I just read another blog post tolling the death of employee engagement. Although I don’t agree that the concept is dead or we should move on I do agree that like with many other strategies in many cases we are seeing systemic failure between conceptualizing the strategy and its execution.
So I have a couple of premises that have worked for me in creating and sustaining engagement:
* Engagement is about alignment between individual goals, values, and interests and those of the organization. That requires that you build it into your recruitment, selection, and performance management processes. A semi- annual survey isn’t going to build it or sustain it.
* Engagement is indeed both systemic and strategic. It is fundamental to a culture and has to be built into the fabric of the organization. That means it doesn’t “live” in HR.
* Engagement requires interaction and that means that what we have tried to downplay as “soft skills” are critical.
As anybody who has had my speaking or writing inflicted on them knows I am a huge proponent of managing whole people, not just their traditional KSA’s or “knowledge, skills, and abilities”.
I had the opportunity recently to read what I found to be a brilliant roadmap for recognizing and addressing the delta between strategy and execution titled Close The Interaction Gap, written by Max Isaac and Anton McBurnie, principals in the international consulting firm of 3CirlePartners who describe the criticality of effective interaction and lay out a plan to implement it.
They talk about yet another kind of intelligence to the mix we talk about.
There is almost no one who is not familiar with the concept of IQ, or intelligence quotient which business and academia have long since adopted as being a measure of intelligence capacity. My experience and I am confident I am not alone, is that high IQ and strong leadership capabilities are not necessarily synonymous.
Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, pointed out that in his research there is no automatic correlation between intelligence and success.
The other intelligence we have begun to recognize plays a critical part in the success of leaders is emotional intelligence, probably made most famous by Daniel Goleman.
So we achieved a breakthrough, we recognize now that most highly effective leaders are not only intellectually smart they have empathy and get people.
Leaders who can’t play well with others are rarely highly successful.
We have all seen teams composed of brilliant people or brilliant athletes that for some reason don’t fulfill their potential. Isaac and McBurnie attribute at least some of this lost potential as interaction gap, a lack of alignment between individuals and teams.
Their premise and I agree is that every properly constructed team has the ability to significantly outperform individual efforts. Put simply “all of us are smarter than one of us”. So what gets in the way?
Their position would be the interaction gap, buying them tee shirts and hats and giving them a cool slogan doesn’t make a team….
Let’s face it since Frederick W. Taylor created the theory of scientific management we have not really valued interaction and interpersonal skills.
We do change to rather than with people. 
The legal infrastructure surrounding interactions between employers and employed are adversarial rather than collaborative and haven’t changed much in over eighty years….
We love processes. I am watching thousands of my former colleagues in human resources jump on the band wagon of six sigma and lean. I think both of those approaches have significant merit, but only done with rather than to people.
I remember years ago in graduate school when a major employer was presenting their total quality initiative. I asked them how they were including union leadership in the initiative and they looked at me like I had peed on their leg. They then frostily informed me that this was a management initiative and they didn’t need the union’s permission to interact with their employees.
Want to guess the end of that movie….?
There is no question that engaged organizations outperform their less aligned colleagues. The key is aligned.
Engagement is about shared norms, trust, values, and oh yeah effective interpersonal interactions involving things like setting expectations, giving and receiving feedback constructively and proactively, and resolving conflicts appropriately.
You also have to actually do the work. You can’t just talk about it; you actually have to role model the behavior.
It also works much better when you start from a foundation of trust and shared values and leadership understands that the first two levels of trust; deterrence or power and knowledge based or competence will not create or sustain an engaged environment. You have to do the work and get to the third level of identity based trust.
I respect you and I think you respect me. I feel valued and that my interests in alignment with the organization. If I become concerned about the alignment we can talk about it respectfully.
The only thing wrong with Employee Engagement is that many organizations are not approaching it appropriately. It is the classic gap between strategy and execution and in this case it can only be solved by closing the interaction gap and working with rather than doing to people…..


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