A cliché is an over-used phase or term. I can certainly understand why people can feel this way about the phrase “employee engagement.” We have delivered poorly on the promise of employee engagement. Employees keep hearing it but don’t experience it. It is a lot like the story of “crying wolf” or the “sky is falling.” After a while when it doesn’t happen people stop listening.
Unfortunately most HR departments either don’t know HOW to create engagement or have no authority to do so. This damages the credibility of HR and can cause employees to roll their eyes when they hear the words “employee engagement.” Failure to deliver employee engagement can dilute its importance.
I will soon be speaking at a 2 day HR conference. The first full day is totally devoted to addressing legal issues. That is a great summary of how HR is forced to think and perform today. They have to either know the law or they have to be an attorney to do their jobs. I don’t blame the HR professionals. I blame our Frederick Taylor way of thinking.
If organizations have to depend on attorneys then they really can’t achieve engagement. No offense to attorneys. They perform a valuable function but we really don’t need them in an organization if there is high trust and high engagement. HR and senior leaders are sadly stuck in the Taylor Scientific Management theory of treating people like children and then expecting them to be engaged and grateful adults. Too often HR professionals claim that performance would improve if managers were better trained to be coaches who could deliver better feedback during the performance review. Although these are important skills I must disagree. Blaming it on the managers for not being able to play a “dysfunctional game” with limited Frederick Taylor thinking will NOT create the change we need. Taylor created a manager dependent approach. This type of thinking just perpetuates that approach. This causes employees to think “cliché.”
What will create engagement? It isn’t just “one-thing.” I believe we have failed to create the correct initial conditions to bring about employee engagement. Much like the story in the Bible about the good seeds that fall on poor soil, they sprout but quickly whither. We need to know the seven initial conditions.
• Identify and communicate why employee engagement is so important. This includes the need to adapt to the new knowledge economy. We must see everyone using the full potential of their intellect and creativity.
• Adopt the most effective thinking. Taylor theory ignores systems thinking. We must adopt a systems thinking approach.
• Create a foundation for the culture of trust that can be managed by everyone (not manager dependent). We must have a specific set of expected behaviors that describe integrity, respect, and the actions necessary to serve our customers (both internal and external).
• Create a specific plan for transformation and communicate it continuously. Allowing employees New Hampshire to create their own plan of action helps create engagement.
• Empower a small group of committed, well connected and influential natural leaders to remove barriers.
• Create Fearless Feedback loops on interpersonal interactions and system interactions. We have failed in our ability to deliver honest feedback without fear. This needs correction.
• Communicate and celebrate successes. We can only celebrate once we have success. The top six factors will deliver the success we are seeking.
Employee Engagement IS the future. It may be an overused term but we need to start to learn how to create it because it is essential for survival in the new knowledge economy. Taylor Scientific Management won’t do it. Clinging to attorneys won’t do it. Continuing to embrace the policies of Taylor like the typical performance management and the typical pay for performance processes won’t do it. As long as HR keeps using the term employee engagement but keeps those old policies and the old way of thinking the term will not be taken seriously.