Driving Full Engagement: Don’t Be So Concerned About Your Managers…

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 Company_cube_2Harley 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.”

FOT Background Check

Josh Letourneau is the owner of Knight & Bishop, an Executive Search and Human Capital Intelligence firm, with an emerging focus on Social Network Analysis (SNA). Nope, not like MySpace, but more like who is connected to whom in organizations and how does that impact their influence on decision making and P.O.V.s. And you can learn more about all of this on his new blog .


  1. HR Minion says:

    Great post. I don’t know if I have ever read true engagement described so well.

  2. Chris says:

    “engagement” in the business context, has spread like the plague. Unfortunately, it’s nothing more than some junk buzzword with little meaning (any word that can conjure up 100 different definitions from 100 different people is meaningless), and little value. Why say engagement, when you can say productivity? Why say engagement, when you say employee effort?
    And please STOP saying engagement drives firm performance. It doesn’t. Just look at the laundry list of items that go into the typical “engagement index.” You’ll notice two things: first, it’s a hodge podge of psycho-babble, non-monetary compensation & benefits, and company relevance. Second, the list is different for each maker of the list. It is these things on the list that induce more effort from the employee. And it is greater effort that will increase the output to cost ratio.
    So stop worrying about this “engagement” thing, and focus on employee effort and employee productivity. That’s really what’s important, isn’t it?

  3. Chris,
    In response to your comment, I agree with the fact that engagement has become a corporate buzzword, and that the definition is anything but concrete. That being said, I disagree that employee productivity and engagement are interchangeable. I think we can all agree that there are a myriad of ways to drive productivity that have nothing to do with engaging your employees. Correspondingly, while engagement may ultimately be a productivity driver, it also has additional positive impact points, including employee morale, retention, etc.
    Each year, my firm conducts an extensive employee/employer survey to get a snapshot of the current human capital landscape. This year’s survey spoke highly to the power of engagement; one of the top attributes that employees looked at in terms of job and employer satisfaction was working for a “winner.” That alone demonstrates the power of engagement to attract and retain a premier workforce in any organization. It also discounts the notion that non-monetary and psychological aspects of employment do not have an impact on organizational performance.
    In today’s competitive, knowledge-based human capital landscape, productivity is no longer as simple as widgets produced per hour. Obtaining a best in class workforce and retaining it will be a – if not the – critical differentiator for firms who want to win in the coming years. Dismissing employee engagement as simply another productivity enhancing trend shortchanges the power of the concept, and acts as a disservice to any organization by implying that pure productivity increasing approaches will be enough to stay competitive in a rapidly changing talent environment.

  4. Chris says:

    I don’t get this: “This year’s survey spoke highly to the power of engagement; one of the top attributes that employees looked at in terms of job and employer satisfaction was working for a “winner.””
    How does that speak to engagement? Like I said, engagment is a made up business word. What you realy care about is not “engagement” but those individual survey items that matter (in your case, working with a winner). That was the point of my second paragraph. Not that those things don’t matter,(I didn’t claim “that non-monetary and psychological aspects of employment do not have an impact on organizational performance”) but that lumping them all together and calling them “engagement” is meaningless. Because these lists differ from company to company, and because what is important on the list differs from company to company, to say that “engagement” matters for Company X tells Company Y absolutely nothing. Because Company Y then must ask, “how did you measure engagement? which elements were most important?” etc.
    I’m not trying to say that these things are not important. What I’m suggesting is that you should be talking about whatever those elements are. They are what’s really important here. The fact that you had to tell me what parts of your engagement measure were important only goes to support this idea.
    Also, I did not mean to imply that engagement and employee productivity are interchangable. What I meant was that the reason people talk about engagement is because the things that make up “engagement” (in theory) increase employee productivity. If you’re worried about morale and retention, then add that to the list of things you want to improve. But even for these things, you should cut out the middle man (“engagement”) and go strait to the things that matter (those components of your “engagement” definition).

  5. KD says:

    The big idea for me in Josh’s post was the concept of companies not being so concerned about managers within the concept of engagement. Should we invest a great deal in making individual brand managers for engagement out of our managers when they’re highly probable to leave?
    Branding your company in the way Josh describes above is an interesting case for engagement. I think I’ll choose to engage managers in the battle, but his call for branding that transcends individual managers is pretty interesting.

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