Deconstructed Employee Engagement

Paul Hebert Employee Engagement, employee experience, Employment Branding and Culture, Engagement and Satisfaction, HR, Paul Hebert

If you’re a foodie, you’ve probably heard about “deconstructed” recipes. I’m not a foodie. I’m more a “fooder” – which is the county fair/midway version of a foodie. Deep fry it, dip it in mayonnaise and it will be in my go-to recipe file on evernote. But, for those of you like me who’ve spent time in Rio Linda, you may need clarification. The definition of a deconstructed recipe is a dish created by breaking apart elements traditionally combined together to make the dish, and serving the items separately in a unique way. As an example:

On the left is what I normally think of when I say – “carrot cake.” On the right – the “deconstructed version.

Carrot cake

The description of the “deconstructed” version doesn’t make it any more appetizing. “Shreds of aerated carrot sponge cake sit atop a squiggle of vanilla-scented cream cheese mousse and delicate carrot espuma, while touches of candied carrot zest and toasted coconut soil bring the flavor punch home.”

Now – I’m a bit of a common man so I like my carrot cake “assembled.” I don’t want to order my dessert from Ikea.

The idea of “deconstructed” cooking is pretty popular. And according to one of blogs I follow on behavioral economics, it’s starting to infiltrate how businesses are leveraging behavioral economics. And with that as a thought trigger, how I think it may be the root cause of poor employee engagement results.

Deconstruction In Business

I’ve pointed you to Bri and her great blog before – here’s the link to my post where I reference her. She is one of the few who bring the concepts of behavioral economics to a level we can all understand and apply. Her post on deconstructed desserts is what got me thinking about of “deconstruction” applied to employee engagement efforts. Her post on deconstruction and behavioral economics is here.

But here’s what I took away from her post…

Deconstructing something removes the connections between the elements and in many cases it also removes the “unseen” things that have impact. When you cook and follow a recipe – much of the real flavor is created when the ingredients are combined, mixed and blended. Separating them in some hipster deconstruction removes the essence of the dish and the impact it would have on your taste buds. As Bri points out in her post, it is the combined impact of many different behavioral nudges that drive behavior – not the single nudge by itself. To quote her directly:

“To be useful behavioural economics needs to evolve from a series of interesting anecdotes to a framework that can help analyse and resolve behavioural challenges.”

And employee engagement is EXACTLY the same thing.

We see a post that suggests foosball drives engagement – so we strive to create the best foosball-playing company in the neighborhood.

We read that happy hour on Fridays drives engagement – we then create the company with the highest cans of beer to employee ratio on the block.

We read in the lame-stream business press that holocracy doesn’t do crap but because it comes from zappos (drink – see above) we do it anyway.

Deconstructed Employee Engagement

We’ve deconstructed engagement and lost the impact.

To make engagement work it needs to be a mélange of efforts.

  • Some top-down.
  • Some bottom-up.
  • Some training.
  • Some communication.
  • Some measurement.
  • Some simply being present and connected as human beings.

Engagement is all about assembling a variety of things into a strategy with specific tactical elements.

Engagement is not a list of tactical elements looking for a strategy.

Think about it.

And then think about whether an apple pie would taste as good if you tried to each ingredient separately…

Award Winning Apple Pie Recipe


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup butter-flavored shortening
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Dash salt
  • 4-1/2 cups thinly sliced peeled tart apples
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 tablespoons butter

apple pie