I had a conversation a few days ago with somebody about how to create an engaged workforce. Hiscompany had a huge collection of training material, charts, books, pamphlets, and seminar schedules that they passed out to their people. But even with all of these resources, they were having trouble with a more basic issue – defining an engaged workforce. Is it a workforce that shows up on time for their shift? Is it a workforce that is emotionally happy at work? It is a workforce that brings up ideas to improve their workplace? What is it?
When he asked me what his company’s definition of “engaged workforce” should be, I responded, “What do you want it to be?”
And I answered him this way because engagement isn’t something that’s precisely defined. How would a parent define a good child? It’s not just about how he or she feels about the kid on a particular day. And it’s not just about a checklist of behaviors that the kid completes. It’s a combination of both feelings and behaviors. Engagement occurs when employees feel that the direction of the organization is a direction that satisfies their personal objectives. Employees are engaged when they feel that they are working for themselves, that is, they are working to meet their own goals, not just to make their boss happy.
When employees are engaged, they are investing their time in something that is meaningful to them and right for them. They show their engagement through their voluntary behaviors. One of my favorite sayings is “We rent people’s hands and their backs, but they volunteer their hearts, their minds and their imaginations.” That to me is a really good way to think about engagement – it’s when people volunteer their hearts, their minds and their imaginations.
So the question is when will people do that and when will they not? They won’t do it if they don’t believe in what you are doing. They won’t do it if they don’t believe they are being appreciated for what they do. They won’t do it if they don’t feel as though everybody else is putting forth a good effort. And they won’t do it if they feel their managers are not helping them. People engage when they believe in a purpose, feel appreciated, and have the environment to succeed.
Leaders define standards. What you promise and how you define employee engagement is fine, but realize that the best and brightest talent, as well as customers, will gravitate to the organizations with the boldest promise with a robust reputation of delivering upon their engagement promise.
Ray Attiyah is a serial entrepreneur and author of “The Fearless Front Line: The Key to Liberating Leaders to Improve and Grow Their Business.”