Employee Engagement by Exhortation

Okay. Forgive the big word. Merriam-Webster defines exhortation as “language intended to incite or encourage.” In plain speak it’s about excited talk, passionate words, and loud barking. If we talk about our organization’s goals with enough energy we will create it – that’s the underlying belief of the exhortation approach to employee engagement.

The great search for ways to engage employees involves many well-intended but misguided approaches. Exhortation. Management by objectives. Tools and techniques. Over the next three posts I’ll explore each approach and reveal why they have very limited results.

Exhortation focuses on building enthusiasm through campaigns, posters, rallies, all-hands meetings, and incentives. It’s about pulling the organization together in an auditorium with colorful banners everywhere, the surprise appearance of a marching band, a new set of exciting incentives including a trip to Hawaii for the best new idea – all in hopes of inspiring a revolution in performance.

See the famous speech: George C. Scott as General Patton

It’s all about challenging people with words in the hope that somehow magically the organization will find its way through the current maze of obstacles to success — if everyone genuinely shares the excitement and “steps up” to the challenge.

The underlying belief of exhortation is that people simply are not giving it their all, and so management’s job is to entice and encourage people to do a better job than they previously have.

We’ve all seen this done. It’s hard to deny the excitement of it all. Hope is a wonderful thing!

Engaging employees through exhortation doesn’t work because it assumes employees:

  • Understand the direction the organization is heading
  • See how what they do every day contributes to that direction
  • Know exactly that for which they are accountable
  • Are able to measure their success in meeting their goals
  • Have the skills, knowledge and tools to do their jobs successfully
  • Know how to effectively solve problems they encounter
  • Feel safe making decisions and implementing their ideas

If these elements are not in place, the exhortation approach might have some temporary impact, but in the end it is sure to disappoint everyone involved.

Wishing it doesn’t make it so.

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