For the past 15 years much of our workplace discussion on Leadership has gotten sucked into the conversation about Employee Engagement**, focusing on the critical role that managers and leaders play in leveraging the heart and soul of the people on their team. We speak of leveraging the Engaged group, striving to better connect with the Unengaged group, and either converting or culling the DISengaged group.
In this space you’ve often heard me discuss the research on Positive Emotion/Happiness, where we speak about those who are Happy, Neutral, or Unhappy. And I’ve pointed to the fact that – how interesting! – the number are identical for the breakdown of Happy vs. Engaged, Neutral vs. Unengaged, and Unhappy vs. Disengaged groups.
My personal mantra has been that Engaged/ Disengaged are merely politically correct words for Happy/Unhappy. Some people agree, while many declare they are two different things.
AND the conversation about Happiness in the Workplace keeps arriving at the same truth: it’s not my job to “make” you happy. That’s YOUR decision.
It’s All About You, Sweet Pea!
Here’s the thing: The Employee Engagement focuses on the responsibility of Leaders to engage people. So there’s lots of focus on training and benefits and team environment and making work places very cool and inviting.
But what happens when people don’t accept the invitation? Does that mean the leaders are incompetent?
Despite all the hoopla we’ve created around it, the dirty little secret of the Engagement conversation is that the numbers have not shifted much over the years. We still have about the same percentage of the workforce who are engaged, unengaged, or actively disengaged.
Why is Engagement Not Enough?
Could it possibly be that my tribe and I have been right all along? Could it be that engagement is just like motivation, in that no one can “do it to you”? Could it be that Glinda’s wisdom shared with Dorothy was true: “you’ve had the power all along,” and that it’s always been the individual who must make the decision to get engaged, get motivated… or choose happy?
Try this sentence completion exercise:
You can’t motivate anyone; you can only ________.
You can’t make other people happy, you can only _______.
You can’t force people to engage, you can only ______.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can only ______.
Notice that the same phrases complete all three stem sentences. For example:
“…do it to/for yourself.”
“…set an example for others to follow.”
“…create the right environment then invite them to make their own decision.”
Hmm. Interesting, no?!
Go ahead. Send people to classes. Teach your managers to be more “engaging.” Spend tens of thousands of dollars annually on your survey so you can pee in your pants with excitement when the “engagement” needle rockets from 3.5 to 3.7. Woo hoo! Progress!
At what point can you turn to your workforce full of grown-ups and say,
“Look, people, we have made a boat load of changes. We have done all that we can do to create an engaging workplace. Now, it’s your turn. When will you stop pretending that you have no power here? When will you take some responsibility for own Happiness? When will you get off your butt and start working out your own Motivation muscles? When will you choose to Engage? We’re thrilled to have come this far, but this is a relationship, and relationships require two players. We are excited to dance with you…AND you gotta meet us halfway. You gotta get off your chair and join us on the dance floor!”
A New Conversation Is Emerging
I do not have a huge research team at my disposal. But Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world’s top executive coaches and academics, does. I am super excited about his new book coming out next month, called ,em>Triggers.
In the book (and on this 5 min promo video), Goldsmith talks about a “radical new idea” in the field of engagement: Individual Responsibility! Here’s are some quotes from one of his promotional pieces:
What is this radical new concept? It’s that the key variable in employee engagement is the individual, the employee, not the program. Although it may sound obvious, this idea is not taught or acted upon. Instead, companies spend billions of dollars every year trying to get employees and leaders to believe that the solution to employee engagement problems is “out there” not “in us.”
<…> I hear zero about what employees can do to engage themselves….
<…> How can it be that in a company offering all the great benefits and training, you can have one employee totally engaged and committed while the person next to them is bitter and miserable? What’s the variable? It’s not the company; it’s the employee!
<…> Why is it we often find that the same employees who are miserable at work are also miserable at home?
<…> ….maybe you can’t change your company, boss, or employee, but you can change your reaction to them.
Sound familiar? Yep, you heard it here first. And now there’s proof thru research. Goldsmith’s book does not drop until May 19, but I’ve already pre-ordered mine.
Meanwhile, I invite you – regardless of your role in an organization – to bring this new concept into some of your conversations. How does this land with you? What’s your reaction? How do others respond to this idea?
And most importantly, what will you CHOOSE?
Remember, Leadership is not about a title: Anyone can be a leader who accepts responsibility for their own Happiness and motivation and who chooses to engage, commit, and accept the invitation to dance!
I close with a quote from one of my new e-books:
1. Funny side note: since the title of Goldsmith’s book/video is “Triggers” you will note all the other videos on the YouTube page are about guns! Not really your best engagement tool….!] 2. **Definition: Employee engagement is a (leader-centric) workplace approach designed to ensure that employees are committed to their organization’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success, and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of well-being.