Left and right brain, art and science, what about the other side of employee engagement?

There’s so much written about employee engagement at the moment, that I nearly didn’t write this article for fear of it getting lost in the abyss. All of the articles focus heavily on two things – the data and then the ‘initiatives’ an employer should deploy in an attempt to improve how employees are feeling. And why is that an issue? Because engagement is a relationship and we’re doing something in business that we wouldn’t apply to other relationships!

It’s hard to find an agreed upon definition for employee engagement, so for the purposes of this article I’d like us to agree the following:
     • Employee – a person/human being
     • Engagement – the act of engaging; to secure/involve

Put together we’re talking about involving people. There’s a useful metaphor here associated with friendships. Work with me for a minute – how many of you send your friends a survey of up to 100 questions to measure how well the relationship is going? No? But yet you know how well or not the friendship is going.

When you’re considering your friendships do you group them all together and create an average assessment of how the relationships are going? No, I suspect you’re likely to consider your friendships in really small groups or as individuals.

And, if you wanted to work on improving the relationship would you allow one party to take responsibility for designing and implementing initiatives or experiences? And if you do allow one party to take responsibility how does that make you feel?

When you’re investing in your friendships, do you just create an experience or idea that will cover all your friendships at once during that year?

So why do we do this in business? We seem to have looked at engagement from one angle – maybe a little simplistic, but we’ve got the left brain covered, but perhaps not the right. Back in 2012 I had the opportunity to visit eight vastly different organisations in California (from Google to Method) to explore what made them innovative. The golden thread was employee engagement. While all of them measured engagement in some way, when they talked about engagement levels it was a combination of leadership, collaboration and empowerment. What was interesting was none of these organisations shared their engagement results or talked statistics. They made it the role of every leader and employee to create and sustain how they felt and were involved in the organisation.

So, what can we do to improve relationships in business and hence improve engagement?
     1. Recognise we’re all responsible. Be responsible for creating great relationships across the organisation that impacts others engagement AND also take responsibility for your own engagement level. 

Einstein’s definition of insanity: ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’ is great here. If your engagement levels could be higher – do something different.

     2. Nurture and connect with others. Relationships don’t happen from behind an iPhone or through transactional work interactions. Get to know ‘who’ your colleagues are, and what’s important to them. If you find yourself in conflict with someone or are challenged by something, don’t brush it under the carpet, be brave and have the conversation that needs to be had.

Change your focus from what you get from the relationship to what you can give to make it more engaged.

     3. Reduce measurement and statistics of engagement. The danger is by doing the survey you’re removing responsibility from the survey responder. You’re sending an implicit message ‘you’ve told us your view, now we’ll respond’. Please, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely expect every business will want to measure engagement, and I’m not saying don’t, but like relationships outside of ‘work’ we don’t invest all our time in measurement, if any, so get the balance right.

     4. Make it ‘human’ and ‘real’. The times in my career when I’ve felt most engaged are not because the work was more interesting, the environment was amazing or corporate initiatives knocked my socks off. It was when I felt most connected to those around me.
     • That moment when someone more senior than me makes a point to thank me for something I’ve done
     • The phone call from a colleague who heard my son was in hospital and they wanted to support me
     • The team experience where you really felt connected to those around you in a way you’d not experienced before.

What one thing could you do today that would make it more real and human for those around you?

So lets change the focus of employee engagement from just measurement and initiatives, to investing in relationships and connecting with those around us. It’s everyone’s responsibility, and we know we can do it as we have evidence all around us that we can. Let’s stop treating engagement and relationships differently when we walk through that ‘metaphorical work door’ in the morning.

You can find Emma tweeting @ValueshipC and visit her online at www.valueship.co.uk

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