It seems wherever we look these days there are articles prescribing what to do, to create employee engagement. It is an important topic, and the much cited Gallup data, showing disturbingly low engagement in the USA, certainly grabs our attention.
My curiosity for all things ‘people’ related in business spans decades and it has driven me to research a few topics during my career. Engagement has been one of those.
Having read numerous research papers, journals and books; and comparing that to my own observations, a few things stand out to me:
Firstly, there is no silver bullet; neither within nor across organisations. Your local and broader organisation cultures influence the answers … greatly. In fact, it is widely believed that it is primarily culture which will enable engagement.
Secondly, whilst the field has exploded with many researchers publishing prolifically (see below for references), William Kahn’s engagement research published in 1990 remains extremely relevant and is a simple guide for businesses to sense-check their activities. He found that your staff have three primary psychological needs:
Whilst each of these three needs can be addressed in numerous ways, limited only by your time, money and creativity, businesses need to do their own research to understand where the real opportunities lie – for their people, in that business, at that time. These contextual aspects will typically determine ‘how’ you apply the basic theories (the ‘what’). Making the effort to understand the opportunities that lie at the intersection of this ‘how’ and ‘what’ will create a far more effective engagement strategy than any “10 tips …” article is ever likely to.
Finally, I want to share a great example of a leadership mindset that will fuel engagement. It was mentioned in a Simon Sinek talk I watched recently. Try changing the term ‘Head-count’ to ‘Heart-count’ and see what happens.
For those wanting some great references for their own research I can thoroughly recommend this book and this one, too.