Employee Engagement: It’s a leaky bucket, folks!

Another day, another bucket full of employee engagement articles, most of them woefully misguided and terribly confusing.

Employee engagement, put simply, is a state of mind in which employees deliver to their full potential because of an emotional and rational connection with the organisation they work for.

It is no more complicated than that.

It does not require dozens of definitions. It most certainly is not, as many commentators imply, a goal in and of itself.

Employee engagement is a means to an end and that end is the achievement of the objectives of the organisation.

Far too many people who should know so much better suggest that employee engagement can be achieved by a single initiative or requires complex behavioural science. No wonder the statistics have flat lined over the last decade while CEOs leave the room in search of the headache pills upon mention of the term.

Of course organisations can influence engagement levels and of course they should given engagement is an important enabler or driver of organisation performance. But it requires a systems approach to fix the leaky organisation bucket. Concentrate all efforts in one area only, promise what you can’t deliver and you’re likely to do more harm as the goodwill leaks out elsewhere at a rapid rate.

I’ve worked with dozens of organisations to bring about sustainable, positive change. I’ve seen examples of great initiatives that have created energy and focus. But this always fades away unless the people processes that drive the organisation development system are improved systematically. These include, but are not limited to:

  • culture management
  • leadership development
  • internal communication
  • recruitment
  • retention
  • succession management
  • performance management
  • training and development

The best organisations recognise that brand management involves collaborative partnerships between internal and external facing departments and they form alliances between hr, marketing and comms.

So do everyone a favour, unless you recognise that employee engagement is an enabler not an outcome and you’re prepared to address at least all of the above holes in your otherwise leaky OD bucket, then please drop the engagement word. You’re wasting your time, doing yourself and your organisation an injustice and giving the people disciplines a very bad name.

* Want to read more stories from the organisation development front line? Pick up a copy of Ian P Buckingham’s Brand Engagement- How employees make or break brands and Brand Champions – How Superheroes bring brands to life.

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