Engagement cannot be directed or commanded, but it can be nurtured. Favorable conditions can be created for it to flourish, much as favorable conditions usually induce plants to grow and flourish.
This is part 7 of a 7-part article series titled "Forget Motivation: It's Time to Engage".
Engagement cannot be directed or commanded, but it can be nurtured. And the new tools and practices of social learning provide fertile ground for it to flourish. The rich interaction and participation of Facebook and YouTube and wikis invite self-selected participation and the pursuit of personal and group interests. Control is out of the question, but there are no limits on imagination and innovation. And the scope of projects such as Linux and Wikipedia can only be understood in terms of engagement; no amount of “motivation” could produce such sustained activity.
A number of writers, theorists, and consultants offer tools, processes and methods to increase employee engagement. These offerings are directed to managers and leaders of corporations to enhance productivity. These often are supported by extensive data, as we see with the Gallup organization’s reports on improved financial performance combined with proposals that their consultants and approach can make it happen for the prospective client. Several consultants and consulting firms utilize similar techniques, including retired professor Kenneth Thomas, who approaches the matter through an “intrinsic motivation” rubric, and Princeton’s Paul Marciano, who offers a “respect” motif to improve employee “empowerment.” These approaches tend to be tested and sophisticated methods and will produce results in many situations.
The caveat here is that all these endeavors offer a top-down effort to assure a positive specified outcome. Since costs are involved, there is attention to providing measurable results in reasonable time to justify those costs. Philosophically, this approach falls back into the command and control assumptions of most businesses today; it falls into the same trap as does the “rewards” approach critiqued earlier in this discussion. The desire to follow this path is entirely understandable but may not achieve the ultimate purpose of engagement. Recall that engagement begins with individual choice and is characterized by learning and involvement. This is counter-intuitive for many but essential for genuine engagement. So, what can be done?
Consider a tool by which the individual measures their own engagement in their present position. If they find the information helpful, they can bring the issue to the attention of their boss or leader. A consultant could be employed, starting from the awareness that employees of that organization feel there is an issue that can be improved for the well being of the company. This changes the context of the effort from a top-down to a mutual leadership-grass roots endeavor more likely to produce a lasting change in the organization’s culture. This in itself would hint at the value of continuing the exercise.
Which brings me to the point of all this: I offer a preview Employee Engagement Self-Profile survey free to individuals, for their information and use. I urge the taker to go with their first instinct and not over-think the question. Any information you provide will be held in total confidence and not shared.