The Employee Engagement Crisis

The statistics are shocking. Even good employees are dissatisfied and disengaged.  Organizations of all sizes and sectors recognize the problem.  The real problem, though, is that they don’t know what to do about it.  Surveys, rewards and recognition programs, gap analysis, and strategic plans uncover the deep discontent, but in most cases they do little to shift the pattern.  What will work?  What will rekindle the loyalty and commitment of today’s diverse and plugged-in workforce?

At risk of making it sound easier than it is, we have a simple solution to the challenges of employee engagement.

Engage your employees. 

Employee EngagementYes, it is that simple, but it isn’t easy because:

  • The systemic pattern of engagement emerges from individual choices under local conditions. One time, one place, one opportunity for engagement. 
  • Every person in authority all across the organization must be conscious of his or her influence over others and use that influence carefully and for the good of the whole.
  • Single solutions, no matter how promising, cannot be replicated across the organization.  Every act of engagement is a unique and creative connection in the moment. 
  • Stories of solid and productive engagement generate more productive engagement.  When the pattern is recognized and the story retold, engagement is more likely to be recreated in other places and times. 
  • Engagement must be woven into the work.  It cannot be an add-on policy or program.  The work itself and the relationships that support the work have to feed the deep and diverse needs of individuals for success and recognition. 

We have found that two fundamental HSD principles set conditions for a culture of engagement:

Seeing Patterns (similarities, differences, and connections that have meaning across space and time).  Engagement is a pattern, so it can be understood in terms of relevant differences, similarities, and connections. While the similarities and differences among employees may be beyond the control of individual leaders, the connections that complete the patterns are not.  When a leader sees a potential disengagement, he or she can focus on designing connections that provide sufficient direction AND sufficient freedom to inspire and engage staff.   

Adaptive Action (What? So what? Now what?).  When leaders across the organization practice Adaptive Action, they see patterns of engagement or disengagement whenever and wherever they emerge.  Seeing the patterns (What?), understanding them (So What?), and taking action (Now what?) in the moment are the core capacities of Adaptive Action.  Often leaders jump from What? are the patterns, to Now What? do we do – missing the step of making meaning from what they see in the patterns. Or, they get stuck in analyzing the patterns, and thus in So What? When engagement is created at every interaction, then the pattern of systemic disengagement will shift.   

So, like many of the most sticky issues of our times, employee engagement requires the simple, complex approach of Adaptive Action.  For details about how you can see, understand, and influence patterns of employee engagement, visit the archive of the February 6, 2014 Live Virtual Workshop:  Employee Engagement: Designing Exchanges. Let us know how it works for you!

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