I’m a fast reader and tend to read a lot. I’m also busy. Okay, so I’m no different than you. Since you’re reading this post and maybe a few of my other posts we share another attribute: an interest in employee engagement.
I want to share a trend I've noticed, see if you've noticed it too.
Back in the day, five or ten years ago, if I read anything on employee engagement it was written by an ‘expert’ or a ‘reporter’ or a professor. They wrote profiles of companies or described the results of studies and surveys they conducted on thousands of employees, hundreds of companies. Think Gallup Organization, Towers-Perrin, Hay Group for organizations and the usual run of business publications: Forbes, Fortune, Inc., Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Harvard Business Review, etc.
Their tone was objective. The writing crisp. The perspective from an academic perch, a castle’s window or a small office in a tall high rise.
Then more agencies and consultants entered the conversation. Their conversations moved towards real-world experiences, tools and tips, principles and things to do or not to do. Sure, the line between journalism, blogging and content marketing blurred. I do it too.
But somewhere in the past year I noticed a high percentage of articles and posts on employee engagement aggravated me. Being a bit older now, I make it a habit to first walk away from those and things that aggravate me. That helps mitigate my impatience and my tendency to deal with those who try my patience with a blast of startling directness. So, as I walked away and stayed away, mostly, from commenting on these aggravating articles I kept circling around to what was it that irritated me.
Here it is: Us vs Them. There’s a group of employees who are very engaged working with senior management to ‘solve’ this problem of employee disengagement. They’re engaged and ‘those others’ - slackers, laggards, ‘you know ... those people’ - are not engaged. ‘Hey, boss, what are we going to do about ... them.’ Smile. ‘Here’s the results from the latest survey we did of ‘them’ about a month ago.’ Or last quarter or last year.
See? There’s the disengagement. One group of employees pitted against the other. The engaged group, has a direct line of sight and direct communication, with senior management on a very important mission to ‘fix’ employee engagement and they understand its important and their ‘crucial’ role in helping their bosses fix it. They love the new tools and the variety to their tasks and the creative challenges. And they love the extra recognition by managers and executives.
See? the group engaged in solving the lack of employee engagement has all the tools and access and visibility and direct connection of their work and tasks with this greater purpose. They have direct line of sight with purpose and meaning and decision-makers. They're recognized by managers and have a chance to learn new stuff. The other group doesn’t.
That it comes at the expense of their colleagues is a bit of an issue. But more importantly, the lack of self-awareness or situational awareness about how different is their experience coupled with the lack of empathy for those not fortunate to share the same experience: direct access and visibility with management and line of sight to their company’s purpose and mission and the chance to play a vital role in fulfilling that mission with the accompanying access to resource and recognition is painfully obvious.
I remember writing that if you want to solve the problem of employee engagement then stop engaging in meetings and reports about them and start engaging with your employees. Go talk with them... about their day, their needs and dreams and what tools do they need and what’s their biggest challenge and recognize all their little wins that keep the company going while other employees can meet about the lack of employee engagement.
As you’re meeting with a few employees about employee engagement, ask yourself what’s different about their day as compared to everyone else’s, you know those who aren’t engaged. That research can be too conceptual, too abstract to result in actionable items. Why not ask everyone in attendance:
Why are you engaged and the majority of your colleagues are not?
What’s different about their day that makes them look at our company as a dreary place to work, one where they bring only their C-game while you work at the same company and bring your A-game?
Let’s hear it in your own words.
How do we better match their day with that description?
What’s keeping us from providing that experience, that vision, those resources and recognitions ... for everyone?
You’ll stir up a lot of dust on those questions. There’s status and privilege at stake. If you give everyone the same status and opportunity, tools and resources, then theirs loses its ... status. On the other hand, you’ll find a lot more smiling faces and ideas and solutions when you do. You’ll find faster revenue growth and higher cash-flows, more sales conversions and lower marketing costs, lower churns and higher retentions, lower hiring and training costs.
Another way is to skip the meeting about employee engagement. Instead, go sit with ‘those’ employees and engage them in a conversation. Do that on a daily basis.
Another way is to invite ‘them’ to the meeting and engage them in the discussion about ‘them.’
But this ‘us’ vs ‘them’ thing, this ‘we’re the cool kids doing this high-brow, high-level’ work to help with ‘your’ problem ... it’s not going to work.
It never has. We’re smart enough to know that when we were kids. Somehow, we’ve forgotten. It happens. I get tunnel vision, too.
It’s why listening skills are so important, patience and empathy too. It’s why it’s important to step out of our own echo chambers and those who enable it by telling us what we want to hear. It’s an admirable quality but one that leads to our demise.
So, is this something you've noticed, too?