Holiday leadership learnings – engagement

IMG-20130611-02123Next in this series on holiday learnings, I like to take you to Beijing, the capital of crowded loneliness. If you ever want the experience to be surrounded by thousands of similar species of mankind but though have the feeling of being the only human being on this planet; then go to Guomao metro station in Beijing. I was absolutely un-engaged with any of my colleague travellers; same for them. I was there and they were there but ‘we’ were not there. It must be here where the term crowded loneliness got invented. And soon it spread all over the world. To London Paddington, to Atlanta airport, to Times Square and to Galeries Lafayette at Christmas time.

It may even have crept in your business! Has it? You may not be sure it has. And as a leader you want facts and certainty. Thus you throw an engagement survey on your staff because that’s what you heard about at a conference where a bizarre speaker took the risk to talk about ‘feelings’ in business.

I have an outspoken view on engagement surveys; not on engagement as such. I even strongly agree that there is a correlation between high engagement and bottom-line company results. No doubt on that. But on the survey tool? If you need a survey to know if your employees are engaged, then you –the leader- are not engaging.

For engagement-guru Kevin Kruse, employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company. They don’t work just for a paycheck, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals.

With the words ‘emotional’ and ‘care’ in this definition, we clearly talk about feelings. Is it wrong to believe that feelings should be ‘felt’? Do we need a survey for that? Of course with survey results you can benchmark; and the figures-hungry CEO can then add, subtract, multiply and search for a good progression indicator to be put in the annual social report. But what does it mean if Marketing scores 3% less than Corporate Finance? And the German subsidiary 6% more than the one in Brazil? And what does it mean if your company does overall 4% better than your competitor? And what does it bring to discuss these figures in the executive team?

Again, the value of employee engagement is unquestionable; but mathematizing it may not be the best tool to enhance it. OK, I am ready for the criticism from those leaders coming up with the old statement: ‘if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it’. Here is my reply –well not mine but from Mr. Einstein himself: ‘Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted’.

So back to basics then. Instead of wasting time in the boardroom by evaluating the survey results, what if we just were to talk and listen to our people? The system of Management By Walking Around (MBWA) was very popular in the 80’s, but got replaced by management by emails, memos and Powerpoint presentations on benchmarked survey results. So, don’t be surprised if some of your employees have a feeling of crowded loneliness. Bring MBWA back into your leadership style and daily routine; and you’ll meet a more engaged and productive team. On top of that, you’ll be getting real-time data on how people feel now; not on how they felt 10 months ago. No need to say feelings can have a very short shelf-life.

Finally, back to figures. Many engagement surveys also check on the degree of employee’s satisfaction re pay levels. Of course we need to pay them more. More attention. 🙂

Picture credits: own picture 
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6 Responses to Holiday leadership learnings – engagement

  1. Hi Herwig… thanks for sending this to me @socialworkplace on Twitter. Good article! While I don’t believe employee surveys are an engagement solution, I DO believe they are necessary to measure employee sentiment — how much employees FEEL that the company CARES for them. Collecting this data allows the organization to more judiciously implement social engagement tools that really address the concerns raised and amplifies that all important voice of the employee.

  2. Dave says:

    Elizabeth …. how about just walking around a bit and maybe talk to people. You frighten me with your perspective that “survey data helps with the judicious implementation of engagement tools” – listen to what people say, the tone they use and their body language .. gestures etc. …. usually more important that the actual words used.

    • socialworkplace says:

      Dave.. sorry to respond almost a year later…walking around only works if all your employees are in the same physical space. What about your employees around the globe? Your point is well taken but a walkabout is only one aspect. The data collected from surveys always an organization to develop a measurable action plan.

  3. peter woods says:

    So true! Its not about the figures but all on feelings.

  4. drew says:

    I am the employee who has been given too many surveys.
    God bless you.

  5. socialworkplace says:

    Dave.. sorry to respond almost a year later. Your point is well taken but not always achievable when a company has 180,000 employees around the globe. Employee surveys allow a company to create measurable action plan that should be used in conjunction with getting up and walking around.

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