Where Employee Engagement Gets It Wrong

August 24, 2011 by  Filed under: Management 

I recently met the senior vice president for human resources at a $5 billion dollar company. It was an honor to meet him and I enjoyed our conversations greatly. But I was amazed to learn that even his philosophies about employee engagement were as old and hackneyed as a worn-out vaudeville performance.

Unfortunately, I still find that this performance is still alive and well on the speaking circuit, and even within very large organizations.

The hot new topic among management and human resource professionals is employee engagement. It has come to the fore because of the challenges organizations face in finding profitability in the midst of a down economy and flagging consumer confidence. Typical reactions are to cut process and production costs, but most companies have already cut most of the waste from their organizations.

The only other way to cut costs is to cut employees. But the charge of management is not only to reduce costs but also to continue corporate growth. The logical conclusion to this conundrum is to find ways to get the reduced staff to work harder. Hence, the interest in today’s employee engagement programs.

While the idea is sound, the application I’ve seen is not. As I did from the vice president, one commonly hear managers utilizing phrases like:

“This is how we can get our employees to…”

“This program will make them feel…”

“We can incentivize our employees by…”

When you hear people talking like this, run away. These practices treat people like cattle, implementing anything conceivable to get them to work harder.

Engagement is not something to do. It’s something to foster and develop. Culture change doesn’t happen by force; it comes from within.

True employee engagement happens only where the interests, goals and desires of the employee intersect with the purpose of the organization.

The challenge for management is to help each employee to discover their own purpose, then to seek intersections at which the employee’s purpose can be furthered by the purpose of the organization. When this happens, engagement happens, and it is absolutely magical. Any other method is the old carrot and stick routine.

There are numerous methods that help organizations to come to a place of true engagement. For now, give some thought to how much more engaged you, yourself, could become if someone approached you with the following: “Forget about your job description for a moment. If this were your company, and knowing what the purpose of this company is, what of your interests, skills and drives would you want to employ here that would give you joy while advancing our cause?”

Posing this question isn’t necessarily the solution to employee engagement, but if it gives you the seed of the idea of drawing your employees in, rather than leading them on, I’ve done my job.

About the Author

I am a professional speaker and business coach. I help companies align their employees with the company vision so that everyone is more engaged, more productive, and ultimately, more profitable.

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I look forward to your success.

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