Employee Engagement Is Not A “Target”

Several companies think of Employee Engagement as an end-goal – a number – a target – a KPI. And we chase this elusive target. Endlessly at times!

Dov Seidman wrote an interesting piece in Bloomberg BusinessWeek on “Why We Cannot “Motivate” Employee Engagement”. Here are some excerpts which I found very interesting:

WHAT MASQUERADES AS ENGAGEMENT

This problem was illustrated in a recent IBM television commercial, in which a motivational speaker decked out in an “Innovation Man” costume struts in front of a line of office workers standing at attention. Innovation Man singles out one of the professionals and peppers him with repeated taunts and questions as to whether he is “fired up” to innovate. The worker dutifully responds, “Sir! Yes, sir!” Innovation Man then questions the employee’s commitment: “Why are you fired up?!” The befuddled employee pauses before replying, “I don’t have any idea.”

We cannot “motivate” engagement (or innovation, growth, or succession for that matter); instead, we must inspire the kind of outcomes we want by rooting ourselves in a set of values, being in the grip of an idea worthy of dedication and commitment, connecting around a meaningful and shared purpose, and aligning around a common, deep, and sustainable set of human, societal, and environmental values.

A VALUABLE, AND VALUES-BASED, ALTERNATIVE

This is the new frontier, where companies work in a systemic manner to ensure alignment of their purpose and mission to their business strategies and vision, and then cascade this inspiration through their core values into specific leadership behaviors. Only when observable leadership behaviors are identified, communicated, measured, tracked, managed, and integrated into business processes and talent-management systems can an organization evolve on its cultural journey.

Improving employee engagement does not require executives to don their motivational capes and work on improving employee engagement. Instead, the process begins with a simple question about the workforce, a query whose answer leaders should act upon: Are our employees inspired?

I agree with the viewpoint. While we still need metrics and conventional approaches to build accountability and ownership, sometimes we focus excessively on them and lose sight of the essence of the matter. A more intrinsic approach is called for.

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