Engagement – How do you know if you are building or depleting it?

Engagement Model GraphicFor a number of years demographic projections have suggested that we will be facing extreme labour shortages, particularly in the arena of knowledge workers.  A new challenge is emerging however, in that even when you can enlist employees, they are often not fully engaged in the work that they do. The challenge most organizations face is not knowing what to do to create a more engaging culture, one that fully recognizes the gifts of current employees, and acts as a magnet for new talent. The biggest problem with “Engagement” is that we often have no idea which of our actions are deposits in the engagement account and which are withdrawals.

While all of us can identify a disengaged employee, it may be much more difficult to recognize the drivers of this behaviour. The disengaged employee is the one who makes no effort to identify or meet your needs…  the airline-booking agent who volunteers no alternative routings to ease your travel arrangements, the waiter who just does not make an effort to serve you in a timely fashion, or the official who insists on following policy even when it makes no sense.

Going through the motions, doing the minimum necessary, and hiding behind organizational policy is not just inconvenient, but costly.   Organizational losses in productivity alone are huge, but add to that the losses in customer loyalty, market share and ultimately, the ability to attract high value employees.

Disengagement is reaching alarming proportions. Gallup reports that fifty five per-cent of employees in public and private sector organizations in the U.S. are disengaged, doing only what it takes to get by.  A further nineteen per-cent are actively disengaged and work against the best interests of their organization.  This leaves only twenty-six per-cent of employees engaged with their work.  Research in Canada, while not yet as exhaustive, suggests the situation is not much different.

For over twenty years we have been studying engaging organizations and talking with people about the working conditions that enable them to engage more fully, and have noted a remarkable pattern in their responses.

Moving to an engaging culture requires organizations to change the way they do four key things:

  1. Values & Goals

    More engaging organizations REVERE values, goals and other widely shared understandings.  These are the foundation and the principles to which people turn for guidance in times of conflict or confusion. They serve as a bulwark against expediency and are a source of pride and purpose.

  2. Ideas, Opinions and Perspectives

    More engaging organizations VALUE ideas, opinions and perspectives.   Adequate resources are quickly allocated for development and implementation of good ideas.  Diverse opinions and perspectives influence decisions. Ideas are explored rather than judged.

  3. People

    More engaging organizations RESPECT people.  They take people seriously, they don’t waste their time. They are trusted.  Their contributions and skills are known in the organization, recognized, and regularly called upon. They are provided with the information and tools they require to add value.

  4. Authority

    More engaging organizations have a greater capacity to QUESTION authority without fear of reprisal.  Those in positions of power are not always seen as having the best perspective. Policies and procedures are not “written in stone.”  Taking calculated risks and even making mistakes are seen as means by which learning occurs.