This post considers the implications of a June 2007 Conference Board Executive Action Series Report titled “Finding aDefinition of Employee Engagement”.
The report starts out almost humorously reporting board members concept of what engagement is:
- “whether your employees like you and whether they are going to quit”
- “has more to do with human needs like Maslow’s hierarchy”
- “I think it’s more about internal marketing (re.) values and mission of the company”
- “like commitment and employee satisfaction…only with emotions thrown in”
- “all about whether I have a best friend at work”
The Report suggests that there are three interplaying factors at work in employee engagement:
- cognitive commitment – how hard are you willing to work
- emotional attachment – like pride in the organization or personal relationships with co-workers or managers
- resulting behavioural outcomes – retention, willingness to expend discretionary effort on the job, etc.
When organizations use these interplaying factors to build their own definition of engagement they tend to emphasize specific behavioural outcomes over others. This is a critical step as what we de-mark tends to mean we reinforce some things to the comparative exclusion of others. Also, what is emphasized gets measured (again at the non-measurement of other things). Also the organization’s definition embodies a concept or theory of the underlying causes or drivers of engagement.
The report goes on to identify several drivers of engagement:
- trust and integrity – about the organization’s leadership
- nature of the work – is it sufficiently satisfying and stimulating
- line of sight between individual contributions and organizational performance
- career growth opportunities
- pride about the organization
- coworkers and team members relationships
- employee development – develop current role skills
- personal relationship with immediate manager
What’s my take?
Why is engagement important? Supposedly engagement has an operational and bottom line positive effect. I will accept and acknowledge that there is evidence to support this.
Is engagement a desirable blanket (covers everyone equally) feature? Does everyone need the same level of engagement in the organization? This article and others I have read seem to assume that this is so, mostly because they are silent about the question (don’t ask and hence don’t answer).
I would propose that there is no good reason to assume that everyone should have the same level of employee engagement in the organization. I would argue that depending upon the role performance requirements, we can discern the desirable level of commitment that should be present if we are to expect optimal results.
I will use a simple example:
- Clerk – role is primarily that of ensuring that a defined procedure and process is diligently followed.
- Negotiator – role is primarily one of ensuring that the organization achieves a suitable contractual outcome that balances the needs of both parties (I am assuming this is not a winner take all situation) that is sustainable over the life of the contract.
I would suggest that we do not need the same level (even driver types) of engagement in these two roles. Because of the impact on the bottom line of the negotiator’s efforts, I would suggest that we spend more effort in determining the “specifics of” and level of engagement in this role. Am I suggesting that no effort go into considering the engagement specifics and level of the clerical role – No! but if I have limited time or energy to engage (sic) in this determination, I would focus on the negotiator role.
I would suggest to clients that they work first on all the necessary and desirable attributes of critical roles performance including the type and level of employee engagement aspect.
I am always suspicious of generalized blanket approaches (actually outcomes) to doing talent management. I believe this is not good use of scarce time, energy and working capital. Furthermore, I believe the outcomes are irrelevant to both tails of the organization’s spectrum of roles: irrelevant to some because it is overkill; irrelevant to others as it misses the granular details to be helpful and necessary.
Applying blanket approaches/solutions (as opposed to a more nuanced and discriminating approach would be more profitable) increases the uncertainty and risk profile for the organization! Why? Because it masks these concerns because it offers false comfort.
Useful talent management is hard work. All leaders I have met are always overworked (too many things to pay attention too at any one time). I believe, that as talent management practitioners we owe it to these burdened clients that we use their time, efforts and knowledge skillfully and parsimoniously.