BY JOHN M. BERNARD
PART THREE OF A FOUR-PART SERIES
Employee engagement is the Holy Grail because when it improves so does the customer experience, productivity and revenue. Also when it moves up, costs, absenteeism, turnover, theft, accidents, and defects go down. In the search to drive up employee engagement there have been many alluring paths to explore. Over the years most organizations have jumped at dozens of programs to boost the degree to which people, their most valuable asset, take initiative and go the extra mile to make improvements.
However, not only has employee engagement NOT improved in the past 25 years, it has actually declined according to research by Gallup. Today in the typical company less than 30 percent of employees do anything more than the minimum required.
Our hunger to engage people creates an unrelenting appetite for anything and everything that might help. We hope the Balanced Scorecard will transform engagement. Maybe if we just emulate the Good to Great companies we can pull it off. Or if we can get past the Five Dysfunctions of a Team or if we all just practice The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People our employees would finally be more fully engaged. Then there is the promise that lean, six sigma, Kaizen, the whole world of process improvement, certainly must be the path to true engagement. Right?
Unfortunately, programs and tools like these do NOT transform employee engagement. Every one of the great books I mentioned and the very powerful world of process improvement all support engaging employees. Yet, supporting employee engagement does not create transformation.
Take lean as an example. You can engage employees in a project to take the waste out of a given process. But projects of this nature are almost always special sanctuaries where the over-riding norms of the organization are temporarily set aside. What that means is the improvement effort is a special event during which employees actually have a voice and are highly engaged.
For these reasons, there is no doubt that lean is a good thing. But the problem is we hope that if we just keep repeating these projects we will transform the underlying behaviors, expectations and routines of the organization in such a way that results in a highly engaged workforce. It’s like remodeling a 1,200 square foot track home one room at a time and hoping when you are done you have a 8,000 square foot mansion.
Repeating a good practice, no matter how much we hope it does, can’t transform an organization. As Einstein put it, “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.”
In reality, employee engagement is driven by the underlying system of management, the logic that organizes and runs the business. That logic is often unseen and unconscious, and it is that logic that creates organizational culture and behaviors.
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