The Employee Engagement alarm bells are ringing…

Can you hear them?

If we want to take employee engagement seriously, and really make a difference, we need to fundamentally look at how our businesses are organised.

Earlier this week I read “Employee engagement specialists disengaged”.

A survey of over 500 Internal Communications professionals has identified a potentially hazardous lack of engagement

I am not surprised.

I am not surprised because I think there is a real lack of understanding around engagement, whose responsibility it is, and how it can be achieved.

If you were an internal comms and engagement manager and were told it was your sole responsibility to ensure that all employees were engaged, I think deep down you’d be pretty depressed about that.

Unless of course you had the autonomy to put engagement at the core of the business strategy, and redesign the organisation so it could be set up to enable engagement.


Ok, so you’re pretty depressed…

Pretty depressed as the business you are in doesn’t really understand the whole engagement picture?

Pretty depressed because it’s likely the way your business operates makes real engagement an unachievable goal. A goal that you are probably being measured against.

Lucky for you, the way engagement is measured probably sucks too, so that might work in your favour.

It doesn’t really seem fair that you have to turn up to work each day with the best of intentions knowing that it’s almost impossible to achieve what’s being asked of you.

It’s likely you do not have the power, autonomy or influence to change the way the whole business works together and functions.

If you do, great! Please share that business model with the world. Lead by example.

However, it’s likely, in the way most business are structured today, that the person employed to be ‘responsible’ for engagement doesn’t choose the strategy or set the culture that creates the right environment for engagement.


You could have a good go at influencing the changes required. You might even make some real progress.

But you will still be measured by that engagement score.

And that will hang over your head like a carrot dangling from a stick, as you wonder whether you will get your bonus this year.


So when somebody says: “It’s shocking to note that so many of the professionals who are ultimately responsible for engaging the workforce on behalf of the company are themselves seemingly disengaged.”

It might set some alarm bells ringing.

The reason I find the result of that survey alarming is because it indicates that we are not setting our Internal Comms and engagement professionals up for success.

And it shows.

We fundamentally need to change the way businesses operate to achieve real engagement.

Engagement is driven and influenced by so many factors. Factors that sit right at the core of everything a business says and does.

I’m sure many of you will have seen the famous Engage for Success engagement model, which outlines the four enablers of engagement:

This is a good guide.

It goes to show that you need strong strategic narrative, engaging managers, employee voice and organisational integrity to achieve engagement.

Sadly it is often the integrity that lets businesses down.

Say one thing, do another? People don’t believe you anymore…

Without trust, there is no chance for full engagement.


We need to get real about engagement.

We need to be able to create the conditions for people to do their best work.

You alone might find that a hard task. But together, we could really make a difference.

Think about the ingredients of genuine motivation: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose (according to Author, Daniel H Pink).

If you are a business leader, an engagement specialist, communications professional, HR or Organisational Development expert I urge you to read Daniel H Pink’s book:

“Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us”

His words are backed up in science, psychology, and real life examples and could serve as a guide for all businesses.

He points out that there is “an alarming gap between what science knows and business does

He says what many of us have either known or suspected, but have not been able to prove quite like Pink does.

Pink talks about: “our deep seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities and to live a life of purpose.

That’s what people want.

They don’t want to be controlled, ‘managed’, or stifled. And they want a great reason to get up each day and make a contribution to the world. Not to feel like they are selling their soul for a pay cheque.

Pink is suggesting that we need to craft a new operating system for businesses.

The old way just isn’t fit for purpose in today’s world, if you want motivated, engaged people, doing the best job they can do.

“When it comes to motivation, there is a gap between what science knows and what business does. Our current business operating system – which is built around external, carrot-and-stick motivators –doesn’t work and often does harm. We need an upgrade. And the science shows the way. This new approach has three essential elements: 1) Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives; 2) Mastery – the urge to get better and better at something that matters; and 3) Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves” Daniel H Pink, Drive.

If together, as people who care about engagement, we could go some way to introducing Pink’s Motivation 3.0 upgrade we would make the business and the world a better place.

Who doesn’t love that as a motivator?

Deloitte have gone some way to incorporate Pink’s findings in to their refreshed model for engagement.

Their 2015 report “Becoming irresistible” tries to move the engagement model on with five elements that drive engagement.

It is a great report.


Their model puts engagement at the core of a business strategy.

The five elements: Meaningful work (which includes autonomy); Hands-on Management (includes coaching and transparent goals); Positive work environment; Growth opportunity; Trust in Leadership; need to be at the heart of the way you do business to have the required impact on engagement.

employee engagement, autonomy

Just for a moment, imagine a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE).

These exist, you know.

*Cue a little sweat dripping off the furrowed brow of a traditional business leader*

The ROWE business model is built on trusting people to get their work done. There are no schedules, people show up when they want.

How they do their work, where they do their work, when they do their work is up to them. They just have to get it done in line with the overarching goal, purpose and context that has been set.

And it works brilliantly.

I know this model won’t suit all businesses, but we can learn some lessons from it.

My view has always been that people come to work to do a great job. Nobody turns up to work with the real intention to completely suck at it. (Unless some external factor has disengaged them so badly that this is now their purpose!)

People want to be engaged. It is a human need to feel a sense of belonging and connection.

We just need to create the right environment for people to flourish.

How do we do that?

Here’s my top ten.

  1. We set a clear purpose: Why we are here, what we are all about, what we care about and believe in. We inspire.
  2. We demonstrate our ‘why’ in how we do business, it becomes our culture.
  3. We live our values; there is no gap between what we say and what we do.
  4. We recruit people who buy in to our purpose. They care about it.
  5. We support them.
  6. We set clear goals. Then we give people the autonomy to do their job, their way (from where suits best).
  7. We are transparent and honest. Seriously, we actually tell the truth.
  8. We offer opportunities for learning and growth. We allow a percentage of time just for this.
  9. We listen. We communicate. We share. We feedback. We improve as we learn.
  10. We naturally recognise great work. Not forced.

So you can see the engagement professional has quite a task on their hands to be ‘responsible’ for all of this.

But together, with the best of intentions, we can make this happen.

Let’s stop stifling people. Let them flourish.

Let’s create an environment and culture that has all the right conditions for people to do their best work, to be engaged, to be happy in their work.

Together we could make the world a better place.
All the best


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