Employee Engagement Is Out and “Self-Propelled Employees” Is In!

May 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

I have been researching and writing about employee engagement for years now.  I am starting to wonder if it is not the ideal.  Employee engagement may not be the highest form of productivity.  Self-propelled employees may be even better.  Let me explain.

Employee engagement is a heightened emotional connection that employees feel such that they are willing to exert greater discretionary effort.   This definition comes from the Conference Board.   I believe it captures the concept of high productivity.   People who voluntarily give more to the job are a fantastic indicator of leadership and management excellence.  I am wondering if there might be an even higher level.   Employee engagement still requires a high level of management involvement. To have self-propelled employees suggests an even higher level of freedom and a higher quality of leadership.

There are five key characteristics of an engaging environment.   These include:

  1. Having a sense of purpose greater than oneself
  2. The opportunity to focus psychic energy
  3. The autonomy to make important choices (freedom of choice) that will create a sense of freedom
  4. A balance between the skills needed to perform a task and the challenge the task is offering.  The better balanced these two factors are the better the performance will be
  5. A sense of progress created with specific data feedback

Leaders who can create an environment that delivers all five of these elements will create an engaged workforce.

In most organizations the feedback given is often delivered by management.  It is often delivered in the form of regular interactions between the employee and his/her manager.  I suddenly realized employees that create their own feedback are actually freer and more productive. 

What if employees could give each other feedback without depending on managers?  What if employees could collect data from their own processes?  Imagine an environment where employees had total permission to interact with each other when they needed feedback.  Imagine cooperation between employees to improve both their personal interactions and their process interactions.  Imagine employees propelling their own improvement efforts.  Imagine fearless feedback that doesn’t require management.  Let’s take a real life example. 

Imagine a restaurant.  The employees want to improve service to customers while reducing their own wasted time.   The employees create a check list for an “optimum dining experience.”   Everything that would create an optimum experience for customers, for “front of the house” (waiters, waitresses, and hostesses) staff and for “back of the house” (kitchen) are listed on the check list.  In other words, all stakeholders must have an optimum experience and that experience is defined by the items on the list.  The ideal dining experience will equal all of the items for all three stakeholders are experienced during the meal.   

After each meal, the staff reviews the check list to see which items occurred.  They keep the data.  After a month they meet to review any and all those items that have been missing.  They work as a team to identify changes to the process that will improve the probability of creating those experiences in the future meals.  Decisions are made as a team to change processes and behaviors to change the experiences.  Everyone contributes to the improvement effort.  Everyone has a say.  Everyone has the chance to offer ideas. 

Management is not needed for the feedback.  Employees now have their own freedom of action and their own method of feedback.  Management is needed to set it up.  They are Management is needed to create the sense of purpose, the opportunity to focus attention, and the opportunity to make choices for improvement.  But, employees have their own process to give each other feedback.  They are self-propelled.  Manager dependent feedback is now unnecessary.

In summary, employee engagement is a high level of productivity and it is something to shoot for.  There is a higher level.  Self-propelled employees are the ideal.

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