I’ve been an avid runner for the past 20+ years. When I was younger, I practiced loads of training regimens with intervals and distance and tempo and HIIT and hills and fartleks and weights and all that. They worked. My times improved, my distances lengthened, I discovered more about myself: my limits were farther out than I thought, were closer than I thought, a dream run today doesn’t translate into a PB two months later.
Hitting 50 and now (cough) 60 I’ve discovered a few more things. The biggest is I’ve stopped listening to the experts. Sure, I read their tips and plans and diets and interval schedules. I read the list of must-have shoes and winter gear and dream. But I don’t try to cramp my life into their articles of advice. I listen to myself now. I listen to my body. (I hate this phrase. But I can’t find anything better right now, kinda like ‘employee engagement’ and no ‘discretionary effort’ doesn’t work.) I’m engaged with my body, not fighting it or pressuring it to be sump’n it ain’t and probably never gonna be just ‘cause some expert said I had to be like that or this.
Sure, I check my watch, for curiosity and when to turn around on an out-and-back-run. I don’t need a heartrate monitor, I know when it’s in range and when I need to slow down or even walk.
I feel better. I’m happier at the end of the run. I’m pleasant, not cranky anymore. I don’t walk away at the end frustrated, beating myself up for not attaining what the experts say I should be attaining. I smile more.
At races, sure I have a desired finish time. I never make it. Inevitably there comes a time when I acknowledge that the heat or that supplement that worked so well last week but it’s making me wanna throw-up or yesterday’s 8-hour drive to the race ... or I trained too hard or not enough means it’s gonna be a long run. So, I relax, ease up, quit straining. I wave at anyone, everyone. I strike up a conversation with fellow runners. I make those at the aid-stations laugh. I enjoy the run. I’m engaged.
What’s all this got to do with Employee Engagement? At some point, you have run your own race. You ... YOU ... have to engage with your team, your department, your company. You have to let go of their advice and slogans and surveys (god, yes!) and skip your meetings about employees and go meet with them. Talk, listen, debate, laugh, disagree, learn, apologize, collaborate, create, disrupt. All on your terms, your schedule, your words to express your ideas and dreams and complaints (Yes, Dorothy, complaints are part of this.) and successes and failures and lessons learned.
You have to run your own race with them.
Otherwise, you're left "engaging" with someone else: experts and mavens and who knows who. You’ll always be straining to spout another buzzword or slogan or principle that’s not really yours. Those around you, they can see through it, matter of fact you can too and that's why you're so awkward and defensive.
You and your team should create your own ...stuff, stuff that engages you in ways that engage you and your customers.
We have to run our own races for our own reasons and motivations. Experts can’t help us find that, claim that, own it. We have to leave them behind and engage our folks, you in your terms in your strengths and skills and foibles, not mine. That’s real. They’ll know it.
As you run your race, wave at the bystanders in the other companies and even departments, bring a smile to, and out of, those experts and executives along the way. You’ll be running your own race. You’ll be running your own races together. You'll be smiling and waving all the way to the finish line. Crossing it makes you a winner.