3 Misconceptions of Employee Engagement

July 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Leaders and Managers are often frustrated in their attempts to  improve employee engagement.  Even with  all our current efforts for improvement, according to Blessing and White’s 2011 Employee Engagement survey, the average organization stands at only 31%  engaged.  I believe much of the  frustration and poor performance stems from the misconceptions leaders have  about how to improve employee engagement.

Misconception #1 – Managers  are fully responsible

The first misconception is “managers are fully responsible for  engagement” of employees.  This is a  contradiction because employee engagement is, by definition, an emotional  response to the environment such that employees willingly exert greater  discretionary effort into their work.  Managers cannot create an internal emotional response.  Managers can only create a better environment.  The environment must offer a higher  probability of the engagement experience.  The major responsibility for employee engagement must therefore be  placed with the employee him/herself.
The employee must take advantage of the environment and all the elements  that create engagement.  Employee  engagement is a joint responsibility.

There are five key environmental elements for engagement.  They are: understanding and appreciating the overarching  purpose of the work, being able to make choices about how to do the work, being
challenged by the work, getting frequent feedback about the quality of the  work, and frequently seeing evidence of the progress made.

Misconception #2 – Extrinsic  motivators will do it

The second misconception is “employee engagement can be created  with extrinsic motivators.”  It  can’t.  Extrinsic activities or rewards  can enhance the engagement experience but they can’t create it.  Only the five intrinsic elements do.

In a recent online discussion with colleagues we were  brainstorming all the activities needed for an engaged team.  The list included almost exclusively  extrinsic motivators such as offering rewards, showing movies, holding blood  drives, and attending sporting events.  Although these can be fun and interesting activities, they are not  substitutes for the key elements of engagement mentioned earlier.  Engagement is a symptom of a great  environment.  This environment cannot be  created easily with extrinsic tricks.  It  requires sound theory and complete commitment to values.

Organizations with high quality products manage the variation  in their manufacturing processes.  Service companies that have high quality service manage the variation in  their service processes.  Every company  should have a method to manage the variation of the values behaviors in  organizations.  I am in favor of a  process I call “Fearless Feedback” which empowers everyone to provide respectful, frequent, and high quality feedback information about the quality  of behavior compared to a standard.   Bosses  get feedback from employees and peers provide feedback to peers.   When traveling in my car if I see a police  officer I slow down.  Everyone can, and  should be, a “values cop” helping to manage the variation.  Values behaviors drive all performance.  Buckminster Fuller once said, “Integrity is  the essence of everything successful.”  I believe we all need to help each other manage the level of integrity  in every interaction in order to boost performance.  We all need to be “values cops.”

Misconception #3 – The current  performance review process will help

The third misconception is “the current performance review  process is an effective tool for engagement.”  In fact, this outdated tool damages engagement.  The current command and control policies of
performance review and pay-for-performance make it impossible to have  predictable candor and trust.  Except in  small pockets where trust is exceptionally high the current review process causes fear and therefore damages engagement.  We need replace the damaging policies of the old industrial model which once  served us well but are hindrances now.

Leaders who are serious about creating employee engagement  must embrace different concepts to create that needed shift in organizational  environment.  Otherwise, frustration can  be a symptom of having these misconceptions.


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