Employee Engagement: Just cause or just common sense?
10th December 2013
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Employee Engagement – Passing fad or must have performance factor?

Command and control has been the dominant leadership role model since the first industrial revolution and has been impervious to much change beyond the superficial,such as the disappearance of visible status symbols,the use of first names and more casual attire. Behind these concessions the few continue to command power over the many.

Will the current vogue of engagement be another passing fad or will it fundamentally change the top down ONA of leadership?

There are three factors which may presage a fundamental change to command and control styles of leadership.These are the demise of the ‘loyalty for security contract’ and the levelling brought about by the digital age,and the velvet revolutions in the former Soviet bloc and the unfinished business of the Arab spring.

Whilst the ‘my loyalty in exchange for security’ deal held good,workers put up with command and control. As there is now precious little security workers at every level are looking for more say in decisions that affect them,and which they can constructively affect so that they can exert some influence over their work.The GenerationY never experienced the ‘loyalty for security’ deal and owes the old order nothing.

Digital innovationcuts across bureaucratic hierarchies emasculating managers once used to being information brokers.

The parallels between social upheavals at the national level and the clamour by workers for more say are intriguing and may be coincidental,but it is possible that the former may well become an engine for the latter.

These three factors were not present in the 1990s or earlier and command and control maintained its hegemony.Time will tell if the three factors are the Trojan horse of a more inclusive work place.

There are many definitions of ’employee engagement’, but most describe desirable outcomes or benefits rather than identify enablers. Take these two UK examples of outcomes presented as enablers:

‘Employee engagement Is a process by which an organisation Increases the Intellectual and emotional commitment and contribution of Its employees to achieve superior performance• (National School of Government).

‘Engagement is a concept that places flexlblllty, change and continuous Improvement at the heart of what it means to be an employee and an employer In a twenty-first-century workplace’ (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development).

Engage for Success,the UK government’s inquiry into employee engagement and performance cites four enablers – strong strategic narrative,engaging managers,employee voice and organisational integrity (see www.engageforsuccess.org).

In my own pursuit to identify the enablers of employee engagement I spent ten months in 2004 as a visiting fellow with McKinsey doing one of the first inquiries into employee engagement called Boot Camp or Commune. Based on our (globally sourced) evidence we determined that it was the appetite and capability of leaders at any level to enfranchise their people much more extensively in both operational and big ticket decision making- distributed leadership.

This hypothesis challenges the doctrine of command and control. Where the few decide and instruct the many (see diagram):

To enjoy employee engagement’s benefits means re-wiring the way leaders make small and large decisions,shifting from decide and tell to well governed inclusion and co- creation. It cannot be bolted onto command andcontrol leadership styles.This explains why so much rhetoric about the topic in companies fails to take root.

Read the article from Developing Leaders In full:Employee Engagement – Passing fad or must have performance factor.