I blogged recently about the extent to which the word engagement in the employment context is losing its meaning. Doug Shaw commented (and has blogged to the effect) that it never had one anyway, outside of the HR profession, and most employees haven’t even heard of the term.
But do you know what? Definitions don’t matter. Feelings do.
Engagement is a personal thing, an individual thing. Engagement is felt in your gut. It is not logical, it is instinctive. That is why a one size employee engagement approach doesn’t fit all. It’s why fancy mission statements, value sets and slick communications don’t create engagement; because they don’t create gut reactions. Engagement is not rational.
For me, engagement isn’t about going the extra mile, discretionary effort, positivity, enthusiasm or any of the other meanings and definitions that a Google search will give you. To me, engagement equals connection. It is all about the tie that binds me, to where I work. Engagement is the reason I work somewhere, not anywhere.
Connections come from different places, different people, different stuff deep down inside. Connections come from our core values, our belief system,
We connect with people, not programmes. We connect with meaning, not mission statements. Outcomes, not office buildings. Making a difference, not making some money.
When it comes to engagement, read the books and understand the theory, check out the speakers and the thinkers on the topic, by all means. But then figure out what it means for you personally. Understand your own motivations, what connects you. What gives you that gut reaction, about what you do, where you work. And then find out what connects your employees, to your place.
I recently read ‘Start with Why’ by Simon Sinek, which is all about getting to the heart of inspirational leadership through understanding people’s ‘why’. It’s a pretty good way to think about employee engagement. If you have a good why at the heart of the employment relationship, a good answer to the question ‘why would you work here’, then engagement can flow, naturally.
Why you do something, like something, want something, feel something, isn’t always rational either. It’s that connection thing, that gut instinct thing, once again. I love my iPhone, and I’m not swapping from Apple, even if the alternative is cheaper or has fancier buttons. I am very partial to a well known boy band, and I am not converting to another group if they bring out one song I don’t like. The same applies at work; if you like where you work, if you are connected or have a good why, then a little extra in the pay packet somewhere else won’t tempt you.
As Nietzsche said, he who has a why can stand almost any how. Companies that have a strong why, do good things, make good connections, can have strong engagement, or whatever word you choose to use. That is why companies without lots of fancy, shiny stuff can still rock the annual survey scores (if you must).
For me, today, I have two whys, two connections, two reasons to get out of bed in the morning. What we do and who I work for. I work for a company that makes a real difference to people’s lives, and for a leader that places real importance on the people stuff. And I mean real importance, not the pretend sort that goes out of the window when things get tough operationally of financially.
This is my own definition of engagement.