Employee engagement is a much talked about topic, especially here in the UK, with the extra boost given by the Engage for Success movement.
But is it just hype, or the latest flavour of the month? And, even if it is for real, how do we make it happen? I believe it is an idea whose time has come, and which will be relevant to organisations for many years. As we draw out of recession, the organisations that will survive and thrive will be those who have grasped the challenge of engaging their people.
So, what do we mean by employee engagement and, more importantly, what causes it to happen? There are many definitions and any number of theories as to how to achieve it. There is however, no single silver bullet – what works in one organisation won’t work in another. The latest book I’m reading on the topic, The Engagement Equation, from Blessing White, recognises that. The approach the authors take is to provide a useful framework for defining engagement and then a series of tips and ideas which can be adapted to suit your own organisation’s culture and needs. It’s a pragmatic and useful addition to the subject and well worth reading.
Whenever I am asked to define engagement, I talk about outcomes, rather than process - people being fulfilled and organisations being successful. So, I admire Blessing White’s simple model, looking at the intersection between maximum contribution to the organisation, and maximum satisfaction for the individual. This avoids the trap of searching for the magic wand, by making it relevant to every person in any organisation.
My other definition is as simple as improving the quality of the conversations between manager and managed and within team. The book has a whole chapter devoted to just this. You can see why I like the book.
The authors have created a well-structured, pragmatic and easy to use guide to discovering what will work for you. The layout is easy to follow, with each chapter containing relevant stories, and valuable takeaways. They guide us through in logical way, from defining engagement, looking to yourself first and then to the cultural shifts required.
They cover personal and collective vision – again, a point that resonates with me, as our own coaching model recognises this critical phase in learning and growth. They look at how to avoid the pitfalls of focusing solely on measures – who was it first said you don’t make a pig fat by weighing it? But, the authors do stress the need for ROI measures – I’m a firm believer in the need to measure any L&D activity, and know it is possible and necessary to do this, without becoming obsessed by it
I wanted to point out also some particular highlights for me – I’ll not spoil the book for you by going into too much detail, just some tasters so you can see the value you’ll get from it.
I’m amused by the metaphors and similes they use – it makes the book more human and more accessible. One group of employees are described as hamsters – either sleeping for long periods or running round a wheel, frantically expending energy, but without actually contributing much. Elsewhere, they talk about the 4 year itch, when employees are most likely to leave. The dead battery image resonated for me too – perhaps from personal experience in our recent cold spells
The authors also make good use of acronyms – helping to remember key steps without it becoming too much like jargon. CASE, CARE and, one I especially liked, ACT – the need to Assess, Communicate and Take action. Part of communicating is to agree how you like to work with people around you. I worked with one team once where we did a simple exercise; the boss listed all the things she did to motivate the team, and they all said what they saw her do, and what they actually wanted from her. Some things she thought she was doing they didn’t even see. Some things she did that they had noticed had zero impact. They all learnt from this simple approach.
The book has a raft of case studies and great quotes which kept me amused and, gosh, even engaged
Perhaps the key selling point for me was the focus on coaching – leaders who are coach like in their approach. This chimes with one of the 4 enablers described on the Engage for Success web site – engaging managers, who understand their people, treat them like human beings, involve them in decisions and coach them to success. Whilst I’ve already said there is no silver bullet, without a coach approach, you can certainly shoot yourself in the foot.
Another whole chapter is devoted to supporting your people in planning their careers – and a coach approach is core to that. I always say how much easier it was for me as a manager when I ad learnt how to coach. Apparently, 30% of managers say their biggest challenge was “not having all the answers” – the good news about taking a coach approach is you don’t need to!
There is also another role for coaching. As I said, the book has lots of great ideas and checklists. Valuable though these are, a new leader can be overwhelmed as their To Do list keeps growing every time they read a great and helpful book. As the book states, being a leader can be a lonely place, especially at CEO level, where you are unlikely to have people you can confide in when you are feeling vulnerable.
Having a coach can support leaders to get the priorities right, to have a realistic To Do list and to achieve what every organisation needs – success, measured against whatever your criteria are, with a committed and engaged workforce, thus ensuring continuing and long term success
Having this book will be the first step on that journey