proponents of this trendy discussion have confused the buzzword with the reality.
I believe the term was coined, or at least brought by mainstream, by The Gallup Organization as part of its annual survey of millions of employees around the world.
Others have tried to define it which is like defining good tequila. You know it when you drink it, everything else is just ... excuses or marketing copy. See above.
You know an engaged culture when you experience it. The rest is just excuses or bad corporate communications.
Employee engagement, the term, may be trendy. But the reality is that companies who inspire and engage their employees create lasting brands. They're lasting because they're generating higher profits, more cash flows, faster revenue growth, higher sales conversion, lower customer churn rates, lower employee turnover, lower hiring costs, higher gross profits from lower COGS.
That's a reality today, yesterday, last century, the century before that. And it'll be a reality tomorrow, next year, next decade and next century whether the term lives or not.
Employee engagement is everybody's responsibility. Top to bottom and back again. From the Chairman Emeritus to the unpaid intern and back again. It's employee engagement not HR engagement or them over there engagement or don't bother me with your issues, see HR engagement.
a to-do Item
I love this one. I can see someone, a manager or CEO, looking at their to-do list and seeing 'engage with employees.' They do something, some thing. Then they come back to that list, say after lunch and check it off. Now they can get on with work, issuing orders and demanding results.
Nope. Employee engagement is like breathing. You either are or you're not. You can't breathe first thing in the morning and then stop the rest of the day so you can get something done. Stop breathing long enough and it's not long and your brain starts disengaging. Stop engaging with those at work long enough, and it's not long, like one conversation, and they start disengaging with you.
found on a powerpoint slide
I love this one, too. Disclaimer: I'm not a fan of powerpoint, never have been. It's not the tool, it's how it's abused.
For too many users, the perspective is if it's on a powerpoint slide: a. it's true; b. my work is done.
For too many in the audience, the perspective is I understand the powerpoint slide. I've nodded my understanding. Now what? Can we get some coffee?
built in a day
Twenty years in, twenty years out.
If you haven't worked out in a year, it's going to take you a year to get back into shape.
If it's been a year or three or more since you engaged with those you work with ... it's going to take the same amount of time to reinstill their trust that your efforts now are sincere, lasting, worthy of a reciprocal effort. There will be painful moments like there were painful muscles in those first workouts.
But it will get better.
a mandate, a directive, issued and ordered in the same top-down hierarchical, command-and-control structure that’s been so effective in disengaging.
Yeah, that's pretty obvious, right?
Actually, it's not. You'll see too many companies communicating a mandate for more employee engagement with the same tools and through the same orporate structure that created the disengaged culture.
Sorry, no. A lecture is not engaging. Hectoring is not engaging. Issuing mandates and directives is not engaging.
This one's tricky.
Some companies are so large that their sheer size creates a momentum that's confused with progress. ( See Blackberry or DEC.) So, when the idea of employee engagement is broached eyes are rolled, papers are shuffled and fingers are pointed at their most recent results. 'sides, we're [insert name or size]. We are the market.
for the faint of heart i.e., for those who need control-control-control
Engaging with anyone takes courage, patience, persistence, forgiveness. You have to be willing to be a bit ... v-v-vulnerable, willing and able to step back and not have every answer, every time. You have to be strong enough to listen, to accommodate their initiative, to set limits, to accept mistakes as lessons, to show them the door.
It's easier to issue orders using emails and directives and do all the talking at every meeting. But that's not engaging.
This is like exercise and eating vegetables. Look around. Some will not do it, even for their families, even for themselves and their careers.
For some their ideal day is one where they can mimic the behaviors of the living, just long enough to get home and turn on the TV.
Others want to get engaged but there's a layer of ... stuff, that gets stirred up and gets in the way. You're not a counselor.
You have to recognize that and deal with it quickly.
The essence of employee engagement is engaging in a conversation. Listening, acknowledging, responding, learning, teaching.
Listening and acknowledging skills are easily lost as we move up in age and titles. Not sure why. Incentives are one thing. We're tired and overwhelmed these days is another.
But left to ourselves, with the noise and pressures behind us, engaging in a conversation is the most natural behavior. We need conversations as much as we need oxygen, water and food.
On the other hand, some of those conversations delve into difficult topics. That's not always the work; it might be the person behind the work.
And the most difficult person often, if not always, is ourselves.
However, the reward for these conversations are the breakthroughs that happen, the discoveries and leaps in understanding that translate into passion and energy and engagement.
donuts and khakis, gift cards and longevity awards ... i.e., bribes
This is another favorite of my or another favorite way to annoy me.
The purveyors of these want you to equate their products with 'employee engagement.' Like, if you'll just use them then presto you'll have an engaged workforce and that's so much easier than ... engaging in a conversation. They'll meet with you and offer beautifully prepared powerpoint slides that show how quick and easy it is to put smiles on your employees' faces, and check off that ol' employee engagement item on your to-do list.
Kids know when they're being bribed. So do adults.
Anyway, that's a start. The path to engagement is ... neither long nor short. But it's one we walk together.
If you want to know more ways to engage with your employees as opposed to anonymous surveys, my book RECOGNIZE THEM: 52 Ways to Recognize Your Employees in Ways They Value offers 52 ways to recognize your employees, easy exercises to reinforce those habits and skills and inspirational quotes to keep you going.
Here’s what some business experts are saying about the book.