Engagement anyone?

There is a lot of talk about employee engagement these days. In management circles we talk about strategies and best practices for achieving high levels of employee engagement. Perhaps this is in response to reports of a general malaise and historically high absenteeism, or maybe because we are finally waking up to the fact that we really do need to “do better with less” if we hope to leave the world a better place.

So what is this thing called engagement?

For me engagement is a personal thing, it is an organic network of relationships, messages and memes. It is about rallying around some of the common themes and goals in an organization. It is about giving permission to staff to take responsibility for finding new and better ways of doing their jobs.  It is about demanding intellectual accountability and value for every salary dollar we spend. It is about enabling staff to take small risks and implement ideas directly. Most importantly it is about trusting each other to do what we think is best. Accepting some risk and celebrating early failure.

Engagement isn’t something you can outsource. It comes from sincerity about working for improvement and a tolerance for many points of view.

So how do we improve engagement?


The #1 factor that will determine the success of an engagement effort is the attitude of the people involved. This means that:

  • Staff need to take on their leadership responsibility by speaking up and pushing their organizations to improve.
  • Middle Management needs to accept the fact that control is an illusion and be willing to trust their staff. And they need to define themselves in a away that does not require the control of information. They need to listen very carefully to those pushing for change.
  • Senior management needs to promote leadership at all levels and demonstrate that appropriate risk taking is acceptable.
  • We all need to be tolerant and listen to multiple points of view. Perhaps most importantly we need to approach the monumental tasks in front of us with a positive attitude.

Engagement isn’t something you design and build so much is it something that you cultivate in your relationships. Certainly we can design processes, polices and reward systems that create an environment that is engagement friendly, and we must continually work to reduce systematic barriers to engagement, but ultimately it comes down to the attitude of the people in the system.

And that starts with you and me.


About Thom Kearney

Change agent, teacher, arts, science, open government, father, mentor, storyteller, husband, dog owner,collaborator, not necessarily in that order.
This entry was posted in Collaboration, Culture, Gov 2.0, Learning, Marketing & Communication, Positive Change. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Engagement anyone?

  1. Thom,

    Nothing to add except thank you!!



  2. Amanda Parr says:

    Love this:

    “Engagement isn’t something you design and build so much is it something that you cultivate in your relationships.”



  3. Very much agree Thom. I am sure almost everyone reading this is a practitioner, with hands-on (probably daily) experience with “attitude”. Change the attitude, you change the culture. Far more difficult than say putting in place the underlying enablers and reminds us that patience (while continuing to push everyday) has to be exercised.


  4. Karl Ghiara says:

    Excellent and very well written Thom.

    To me engagement in the enterprise also includes innovative mechanisms for ensuring that decision making is delegated to those who can add true value. This to me is the organizational transformation needed to move from a command and control paradigm to one of high performance through enterprise wide collaboration. Easier said then done for sure.


  5. Theresa Woolridge says:

    Yes, thank you Thom.

    You know what’s funny I have always included ‘positive attitude’ in my cover letter and wondered if anyone noticed.


  6. Pingback: shiny and more award-winning than ever before: more on employee engagement « serving canadians

  7. Nick Groen says:

    There is a disconnect between what science knows and what business does. First, take a look at Daniel Pinks talk on TED.com:

    How do we expect to motivate people if our system is wrong? Most of the business world is designed on a system of carrots-and-sticks. And yet, as Daniel Pink’s speech proves, this system is flawed!

    We can design a better system, but it requires a complete overhaul of the status quo. The question remains; are businesses up to the task?


    • Thomk says:

      Thanks for the link, great talk.

      I believe it will Nick. Or more accurately some businesses will adopt a new approach of intrinsic motivation as Dan says, one based on autonomy, mastery and purpose.

      Eventually those that don’t get it, will go away.



  8. Laura says:

    Excellent post Thom! Thanks for the reminder that I can influence my own environment by keeping a positive attitude, listening and challenging.


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