My wife recently lost her Ipad and the experience was the perfect example of real engagement.  Within moments I learned two things: first, my former anti-technology wife had clearly shifted to the dark side, and two, Mr. Jobs was a genius of engagement.  

It's frustrating that somewhere over the last 20 years, there has been a gradual erosion of the concept of engagement.  In some cases it has become a complete re-branding of employee "engagement" into a synonym for employee satisfaction.  While satisfaction was one of the typical “extras” associated with engagement – it was never understood as the cause or effect of real engagement.  I have known plenty of disengaged employees who are very satisfied.  The reverse is also true.  I also have known dissatisfied employees who were very engaged.  

Satisfaction is a great characteristic to measure and understand but as a predictor or replacement for engagement, it's problematic.  Satisfaction is neither the subject nor aim of engagement.  Engagement is – well, engagement.  My favorite is the definition of engagement as “the state of being in gear”.   On my Ipad I have few games.  One bordering on addiction is CSR Racing.  The skill in playing the game is shifting or engaging the gears at the optimum time.  In order to do that I myself must engage – be in gear – with the game.  It is so obvious that the more engaged (focused, concentrating, driving for better scores, etc.) I am – the better I do.  Even when I fail, I work to find out what I need to do better.  I set up my own learning and skill development.  I try to advance.  There are times I may be engaged… and terribly dissatisfied.

Back to my wife’s Ipad.

My wife is seriously engaged with her Ipad.  It now appears to be an obsession.  At the point that she can have the device surgically attached we will have to sell something to pay for the surgery.  Why?  Because it allows her to do the things she wants to do.  It adapts to her needs.  It helps her to get things done.  It makes her life easier.  Shouldn’t that be the metaphor for everyone’s relationship with work?

Watch your co-workers with their Apple or Android devices.  Imagine what you would see if you suddenly removed it from them.  If you lived to tell about it, you would be describing total engagement.  There is a lesson in alignment here for us.

The lesson tips

1.       Assume people want to be engaged.   It isn’t about having more money (although being financially respected is important).  It isn’t about being satisfied, although dissatisfiers can disengage.  People want to fulfill a purpose and if you are a leader they want you to know it intuitively. They want you to help as much as you can so that they fulfill that purpose. 

2.      Clarify, Clarify, Clarify purpose and the definition of winning.  Another way of saying this is make it crystal clear what must be achieved and give each person every opportunity to judge for themselves what they need to do to get better at achieving that.  During this year’s HR Directors Business Summit in Birmingham UK I heard a wonderful presentation from Baroness Eliza-Manningham Buller DCB former Director General of MI5 during the period immediately following 9/11.  She described a period of unprecedented change and engagement from the MI5 staff primarily because “they understood their purpose clearly – ‘Protect the United Kingdom’.” How clearly do your employees see their role and purpose in delivering to your customers?


3.      Make it your life’s work mission to make it easy for the people around you to accomplish and achieve purpose.  Redesign processes and structures to make it easy for people to get in gear. To focus. To win.  The challenge for most leaders lies in wanting the benefits of engagement while denying that it requires a total makeover.

4.      Look at work and organization design as engagement design. It is likely that your organization was designed to prevent risk, not achieve purpose.  That means that it was also not designed to create or even allow engagement.  Create a workplace that allows easy engagement. Aim at inventing the ultimate engagement work system. Constantly look for things that “disengage” and work to eliminate or at least reduce them.   Is it a stupid rule? Kill it.  Is it old or broken equipment? Fix it.  Is it an external problem? Help them deal with it.  Is it access? Provide it.  Is it a ridiculous waiting time? Cut it.

5.       Allow people to work when and where they work best in the best balance with your customers needs.  This means you must provide technology, workspaces and time flexibility that can facilitate achieving work. 

6.      Constantly question people about the dissatisfiers – the disengagers.   Challenges change all of the time.  Whatever you repair today will break over time.  New challenges will appear.  As a leader you are always and forever seeking ways to fend off the distracters – so that the people around you can create and deliver ultimate customer satisfaction, with an ultimate engagement.

When you create your own clear picture of engagement and think of your organization as an engagement design opportunity you will be on your way to big wins.  Good Luck.

Billy Bennett

Leave a Reply.