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.