Death to engagement?

Reflecting on a recent post by Kevin Keohane, I’ve been asking myself the question…

When there’s so much evidence out there about the links between engagement and superior business performance (perhaps most famously embodied in the principles of the Service Profit Chain), how is it that there’s still such a massive capability gap in so many organisations?

I’m starting to wonder if the problem lies with the term engagement itself.

It gets bandied about with such gay abandon by so many people that it’s rather lost its meaning. Even among skilled professionals there are different interpretations as to what it is – is it a process (the alignment of personal and corporate ambitions, for example) or is it simply a state of mind?

Either way, what it emphatically isn’t is an end in itself. It may sound like an oxymoron, but the ultimate purpose of engagement is not to engage people. What matters is what that engaged state actually delivers – greater discretionary effort and an improvement in business performance.

Much as I’ve argued in relation to diversity, engagement is the delivery mechanism, not the outcome. Going back to the question, I suspect this is a big part of the problem, leading to assumptions and prejudgements by some that its all about process and “soft” stuff, and closing their minds to evidence of the hard business benefits.

As I’ve also argued in relation to CR, maybe it’s time to make these links much more explicit through the language that we use – toning down talk of soft principles and turning up the volume on the financial benefits to be derived from doing these things properly.

We already talk of the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) in relation to employer branding, so why not Employee Value Creation as an alternative to engagement?

Let’s face it, that’s what it’s really about: value creation, both by and for employees.


2 thoughts on “Death to engagement?

  1. Kevin Keohane

    People have been debating the definition of engagement for a decade, which consider to be a pointless exercise. A frequent conference speaker we all know always starts off by sayiing, “It’s isn’t engagement – it’s INVOLVEMENT.”

    Possession of the term must be nine parts of the law.

    Your point is of course the right one – I like to see it ultimately as “contribution” (value creation) to both the business (commercial and cultural) and the employee (personal and professional).

    I’m getting tired of the same old arguments … those shrouded figures we call management said we needed to prove our business case, so we spent the 90s and early 2000s doing that (thanks Gallup, ISR, TP, WW et al) – and now that we have the proof, there’s always another reason not to invest in it.

    On the other hand, it must be said many leading organisations are in fact getting better at it. But each new generation seems to need to be converted all over again…


  2. Dan Gray

    Great points, Kevin.

    I wonder if, in your experience, you see any correlation between those who remain unpersuaded and the predominance of certain leadership styles and/or approaches to corporate strategy.

    As per my previous post, perhaps it’s only those who subscribe to the “inside out” view of strategy development who intuitively understand the power of engagement.

    As for those who practice authoritative (“command and control”) or pace-setting leadership styles, maybe the very concept of engagement or involvement is anathema to them.



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