The ‘E’ Word

There has been much talk on twitter and in the HR blog world lately about employee engagement, much of it prompted by a tweet from Neil Morrison in which he said ‘every time I hear the word engagement, another part of me dies’. I’ve been watching the development of the debate with interest. As many other commentators had written such eloquent blogs I wasn’t going to add to it, but an article, here: I saw at the weekend posed a question that made me itch.

The article was called ‘Whose job is engagement: HR, CEO or dedicated head of engagement’. Actually, when you read the full text it isn’t really advocating that engagement should be the responsibility of one person, but this idea that engagement can be owned is for me, one of the central problems with the whole concept.

I don’t particularly like the word engagement, although I guess it has to be called something. What does bother me is when it is treated like a project, a programme or initiative. Treating it in this way drives the wrong thought processes. It isn’t something that should be a SMART objective, something that requires a formal plan, a work stream or an executive sponsor. You also don’t need to spend a ton of cash on a survey. HR teams already collate a load of management information that will tell you whether your employees like working for you or not; sickness, retention, turnover, grievance levels will all give you an insight. Or you could go mad and just walk round and talk to people.

When it comes to ‘engagement ‘you just have to build it in to everything you do. When you make a decision, you have to ask yourself how this will impact your people. Now don’t think I’m coming over all fluffy. I’m not suggesting that your decisions should be guided by whether people will like them or not. But take them in the full knowledge of how it will make people feel, and specifically how they will feel about the company. If your decision is going to give people the hump, maybe it is still the right thing to do taking everything into account.

If the word we are going to use is engagement, then it is the responsibility of every single person, every decision maker in an organisation. Engagement cannot be owned. It is not a dog.



Image by @AATImage


4 thoughts on “The ‘E’ Word

  1. Smashing blog – well put. Don’t worry about others eloquent pieces. This is telling it how it is and is well written. I don’t advocate smashing “engagement” to pieces but I do advocate smashing it out of the ballpark where it’s a gimmick; a fad; an over hyped-up mandatory process. For me it’s about whether people LOVE what they do and who they do it on behalf of. Unfortunately no one dare call it love it seems. Neil Morrison was spot on when he said “I don’t wake up thinking how engaged I am”. But you might wake up and feel good about delivering a speech about something you do love about your work; or a top meeting where you get to decide on a cool course of action on something you love, believe in and are inspired about. Before we go wild and kill anything to do with people’s love of what they do because it happens to include the “e” word, let’s take stock of how hard David MacLeod has had to fight to get “it” recognised. How much effort people like Tannith Dodge and others have put into work where evidence is there to prove how much value is derived when organisations can report people’s positivity about the PLACE they work. OK it’s not perfect but it’s something. Yet “it” overall is already corrupted. By the charlatan leaders; by the £’s obsessed people spotting a soft target for revenue and by “experts” overselling their insight/wares. So your point is supremely well made. Let’s not get sold on the “e” word being owned and sponsored and flicked on and off like a light switch. It’s people’s lives; their souls; part of their purpose in life. Look at how engaged those people were on the Secret Millions programme this Sunday about rehabilitation of offenders through carpentry. That’s where the “e” word is most profoundly accurate. They had a reason to not re-offend because people believed in them, supported them and enabled them. As a result they loved what they did AND who they did it for. Love like this is not a trade-able commodity. To say an index score means it is a good organisation to work for is an insult to the love many people tirelessly devote to what they do. We are people with big hearts and clever brains with lots to give all we expect that this love is not be abused or not valued. Yes we get paid but there’s so much more that a lot of us do than what was the contracted “deal”. I suppose if we do move away from the hype of engagement and overuse of the “e” word, what do we do instead? I think the answer is in a lot of what you have said; proper, meaningful conversations and people feeling noticed and valued. Lencioni’s 3 signs of a miserable job springs to mind; Anonymity; irrelevance; immeasurement. Our extrinsic and intrinsic motivators at play through recognising the love given, the fairness displayed and the support provided is a fair deal for hard graft; diligence and creativity. Covey’s Emotional Bank Account has something to offer in terms of useful feedback given; courteous exchanges and sociable, stimulating interactions. We shouldn’t capture this once a year when we “do” engagement. We should do something each hour, each day, each week. If we have to report on it so it counts let’s be creative in currency, reporting and demonstrable impact. Engage for Success has done us good so far but it’s now time to move that on to something that has meaning to real people doing extraordinary things and not become the domain of questionable management consultants, bandwagon jumping politicians and human capitalist managers. #reclaimtheEword.

  2. Engagement is an outcome, nothing more. It comes from other outcomes like Trust, which in turn come from behaviours like Authenticity and Honesty. If a company has an engagement problem, they have a trust problem. If they have a trust problem, they lack authenticity and honesty as a fundamental behaviour, especially at the Leadership level. Fact. No argument. No excuses.

    My advice to those folk who wrote that ‘open letter’ – stop wasting your time. Instead, go buy a box of hand mirrors, write Trust across them all in bright red lipstick and give one to each member of the board.

    Great post Gemma 😉

    PS. Perry speaks the truth….

  3. Pingback: Engagement: Enough already… | Inside My Head...

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