Who Own Your Engagement?


Employee engagement is a frequently discussed topic at organizational forums and like a hot potato the ownership seemed to oscillate between a reluctant group of people including human resources, communication teams and company leadership. I have also discovered new, improved designations of professionals in various capacities carrying the ‘engagement’ tag!

At a recent Communicators in IT (COMMIT) meeting I heard a fresh perspective from a member on the flawed approach of owning someone else’s engagement.

Employees join organizations after deliberating on many aspects such as company profile, long term career aspirations, growth, opportunities and salaries. Quite like boarding a bus – you know where the bus is heading before you get on, while it may not matter who is driving the vehicle. After you get on board they can choose to play the various roles in the vehicle or remain a spectator and enjoy the view outside. If the journey or the destination doesn’t appeal they can opt to hop off and take another bus.  This sounds clinical but it is the honest truth. As long as the employee adds value the organizations considers you important. So it is the onus of the employee to know what expertise will make the most sense for the organization to achieve its goals.

Highway blur

Employees join since they are excited what the organization is doing and where it plans to go in the future.  Therefore it seems strange that after they join the organizations the same employees over time feel disconnected and want someone to keep them motivated and engaged.

When I reflected on it further it dawned on me that we were really sending varied messages to employees who join organizations.

For example, when we advertise for openings aren’t we clearly asking for ‘self-motivated’, ‘driven’, ‘go-getting’, and ‘committed’ individuals? However when the on-boarding process begins the organization goes to extremes to ensure the new hires feel that the organization wants them more instead of it being a mutual expectation.

As they continue their journey some employees are coaxed and cajoled since the organizations view them as ‘indispensable’ claiming ownership of their engagement. Surveys and organizational health checks are run to gauge how employees feel and what their ‘pulse’ says.

I believe this is where we lose the plot.  

In Guru Speak (Corporate Dossier -May 20, 2011) Prof. Srikumar Rao talks of why ‘it isn’t the function of the manager to motivate employees’ but their role of ‘finding out what demoralizes them and systematically getting rid of it’.

He goes on to explain that ‘human beings are inherently motivated. Think of your first day at a new job. Did you start expecting to be bored and disgruntled and reduced to clock watching Oh,no! You were excited and thrilled and ready to set the world on fire.”

Therefore when do we go wrong?

To me it seems the issues crop up at different levels.

Usually the processes for various elements of the employee life cycle such as hiring, on-boarding, integration, learning, development, assessments and coaching are handled by varied teams who may be unaware of the other pieces of the puzzle. Therefore without a consistent message the experience suffers.

In a bid to retain talent managers usually go overboard and offer sops thinking that losing an employee means additional work to get a new one on board. This leads to a perception among the rest that to be ‘valued’ you can put up your price. This is where the engagement ownership passes on to the organization. Managers need to be held accountable for having regular conversations with teams explaining consistently how their work syncs with where the organization is steering.

Leaders often fail to help employees know where the business is heading and connect the dots to each employee’s contribution to the overall journey. Quite like the bus analogy the employee begins to feel like a passenger and not a fellow traveler.

Organizations rarely tell employees to own their engagement and that the role of the manager is only to facilitate their progress and growth. Again, growth is owned by the individual and unless they know which path to take they will never get there.

So the next time the engagement discussion goes into a tailspin know that you are probably holding on to something which belongs elsewhere.

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One thought on “Who Own Your Engagement?

  1. Great post. I think that the mistake that managers often make is to assume that engagement remains the same over time. It doesn’t – people will naturally go through periods where, for professional reasons or personal reasons, they get more excited about work, or maybe they are less engaged for awhile due to other things going on in their life. We can’t control all those factors. I love the point you passed on from Prof. Rao, that managers need to focus on removing demoralizing factors. Dead right, and a very practical suggestion.

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