Employee engagement – what does it mean really? Do more engaged employees do more and better work for longer? Is engagement some kind of secret code for ‘in company dating’ or a causal relationship between casual workers and casual sex? And so on… I attended an academic meeting on the vexed questions of employee engagement at the University of Kent the other day. I took the opportunity to extract the gems from all the World Class speakers who presented. But not before we take an insight from one of Rock’s Honorary Professors, none other than Prince:
Starting with Professor Paul Sparrow, Director of the Centre for Performance Led HR. I’ve summarised Paul’s most compelling insight from his opening keynote:
Engagement is needed in the current age for three reasons: When the world outside changes incrementally or radically; When you want to change the rules of the game for disruptive innovation or; When you want to become more fluid / adaptive
The last reason reminded me of Chris Argyris’ and Peter Senge’s work on learning companies – see the post on Britney Spears for more on this.
Dr Amanda Shantz from York University, Canada offered us some great insights into what to do with disengaged employees. Dysfunctional relationships are at the heart of such problems and therefore part of any potential antidotes. Once again Prince offers us a gem of wisdom via his piece “what’s this strange relationship, ship, ship, ship, ship” . I did have a video of “strange Relationship” here but his purple holiness asked youtube to remove it – damn!
Amanda more or less just regurgitated some good old-fashioned job design ideas courtesy of Hackman and Oldham. Despite this, I confess I found myself enjoying these since they align well with ideas I presented in Punk Rock People Management. Just because Hackman and Oldham are a bit untrendy, does not mean that they should be displaced by a “7-dimensional model from a trendy HR consultancy firm”. Click on the PUNK ROCK HR link to get a free copy of the book and some wholesome common sense on job design and engagement.
On to Professor Rob Briner from University of Bath, who posed the ‘Morrissey question’: How bad an idea is employee engagement? A jolly good question in my view ! He provoked the audience in a very skilled way to question the notion that engagement is actually a good thing, supported by a good deal of well researched data. Rob demonstrated eloquently the problem of HR gurus such as Gary Hamel, who seem to mouth the word ‘engagement’ at HR conferences more times per minute than Robert Plant used to sing ‘baby’ in the average Led Zeppelin song. Rob’s wonderful talk ‘forces’ me to play Morrissey’s great hit on person-job fit and the HR ‘happiness’ agenda:
Dr Brad Shuck from the University of Louisville looked at the ever-present dilemma of measurement. We are able to measure almost everything these days and many businesses do just that. Just because you can measure everything doesn’t mean you should. One quote from Kahn stood out “The fragility of engagement is a function of how vulnerable we feel, and are, when we risk being fully present in a situation”. Feels more like a poem or a lyric than a management consultancy concept I later found out that Brad is an avid jazz and country musician which explained a lot for me. A great treatment on a troublesome topic which has spawned a whole industry of people feeding off the measurement dilemma.
Professor John Purcell posed the thorny question “Is embedded employee voice an essential pre-requisite for engagement”. But what did it mean? He was really talking about reciprocity. In Punk Rock HR terms this translates to “What do I get?” i.e. If I give you something, I will expect something in return. I think that is a handy definition of engagement although I don’t think it is well understood in the business world.
Finally, David McLeod and Nita Clarke outlined the steps to be taken in partnership with HR practitioners and academics to make high performance a part of ‘business as usual’. Professor Adrian Furnham’s work on this area is most incisive – see the post on Adrian Furnham for more. Adrian and I have shared a stage and a few glasses of wine and beer. He is the ‘boss’ on such things should you wish us to come to present this stuff in an intelligent AND engaging way. Oh, yes, and don’t forget to ask us for a copy of Punk Rock HR via this slide deck:
We must of course return to Prince for some salutary advice on the psychological contract, reciprocity and discretionary effort. As usual Prince takes the whole subject of engagement well beyond the usual limits – you’ve gotta love him for it