Stop washing fish!

Your engagement strategy isn’t working…I don’t know what that strategy is, I just know it isn’t working!

Don’t take my word for it though. Google it.

The numbers vary depending on which article you read but the headlines are fairly similar – about 70% of the UK workforce feel disengaged, which is costing UK Plc about £70 billion a year.

If the number of disengaged employees is that high, then it’s not difficult to imagine that some of those people are in your business, or your office.

Let’s be honest, if I gave you a piece of paper you could name them.

So, where did it all go so wrong? It can’t be through lack of funding, because its all anyone is talking about and one has to assume that in most cases the talk is being backed up with some form of investment, whether its monetary or otherwise.

Well here’s a random thought, perhaps it’s as simple as understanding the difference between nouns and verbs and applying that to your approach.

Engagement is a noun, or “a word used to identify a thing” i.e. engagement: the action of engaging or being engaged (interestingly, another definition is “a fight or battle between armed forces” but I digress).

Engaging is a verb, or “a word used to describe an action” i.e. engaging: to occupy or attract someone’s interest or attention

Tell me, as the recipient of countless engagement surveys, did they occupy or attract your interest or attention?

The mere fact of sending an employee engagement survey is an admission that you’re not really sure whether or not they are. You’re sending a survey to check. You hope they are, you’re worried they’re not – best to be sure.

On a more positive note, it’s much easier than having to be engaging, because I’ll tell you, that’s bloody hard work. You have to acknowledge people, pay attention to their needs, support them, give them feedback – in short, take an interest.

But, then again, all that email isn’t going to take care of itself!

Clearly, we need mechanisms that enable us to check in with our people and ensure they’re doing okay – and we have them, they’re called managers. Unfortunately, most managers are too focussed on the transactional elements of their roles and lack the skills or emotional maturity to be truly effective.

And by the way, that’s not the fault of the manager, it’s the fault of the business for putting them into a role without the support they need – and ignoring the negative impact it has on the people they manage until they absolutely have to by sending in some poor schmo from HR to sort it out.

In my last blog I talked about the importance of recognising the difference between movement and progress, referencing Dan Pink’s three motivators Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose and their impact on people at work. You can read the blog here.

In essence, good managers, who lead and coach their people, have the power to drive engagement through their actions – and we should demand that of them above all else.

Instead, we persist in intervening, by taking people briefly out of their environment, to ask what’s wrong with it, before dropping them back in to the same mire and thanking them for taking the time to tell us what we typically already know.

There’s a name for that. It’s called washing goldfish…

The problem being, when you put them back into the same crappy water, they die…

So, demand that your people engage – and survey that. Measure the interactions your managers have with their teams – and let the teams grade their quality.

Anything substandard should be subject to an improvement plan – think of it as an asset protection process if that helps. Just stop ignoring the lack of quality time we’re investing in our people.

It takes time, it can be really uncomfortable and it will call for a few honest conversations along the way, but you won’t need to survey your people to know how they’re doing – because they’ll tell you, and anyone else who’ll listen for that matter, what a great place it is to work.

Or keep washing goldfish. Your choice.

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