What is Engagement, Really?

Several years ago, I received an email from a senior leader that read something like:

“What is all this about engagement? Is this your department’s new buzz word to replace empowerment? In 40 words or less, tell me what this is.”

I was happy to respond. It was a candid, fair request. I also had a great relationship with the leader. I knew that this was a transparent question. He knew that if I didn’t have a legitimate response, I would candidly tell him it was empty talk. I’m sure others questioned in the same way, but acted like they understood and that they were in full support. These are the ones that make it difficult to be successful, not the leaders that demand that we make it plain.

Engagement is not empty words. There are real benefit – personal, organizational, even societal (See this article by Gallup Workers in Bad Jobs Have Worse Wellbeing Than Jobless).

Think of the best person you’ve ever worked with. The person whose contribution was so impacting and valuable that they top your list.

Think of your own Personal Bests – a time when you were at your peak performance making a motivating and meaningful contribution.

Simpler…think of the last film or activity where you lost track of space and time because you were locked in – a state of flow.

What words would you use to describe these states? What are the benefits of bringing more of this to the workplace?

I responded: “Challenge accepted! Employee engagement is a condition that yields higher levels of Organizational Citizenship Behaviors – discretionary effort that cannot be achieved through punishment or reward, and improved intent to stay. Let’s discuss in our 1:1 Thursday. Do I get bonus points for the hundred-dollar words?”

His response: “Thanks. I don’t give points for big words. Next challenge will have a character count instead of word count.”

Engagement isn’t visible, but it’s effects are:

  • higher productivity through increased discretionary effort
  • affinity to the organization
  • intent to stay / retention
  • greater contribution
  • increased innovation

An individual’s level of engagement is the extent they are emotionally invested in their work, team and organization. It influences our behavior similar to a belief or value. Through it we experience, interpret, decide and act.

Most research and change initiatives are centered around measuring the level of engagement and engagement drivers that cause these desired effects. There are many companies working to help organizations in this way. Comparing their studies and tools reveals agreement on key drivers:

  • Trust in leaders – confidence x competence x commitment of managers
  • Relationship with manager – I have a relationship and personal connection to my manager
  • The work itself – work is stimulating and meaningful
  • Knows outcomes – line of sight how what I do contributes to performance
  • Leverages strengths – I’m able to contribute what I am best at
  • Learning and personal growth – I learn and become more effective and valuable
  • Team pride – I’m a member of a strong team
  • Recognition – recognition is fair and consistent in appreciation of high performance

Related Post:

There’s No Such Thing as a Great Company

Personal Best Performance: Learning from Your Successes

Personal Best Concept
Personal Best Concept

I love to succeed. I love to do things that I’m good at for as many people as possible, providing me plenty of examples (or evidence) that I am successful and high levels of esteem are justified and secure. Building this self-efficacy is both important and constructive to motivation. Individual satisfaction and meaning occur when we are contributing Personal Best Performances.

Applying the Hedgehog Concept (Jim Collins, 2001) to our individual careers yields higher performance and more Personal Bests.

A Personal Best has 3 components:

  1. Talent – what you are good (even great) at.
  2. Passion – what you like and want to contribute; what you want to be good at.
  3. Organizational Value – the contribution needed or opportunity to create value.

I have developed a tool for helping clients identify Personal Bests. I have used this approach with a broad group of customers with favorable results. If you’re a consultant, helping a client through this self-discovery process is impacting. In my experience, clients have valued the exercise and some have used the process with those that they lead. If you’re a leader, using this process with your team members is an effective way to support their development and build a stronger relationship, both supporting higher levels of engagement.

Personal Best Interview

Purpose: The purpose of the Personal Best Interview is to guide your thinking about personal development to help you make your greatest contributions through efforts that are personally meaningful and satisfying.

Directions: Answer the questions below to help you identify high-impact development goals for your personal development and to prepare for development discussions with your Manager, mentor or other coaching resource.

Personal Best Examples: Describe 2 – 3 examples of experiences when you felt most enthusiastic and positive about your work.

For each Personal Best Example above, what about that experience made it such a positive and motivating experience for you?

What are your talents (those things you’re good at and can constructively apply at work)?

What are you passionate about (Those things you are motivated and enthused to do at work)?

What contribution can you make to the organization leveraging your talents in an area of passion?

What do you not want to do? (What would you like to avoid doing? (e.g., relocating, shift changes, roles)

What are your career goals and plans? Do they position you to contribute more personal bests?

Short-Term:

Long-Term:

What do you need to learn, become more skilled at, and experience to make your best contribution to the company and achieve your goals?

  • Focus on WHAT to develop or change rather than HOW at first.
    •  Example – “develop the ability to develop and communicate strategic plans to align your team and achieve objectives” rather than “complete strategic thinking training.”

What barriers or development needs could keep you from making your best contribution and achieving your goals?