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Rethinking Engagement for the Next Generation Workforce

Having spent many years in the HR and Culture space, I’ve experienced one critical concept that unfortunately has a variety of meanings based on who you are talking to at the time.  That concept is the one of “employee engagement.”  From my estimation, it has been a rapidly moving, evolving, twisting and turning target over the past 20 years. 

I’ve found that most business leaders have the opinion or perception that engagement is simply “employee happiness.”  Meaning that if their employees are happy then they must care about their jobs and are, duh, therefore “engaged.”  If only that were the case, it would be so easy to get an engaged workforce.  Unfortunately, it’s not and I can certainly speak from experience that I have known many (too many) “happy” employees who could have cared less about what the company was trying to accomplish.  This misconception happens often in retail, where it can be a struggle to get corporate office employees to understand and empathize with what is going on in the stores. 

Despite, or maybe because of, this commonly mis-held belief by many business leaders, there are numerous human resource industry attempts to provide clarification around what engagement really means.  The most commonly referenced “authority” on engagement is the definition provided by Gallup, thanks in large part to their annual survey.  Even so, their definition has been an evolution with the latest version providing, “engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” 

If you just search Google, the top result for “employee engagement definition” is, “the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.”  And lastly, Deloitte defines employee engagement as “an employee’s job satisfaction, loyalty, and inclination to expend discretionary effort toward organizational goals.”  They go on to describe its benefits as, “it predicts individual performance and drives business outcomes.” 

How Our Definition is Different:

All of the above-mentioned definitions are great, but we believe they touch on the core concept of engagement from a classical view of the workforce.  We tend to view things from a future perspective.  We are obsessed with the evolution of organizations that will need to take place in order to be relevant to the next generation worker.  When it comes to engagement as a concept, we are certain that those organizations are going to have to make a much more significant effort. 

Our “Engagement Confirmation Model” has several layers which are dependent on each other, but ultimately it comes down to the core concept of belief in purpose.  This concept comes from years of experience observing and facilitating belief as a critical component to a business model for a very large and diverse organization.  Our employees had to believe in what they were doing because it was hard work and it was not easily understood. 

It looks something like this: 

a)    Employees understand the Purpose of the organization (why it exists);

b)    Employees relate to that Purpose, and believe that it’s worthy of their valuable time;

c)     The organization clearly communicates how the Mission (the goal) relates to the Purpose;

d)    Employees thus understand how what they do every day is connected to impacting that Mission; and

e)    Most importantly, they are inspired to spend their valuable time attempting to impact that Mission, which in turn effects the purpose. 

We have a formula that summarizes it:

Belief + Desire = Intention + Action

If any one of these components are missing, then engagement fails.  You see, it’s the idea that an employee must want to spend their time, their most valuable commodity, helping your organization achieve its goal and purpose, that ultimately matters.  Truly engaged employees are not motivated by money, fear, or obligation.  Instead, they are motivated by belief and inspired by camaraderie and trust.   If the employee doesn’t have that desire fueled by belief, then they will never intend to act with conviction.

Sound impossible?  It’s not. I’ve been fortunate to be part of and lead teams that think this way.  An engaged workforce is entirely possible; even in large enterprise.  And when you achieve true engagement, great things start happening.  You start creating a culture that builds on itself.  People start sharing stories of success, customers start to regard you as something more than a service or product, and real relationships start to flourish.  And that’s what everyone needs today and in the future to remain relevant. 

Chad StricklandComment