Employee Engagement: Lets Stop Making It So “Touchy-Feely”!

I’ve been reading a lot lately about employee engagement as I get ready to write a new book on the subject. While there is a lot of great material out there, it seems to me there is also a focus on something which is not useful to this field: a tendency to make it a “touchy-feely” subject instead of a solid, data driven business essential. A lot of the reason for this is the fact that many practitioners who now work in this exploding field have backgrounds exclusively in the social sciences such as psychology or sociology, or they are communications specialists. Many have no direct business training and/or experience, and as a result their career paths and knowledge are very different from those in top management at most of our organizations.

The net result of this is a one sided approach to engagement which, while it emphasizes the human elements which are certainly there, neglects the fundamental reasons why anyone in top management would bother to move towards a more engaged workforce.

I’m talking about approaches which refer to engagement requiring “authenticity”, “compassion” and so on. I am as in favor of these things as anyone else, but if I am a tough CEO at the head of a company I need a lot more than this to go ahead with the steps necessary to maximize the engagement of my workforce. In the words of the political slogan from a past US election: “where’s the beef?” The beef is there of course, and its good stuff: worker engagement and its cousin high morale drive performance. Now that is something a CEO can get her teeth into.

Organizations of any kind, from a police force to a hospital or a mining company, exist to achieve a mission. Just as if you wanted to run the London Marathon, you would need to be in shape to do so, and engagement is a big part of the “shape” your organization is in. A great strategy is useless unless your culture is lined up and your workforce ready and willing to make it happen. Engagement is nothing less than mission critical. It’s not a nice, flowery “add on”, its something which one needs to focus on from Monday at 7am all week long, from the C suite to the shop floor to the home offices of the mobile-connected workers. In this hyper-competitive world where competitive advantage can be wiped out by a sudden shift in technology (ask the makers of CDs) and by ultra-low developing-country wages, engagement of one’s workforce provides an edge, something which organizations can leverage as they fight to survive and thrive. There’s nothing “touchy-feely” about this!

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