Opening the Organizational Kimono Exposes Engagement and Leadership Issues

employee-engagementTalking about Employee Engagement

The risk of latching on to the term employee engagement – even with the best of intentions – is that it is a complex concept requiring leaders to really open the organizational kimono and reveal what’s on the inside. And once the obi falls to the tatami, what’s underneath isn’t often pretty.

I have an interest – sometimes I’d characterize it as a passion – for anything relating to employee engagement.

Apparently, I am not alone!

Of late, I have been following the virtual trail to wonderful posts and published articles on this rich yet sometimes confusing topic. A recent find – someone who calls herself a change coach – spoke to me when she lamented the overuse of the term “employee engagement”, even suggesting we ban it all together.

A Closer Look at Employee Engagement

As I understand her position, she sees employee engagement as a reciprocal process, that reflects on an honest exchange of communication, actions and accountability. Somehow over the past few years, it’s become the “holy grail” of all organizational effort; armed with indicators taken from the annual employee engagement survey, leaders latch onto the “shiny penny syndrome”, believing that a mix of programs will fix the problem(s). Then usually, leaders leave the development and implementation of said programs to the HR division – enlisting Corporate Communications to spread word of the leaders’ commitment to the process and declarations of regular progress updates – and go about the real business of generating revenues and cutting costs.

And then the leaders are surprised when the results of the next year’s survey reveal little change in engagement.

Employee engagement is an outcome of good leadership.

Programs that improve managers’ skills as people lead

ers and relationship builders is money and effort well spent. Of course, this involves getting the management team right in the first place, and too many organizations promote poorly from within or continue the outdated practice of hiring specialists rather than people leaders.

I know from personal experience the amazing positive effect a great manager can have on performance, productivity and that elusive “discretionary effort”. Sadly, I also know the opposite. All I’m saying is, organizations should start by placing extreme priority on getting the team right in the first place.

Getting the Team Right

When having great managers is the organization’s default position, magic happens. They know how to performance-manage the individuals on their teams. They know how to tap into their strengths and give them the support and tools they need to be successful and productive. Great managers know how to motivate and incent their employees and tailor the recognition accordingly. Daniel Pink, in his insightful book, “Drive: The truth about what really motivates us”, makes a compelling case for the three things workers crave: autonomy, purpose and mastery.

A great manager gets that and moves mountains to make that holy trifecta a reality.

The result? Yep – engaged employees.

Overcomplicating Employee Engagement

I don’t think the idea of trying to understand the symptoms, causes and fixes of employee engagement was ever intended to become so muddied or evolve into such a cringe-inducing term. I do think many organizations have lost their way by overcomplicating it, and making it an unattainable outcome.

In Charles Dickensian times, employers didn’t care what their employees thought about their working conditions or their bosses; thankfully, that’s no longer the case. Employers understandably want high performing employees who (in survey vernacular) “say, stay and strive”. The way to get there is through old-fashioned relationship building – among all levels of an organization – where people feel respected and valued.

I didn’t say any of this was easy or quick.

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Tracey Wimperly