An interesting thing happened to me recently while attending a birthday celebration for a neighbor. I discovered what employee engagement looks and sounds like!

In my last post – The Obfuscation of Employee Engagement – I detailed how organizations and communicators tend to create unneeded complexity in building successful engagement with employees as a competitive advantage. The premise is that both outside and inside forces conspire – often unconsciously – in chasing symptoms of poor engagement without thinking through the cause resulting in wasted effort and little results.

So, what does Engagement actually look like and how did I find it at a birthday party of all places?

Talking with a group of people it was obvious that one person – early 40s, manager in R&D for a global technology company – was extremely passionate and forthcoming about his company’s current business situation, challenges, vulnerabilities, and opportunities discussing in great detail how he and his colleagues were working through issues. There was no hint of cynicism, no lack of understanding and a level of confidence that spoke well of him and his company. When asked questions or challenged to probe deeper into his perspective he did so with ease agroupnd with no hint of being arrogant or going overboard in his defense or promotion of the company. In fact, he was believable and interesting for that very reason.

Others in the group spoke about their work situations but with less authority and certainly less passion. A few said they didn’t really comprehend their business’ current reality other than to describe political issues in their respective group or function. Hearing this, I took the chance to see if he might share some of the reasons for such a strong advocacy mind-set. An answer that all in the group were equally interested in knowing.

And so, here is what he shared (and what we experienced):

  1. He loves his work! (“I don’t let the typical BS get in front of what I want to do.”)
  2. He seeks out information and opinions throughout his network and with leadership at all levels
  3. He pays attention to competitors (through the business and on his own time)
  4. His company shares information openly (he attends town halls, reads the daily news on the portal, reads the promotions page, and reads the regular leadership messages from his CEO)
  5. He always asks questions
  6. He never lets a poor answer or incomplete information go unchallenged
  7. His manager takes and makes time to inform, listen and involve his team in macro issues beyond R&D
  8. He pushes his colleagues to get involved and not just be spectators (complainers)
  9. He is active on social and belongs to a number of blogs and communities in areas of interest to his work, but does not share much on his company nor is he asked to by the company

Listening to him peel off these points, the others chimed in offering their reasons or rebuttals.

Most described the work environment as confusing, contradictory and lacking trust. They cited “laziness” as a cause for not getting involved, going to the portal, or even making time to attend company meetings such as town halls. As our discussion started to end, there was a palpable sigh among this group (except our engaged friend!) on how different and better his outlook and work experience was.

From an organizational and communications standpoint, some key lessons emerged forming the foundation for how to build a sustainable engagement culture:

  1. Managers who care (involve, listen and respond)
  2. Leaders who make the time to connect, listen, and act
  3. Information that is relevant, clear, consistent, and accessible
  4. Social is an opportunity to broaden and extend positive employee sentiment
  5. Behaviors that are reinforced

Describing the above as “causes” of sustainable engagement, all of our efforts in communications, HR, and management need to be based on addressing them in a holistic and comprehensive manner.

One other distinct lesson: hire the right people!

A funny thing happened to me at birthday party…I discovered employee engagement!