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Some Organisations treat engagement like a lottery

Written by Charlie Efford

Photo by Pixabay, licence

steve dodd 2Guest Blog by Steve Dodd

How do governments get people to volunteer to pay tax?  Call it a game, offer prizes and make it fun.  Run a lottery!  This is a discretionary tax.  When you buy a lottery ticket the pain of paying is eclipsed by dreams of winning the big prize.  You don’t have to buy a ticket but millions of people do.

You might say, “What is the harm in that?”  The lottery ticket buyer gets pleasure and society gets some important services funded.  Win-win?  My question is, how connected is the lottery ticket buyer with what the money is spent on?

I recently attended a presentation given by David MacLeod who as co-chair of the Employee Engagement Task Force co-authored the “Engage for Success” report.  This is described by the CMI as the definitive work on the subject.  The report, published in 2009, is an excellent piece of work but it needs no endorsement from me.  It has already done a great deal to put employee engagement on the agenda of many organisations.

“This is about how we create the conditions in which employees offer more of their capability and potential.” David MacLeod

There is a serious problem when only about a third of UK workers say they are engaged (Kenexa Research Institute).  “Engage for Success” is now “a movement committed to the idea that there is a better way to work, a better way to enable personal growth, organisational growth and ultimately growth for Britain by releasing more of the capability and potential of people at work”.  Take a look at their web site and you’ll find resources and information to help your organisation increase engagement.

So what has this got to do with a lottery?  Well, engagement is often described as the means by which leaders and their organisations can mobilise the discretionary effort of their people for the benefit of their organisation. Discretionary effort is the gap between the level of effort one is capable of bringing to an activity and the effort required to just get by. People who are not engaged have a big gap and engaged people have a small gap. Organisations want to narrow this gap because of the “value” of this effort. It means organisations get more bang for their buck, more output for the input, more work for the same pay. People do more for less and don’t complain about it!

Do organisations ever use engagement to raise discretionary effort like governments use lotteries to raise discretionary taxes?  Some engagement activities seem to focus on making it a fun place to work, on charity fun days, fun-park discounts or funky furniture and, my personal favourite, lunchtime head massages masquerading as “wellbeing”.  I have to ask, even if the discretionary effort goes up, how connected is the employee with the real purpose of the organisation?  The organisation is getting more value from the employee and it may be a win-win of sorts but is it sustainable?  I’m interested in what value the employee is getting.

four enablers of engagement…..

Of course David MacLeod’s proposals aren’t as superficial as those I mention.  He sets out four enablers of engagement.  These are:

·         Visible, empowering leadership providing a strong strategic narrative about the organisation, where it’s come from and where it’s going.

·         Engaging managers, who focus their people and give them scope, treat their people as individuals and coach and stretch their people.

·         There is employee voice throughout the organisation, for reinforcing and challenging views, between functions and externally, employees are seen as central to the solution.

·         There is organisational integrity – the values on the wall are reflected in day-to-day behaviours. There is no ‘say – do’ gap.

People are engaged when they have a meaningful purpose to guide them

These enablers are useful and a great step forward for many organisations, but some have gone further and recognised the link between purpose and engagement.

Many studies have identified that a key motivator for individuals is a clear and meaningful purpose.  I like Dan Pink’s YouTube video .  When people feel they are contributing to something worthwhile, they will overcome challenges and do more because they want to, not because they have to.

A meaningful purpose does more than reduce the discretionary effort gap – it makes life worthwhile.

Most people who find a purpose find it outside of their work, in family and other relationships, in community, sport, religion or elsewhere.  For people to find purpose in their work, their organisation has to have a greater purpose than increasing shareholder value or profit.  That’s a topic for another blog, but I’d be interested in your views.

When organisations have a meaningful purpose, leaders don’t need to take responsibility for making sure that people are engaged. People can take responsibility for this by themselves. All leaders have to do is create the right conditions and enable people to work at their best.

Leaders and organisations that help their people make a connection to a fulfilling purpose in their work are doing more than getting “more bang for their buck”.  They are building a sustainable society and not leaving it up to a lottery.

About the author

Charlie Efford


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