3 Things Leaders Can Learn About Engagement from the Constitution

July 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

There is an interesting alignment between the elements of an engaged workplace and the environment created by the Constitution of the United State of America.  Leaders could learn from this alignment.  Furthermore, organizations could benefit from significantly from adopting and implementing these key elements.  This significant improvement will manifest in not just increases in engagement but will also boost
profit, productivity, quality, knowledge accumulation, and an overall competitive advantage.

The inalienable rights specified in the Constitution are: Life; Liberty; and the Pursuit of Happiness.   The elements of an engaged workplace include: understanding the larger purpose the work serves; being challenged; having the freedom to make choices that can impact work tasks; receiving and giving feedback; seeing progress.  Although the words are different, the concepts are aligned.

The industrial age warped our thinking.  Industrial age thinking subverts the importance of the minds of workers and puts management on top.   In the industrial age, employees don’t need their brains if the one best method or action has already been identified by management.  They merely need to be controlled to perform the tasks the way management designed them.  This way of thinking was inconsistent with the key elements of the Constitution and yet it accelerated the productivity of workers who tended to be less educated.    It also decelerated the
full engagement of those same workers.

The Element of Life

The Constitution was referring to reverence of actual life.  In an organization this key element can instead represent the dignity of the  individual or “being treated with respect always.”  Protecting the dignity of the individual and their life experience is a critical element of
engagement.  Often, organizations play lip service to respect.   They can’t play lip service to respect and expect to create engagement.

The Element of Liberty

Individual liberties in the Constitution include freedom of speech, to assemble, to practice religion, to enjoy privacy, and others.  Furthermore, Government is limited by the Constitution and the people are given the power.   Organizations don’t always follow these elements.   Freedom of speech, for example, may need to be limited.  It may not always be totally appropriate to be able to say anything you want when you want it.  Some information is confidential and some is private.   On the other hand, full authenticity and full openness is critical for engagement.
People must feel as if they can speak up when necessary.  Openness and engagement will increase together.  They are interdependent.

Having the freedom to offer ideas that will become part of the culture, strategy, and/or policy of the organization is another freedom that
impacts engagement.   Organizations that provide opportunities for employees to contribute toward the factors that impact their
environment will improve their engagement.

The Element of Pursuing Happiness

In the Constitution this element originally referred to rights to own private property.  In an organization, property rights and happiness rights can refer to having choices and control over one’s actions.  It can refer to personal responsibility and choosing to take action to improve work.

This element of the Constitution also aligns perfectly with those engagement elements that enable a worker to optimize learning.   These include the understanding of the higher purpose served by the organization and the work the employee performs, ability to choose responsibilities that are challenging, the ability to choose actions that can improve those responsibilities, and the ability to give and receive

Learning is a key factor that can create happiness for employees.  When the key elements of learning are optimized, engagement improves. When engagement improves happiness improves.  Pursuing knowledge in an organization is aligned with pursuing happiness in our economy.

The Constitution can teach us all about how to create engagement.  We moved away from the key inalienable rights, during the Industrial Revolution, in both our schools and our organizations.  We did so with the best of intentions.  This must change now because we need engagement more than ever to remain competitive in the global economy.  It is time leaders revisited how to manifest these rights in their organizations.


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