Thursday, July 5, 2012

Employee Engagement Strategy - Inconceivable!

Image courtesy of Rakka
I recently read an article about the worst employee engagement strategies ever. Curious about the content, I read the article and immediately knew that people still aren't clear about what employee engagement is.

Listen, let's call it what it is. Employee engagement is not a strategy - at all. How could it possibly be? More on that in a second.

Remember the last time that I mentioned Princess Bride and Inigo Montoya, the character played by Mandy Patinkin? Inigo Montoya is my favorite character of the movie, and the quote below is probably my favorite line in the movie; he used it to describe his "friend's" constant use of the word "Inconceivable!" It's been several years since I watched the movie, but I can close my eyes and hear it like it was yesterday:

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

When people write or talk about employee engagement, I often recite that in my head: "I do not think it means what you think it means." For now, instead of defining employee engagement, which I've done before,  I'm going to tell you what it is not.

Employee Engagement is not...
  • a strategy
  • a mandate
  • employee motivation
  • employee recognition
  • something that is "done." (I read an article with a comment about "if employee engagement is done properly." It isn't "done" at all.)
  • an organizational competence
  • a morale booster
  • a performance booster
  • performance goals
  • a reward program
  • an investment
  • an incentive
  • a survey
  • trainable
  • coached
  • a training program
  • a management style
  • a party every Friday afternoon
  • unlimited free food and similar perks
  • a plaque on the wall
  • a shirt with your logo on it
  • education reimbursement
  • employee satisfaction
  • employee happiness
Trust me. The list goes on. I'm not making this stuff up! These examples all come from well-meaning bloggers who want to create a quick-fix to engage employees. There is no quick fix! On top of that, a lot of what is written about what employee engagement is really defines the "employee experience."

I've also seen some well-meaning folks talk about who owns employee engagement. No one has a good answer because, well, NO ONE owns employee engagement. Except the employee.

You see, employee engagement cannot be a strategy because engagement comes from within the employee. It's the emotional connection or commitment that an employee has to the organization that then causes the employee to want to put forth the additional effort to ensure the organization and the brand succeed. What the company can do is build a culture that facilitates employee engagement; and that is where the strategy part comes in. But keep in mind that t-shirts, free food, and surveys do not a strategy make.

Is it semantics? No. We need to be clear that no one can make an employee engaged. When  there's some confluence of: (1) emotions, commitment, passion, sense of ownership, etc. on the part of the employee about the brand and (2) what the organization does (purpose, brand promise, who the company is and why, etc.) to facilitate and enhance those emotions or that commitment - then we have employee engagement.

To some degree, the factors listed above help drive, support, or facilitate employee engagement. They help to build a culture of engagement. But each one alone is not engagement, and each one alone is not a strategy. In a future post, I'll take a closer look at building an employee-centric culture that supports an employee's passion for the brand.

Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.” -Georg Hegel


  1. Yep Annette is right. There is no quick fix or silver bullet for employee engagement. You can not force or bribe a person to be engaged. For an employee to be engaged it has to come from within - an intrinsic desire to contribute and be part of something.

    It comes down to alignment. The company needs to know who they are, what they stand for and what they want to create (Vision, Mission, Passion, Purpose, Product). It is that sense of self that makes a company attractive to people (clients, employees, investors).

    That sense of self is the catalyst to creating a culture but culture is also driven by leadership. Leadership needs shares their vision and passion and conduct themselves in a way that set the expectations on how others act and conduct themselves. Culture is simply the distinct ethos of an organization that influences values, philosophies, behaviors and beliefs of the group. As people join the team - they enhance and nurture the culture or inject their own beliefs and behaviors that undermine the desired culture.

    Many companies that start off amazingly with an engaged, energized team can and do fall victim to becoming average or below average organizations as they grow and hire the wrong people. All organizations need to hire well, indoctrinate new members into their culture and continually do things that re-inforce the culture and help their people grow and let them know they are valued. It comes back to alignment. If you do not have alignment, your culture can slip away like death by a thousand paper cuts.

    If you want to keep people engaged, you need to constantly communicate, nurture your culture, treat your people fairly and let them know what you expect of them. It is hard work and you need to use various tactics as listed above as part of a larger strategy to maintain engagement. After all most people pursue a job with an organization because they admired that organizations, brand and or their leader - the building blocks for engagement. We strongly believe people will feel more engaged if they feel respected and if they are recognized for what they do well and through recognition you can reinforce the culture (values, behaviors) that attracted your people in the first place.

    Kudos to Annette for the post - Love the Princess Bride too - Inconceivable.

    1. Thanks, Tom, kudos to you on your comments, as well! I think you're right on point. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic!

      I like the point you make about companies starting off with an engaged, energized team, only to fall victim to becoming average because they hire the wrong people. This is a concept that should not be taken lightly: hire the right people, indoctrinate into the culture, and continually reinforce the culture.

      Annette :-)

  2. amen, annette! you're so right, and yet i fall into the trap of using some of the above language -- thanks for the reminder that we all need to be more explicit when it comes to what we think employee engagement means -- denise lee yohn

    1. Thanks, Denise. It's easy to do that, and I do believe that the bloggers I refer to in this post do just that. But it's a good reminder that it's not semantics... we must ensure that we're all talking about the same thing and that employee engagement is clearly defined.

      Annette :-)