Are you engaged ?

The most abused word after “leader” in the corporate world is “engagement”. Every team, every firm, every manager is tasked with it and elaborate plans are made each year to get colleagues engaged because all studies by every known, unknown expert says engaged employees are the most productive. And that is the truth.

What is so special about an engaged employee ? This is a person who is full of beans, trying different things, solving problems, innovating, happy and overall someone who is in “the Zone” all the time. What gets each of us to be that way is different, and that’s where the challenge comes in. The corporate world likes to have a standard process for everything and engagement does not lend itself to a standard process because what engages me can disengage you and vice versa. So what does one do as a manager ? It does start with the manager because if the manager himself/herself is not engaged, the team most definitely WILL not be engaged. The recent elections brought this out beautifully … you had the Congress with a disengaged Rahul leading the campaign and the rout is proof that engagement of the manager is vital for the team to be engaged.

What else matters ? Imagine Mother Teresa on Hitler’s team … I know that brought a smile to your face, but that’s pretty much what we end up having in most teams. You can reverse the order – Hitler on Mother Teresa’s team, and it still wont work. The missing ingredient is a shared vision, a shared purpose. Now, some of you will tell me its impossible for an organization to build its vision by asking every one of its 100,000 employees what their purpose should be. Well, why not? It’s a Messenger, Yammer, Lync, Hangout, away. The tools are there to have this mass based purpose-crafting exercise, but lets say you do not want to do it. The least every organization needs to do is train managers to help connect their colleagues’ personal career purpose to the overall organization’s purpose. Till there isnt a purpose fit, all engagement action plans will fail. If its Hitler’s organization, then Mother Teresa can only provide outside counsel, she cannot be made to work for the organization’s purpose and vice versa, till either one changes. And that’s a project of a lifetime ! Some people have told me its difficult to find our purpose in life, that’s true too. Just find the things that you love to do and that you are good at – once you identify those, sometimes the purpose becomes clear. Even if the purpose doesn’t become clear, you are happy and that’s clearly every human being’s purpose in life – to be happy.

The second thing that kills engagement is the word “confidential” in organizations and the secret “leaders club” that knows these confidential things. Its tough to be transparent, but those who need to help you achieve your business strategy are neither involved during strategy formation nor told when the decision is taken and you expect them to be super charged about it, wont happen. The funny thing is, the confidential stuff doesn’t remain confidential anyway and the rumors reach before the real thing and then every “leader” is scrambling to contain the rumors. Hey, stop the darned rumors in the first place by being transparent. These are the folks who can help you succeed, so tell them. There are some decisions that may have to remain confidential (new product launch, divestiture/merger etc) but these are a few.. If you have been a transparent organization, your employees will trust you with making the right decision with some of these confidential situations. Usually the need for secrecy is when you cannot defend the decision .. usually a promotion or a rating or a salary hike. You anyway shouldn’t be promoting or giving that particular rating or that extra bonus if you cant defend those decisions in public. Imagine your spouse stumbling upon your “confidential” rendezvous, it usually ends in divorce, as it does in the organization. Disengagement is the separation before the divorce.

The last one according to me is the work itself. If its mundane and boring, don’t expect people to be on springs. How can you make the work itself interesting.. ask your colleagues if they enjoy what they are doing. Get to know your colleagues so well, that you truly understand what type of work they enjoy doing. Some people love the repetitive work, some others like work that changes, some don’t like challenges, some thrive on challenging work, try and get people to work on things they enjoy doing. The BPO world unfortunately focuses too much on the external fun – movie outings, team dinners, offsite jamborees, parties, R&R etc etc etc. Just try and engage a Rahul baba with these things to become an engaged leader of the Congress, wont work !! In the same manner, it wont work in our offices. If the work is not interesting, the “fun at work” will not improve engagement. Reward and recognition programs also wont work, because everyone wants to stand apart, not just get rewarded the same way someone else did. Recognition is personal and needs to show that you understand the colleague and care for him/her. Imagine a recognition letter being handed over to the colleague by the leader he/she is in awe of…. And compare that to sending the recognition letter over email. I am disengaged just writing this !! J

Moral of the story – engagement is not a Mango that you can pluck raw, use chemicals to ripen it and savor the taste, the bitter after taste will linger. It’s a Mango that nature ripened and you plucked it just when it got ripe. The work that you do over 11 months of nurturing the Mango tree is worth the taste when the season comes. Engagement tastes sweet when the pre-work has been done right. Just as you cannot get any Mango if you don’t do the nurturing, you cant get engaged employees using shortcuts. Please don’t throw the engagement scores at me, if its scores you are after, do what the “Maaza” advert does, drink the juice from a tetrapak or bottle and convince yourself its as good as the real Mango 🙂

Engaging read hopefully…

9 thoughts on “Are you engaged ?”

  1. Very well written… reminded me of a piece I wrote a while ago…. quoting from it…

    “This is the season of several business magazines publishing lists, their own versions, of great companies to work with. And very soon, we will have surveys of employee engagement being administered across companies, gauging the engagement of the employees across verticals and teams in each company – the quintessential annual exercise.

    And here I am, bemused all over once again at this very concept! All these years of being a part of the corporate world and some great companies, I could never understand the concept of a ‘great company’ or a ‘not-so-great company’. To my mind, there can be no such thing like a great or not-great company. In fact, there are ‘great teams’ and ‘not-great teams’ that are more of reality, as far as engagement of any employee is concerned. Think of it, if you were working in a ‘not-great team’ inside an otherwise ‘great company to work’, would you be really engaged and productive? No, right? On the other hand, if you work in a really great team, chances are that you’d be far more engaged and involved, even if your company is not really appearing amidst rankings of the great companies. If you agree, then I wonder why is there so much fuss around a ‘great company’ and so little or less meaningful concentration and effort around building & nurturing great teams, consisting of high-performing, well-intentioned and competent employees!”


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