Put simply, full engagement is truly a beautiful thing. It’s what all high-performing organizations and teams aspire to, which is made obvious by Fay Hansen’s article at Workforce. That being said, the fact of the matter is the notion of engagement has become nothing more than a platitude to many; an empty buzzword tossed around by the management consulting firm du jour; nothing more than a talking point during keynote speeches. Yes, there have been multiple studies suggesting positive correlations between employee engagement levels and retention, productivity, and profitability . . . however, there is very little discussion about what being engaged really means.
So what is engagement? To one, engagement can be that feeling you get when you hit the gas of a Harley Davidson and feel the wind against your face. To another, engagement might be the feeling of cheering on the football team they’ve been a fan of since childhood, during a last-minute touchdown drive in the SuperBowl. Many would agree that engagement is the moment when you hold up your newborn baby and make eye contact for the very first time. When employees, team members, or people in a relationship are truly engaged, it means they fully recognize they’ve become a part of something much bigger than just themselves. Above all things, being engaged is about finding meaning in our lives, whether it be personal, work, spiritual, or a combination of the building blocks that make up who we are.
So, when it comes to the workplace, the question becomes: Can you drive engagement by creating meaning among employees and team members?
This question is fascinating when presented, because managers often attempt to answer without first obtaining a deep understanding about what is important to their individual team members in the first place. Developed leaders are able to build trust based, in large part, upon their emotional intelligence (EI), situational instincts, leading by example, and consistent actions of integrity, which make them easy to follow. However, most organizations understand that developing real leaders is often easier said than done. Most would agree it’s an expensive proposition – high risk, high reward. For example, ponder for a moment why ‘Leadership Development’ tracks usually have little to no ethics, psychology, or ironically, leadership components. It’s no surprise that these inside-out LD programs are largely perceived as marketing tools, used to attract entry-level college grads through a defined career path (of whom the organization realizes will likely attrit in three to five years anyway).
As a result, astute organizations are now pursuing outside-in strategies, which focus on creating experiences that drive meaning (and thereby, employee engagement) through PR, internal corporate communications, and behavioral incentives that grow the internal and external brand. For example, “Think Green, Bank Green” Bank of America offers a $3k cash incentive for purchasing a hybrid vehicle, Apple is known to sell Apple to its employees as strongly as it sells Apple to its customers, and just this Sunday, I watched BP assert an “unshakable commitment to human progress” on an early morning commercial. Tactics such as these constitute lower-risk ways to drive engagement than purely investing in leadership development or relying upon a personality survey. It’s probably another reason we see the notion of becoming an “employer of choice” gaining so much steam in the Talent Acquisition and Organizational Development space today.
In the Marine Corps, engagement is known as ‘espirit de corps’, or morale. In its most basic form, engagement directly correlates to the “the will to fight.” It is well understood that will alone is much more important than equipment, air support, or technological advantage – even with the deck stacked against you, unbreakable will is very often the difference between winning and losing. Although this level of engagement is insanely difficult to achieve, never stop chasing it. Each small step taken toward full engagement is a victory to be celebrated.
In closing, let me offer the inspiring words of the great Vince Lombardi: “We are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence.”