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Posted by on Nov 19, 2012 in Engagement, Leadership, Talent, Winning Through Engagement | 6 comments

Role of Meaning-Makers in Employee Engagement

meaning_makers960x330

 

For the past month, Ted and I hosted some extraordinary thinkers who ruminated on the value, application and future of employee engagement. First we want to thank all who participated. We learn from you and are honored to share your voice on this important topic.

This brings me to a question I want to explore: why does employee engagement matter?

Engaged employees has eluded many organizations, often becoming another management fad or meaningless surveys of which the results become shelf-ware. If it’s so important why do organizations, managers and employees fail to see the ascribed benefits of engagement efforts?

Certainly the answers are varied. Yet perhaps the most likely culprit is engagement is treated as an event. Let me explain.

 

Engaged employees, hell human beings, will put forth their best effort when they see they are appreciated

 

Each year or every other year an employee engagement survey is delivered via email to all employees. It’s arrival is trumpeted by an email from the CEO explaining the survey’s importance. This is the event. It’s followed by survey results disseminated to managers and some messaging shared with employees. End of event. Now go about your work.

Engagement is treated as some check-the-box-exercise on management’s long list of to-dos. It’s squeezed in between budget meetings, project status reports, committee meetings, blah blah blah.

Truth is engagement is not something planned if its done intentionally. Engagement is a leadership act. Not a management task.

 

Engaged employees has eluded many organizations, often becoming another management fad or meaningless surveys of which the results become shelf-ware

 

Engagement exists in the interactions between managers and employees. It’s where managers take on the important role of meaning-makers: managers help employees uncover and exploit meaning in their work all the while knowing that they matter. That their work matters.

This isn’t some group-hug moment. It’s where management, business and humanity intersect. Engaged employees, hell human beings, will put forth their best effort when they see they are appreciated. When what employees believe that what they do has significance to those whom the organization serves.

 

The role of meaning-maker is one that is woven throughout a manager’s daily actions, both planned and spontaneous

 

This does not occur when engagement is treated as event. When it’s an event it becomes unauthentic. The event is awkward at first then becomes annoying. Hopes are raised and quickly dashed when the event passes. Such an approach is void of meaning.

The role of meaning-maker is one that is woven throughout a manager’s daily actions, both planned and spontaneous. It’s planned when managers make time to know their employees’ hopes, dreams, plans for the future. It’s spontaneous when managers see an important teaching moment presents itself when an employee fails.

Employee engagement matters because it reveres the innate human desire to do work that matters, to do work that is meaningful. Without employee engagement the spawns of hierarchy, bureaucracy, command-and-control, for example, dominate and suck the humanity out of our workplaces.

Employee engagement will not thrive when its handled like an event. But when it is vigilantly cultivated and purposefully spread through the interactions between managers and employees, it becomes a way of working. It becomes part of a company’s culture.

 

Graphic by Shawn Murphy

Shawn Murphy

Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and CEO of Switch and Shift. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post. The Optimistic Workplace (AMACOM) out 2015

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  • http://www.employeeengagement.ning.com David Zinger

    Shawn:

    A meaningful post and graphic. Love your pithy paragraphs on meaning:
    Engagement exists in the interactions between managers and employees. It’s where managers take on the important role of meaning-makers: managers help employees uncover and exploit meaning in their work all the while knowing that they matter. That their work matters.

    This isn’t some group-hug moment. It’s where management, business and humanity intersect. Engaged employees, hell human beings, will put forth their best effort when they see they are appreciated. When what employees believe that what they do has significance to those whom the organization serves.

    • http://www.switchandshift.com Shawn Murphy

      Hi David, thank you for your feedback. It means a lot coming from you.

      Cheers.

  • http://www.bensimonton.com Ben Simonton

    Good article and good thoughts Shawn. As you say, engagement is not an event.

    You wrote – “Engagement in the interactions between managers and employees. It’s where managers take on the important role of meaning-makers: managers help employees uncover and exploit meaning in their work all the while knowing that they matter. That their work matters.”

    Having created several fully engaged workforces and enjoyed the 500% performance gains stated by Stephen Covey as being possible, I would like to add my two cents.

    Engagement is a feeling and feelings cannot be measured. When you go to a restaurant and are treated like a celebrity, given a meal that is absolutely fantastic, given service that is the best you have ever had, went to its bathroom that is super bright and clean, how do you feel? How do you react? What specific actions do we take after such an experience and do we expend extra effort on taking them? We all know the answer to those questions. We also know how we feel and react when we go to a restaurant where we are treated to far lower standards. Does every human being feel pretty much the same way and react pretty much the same way? Yes!

    Now we know that our reactions are dictated by how we are treated, by the extent to which our needs are met. And what are our needs in the workplace? – to be heard and be respected, and to have competence, autonomy, and relatedness, the last three revealed by the research of psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan as being what motivates us.

    If our workplace operates as a command and control outfit where we are expected to do as we are told without question, our needs are pretty much ignored and we react accordingly. But if we can add our two cents whenever we want and our two cents is treated with great respect including timely and complete responses to our complaints suggestions and questions, meaning providing us with all we want with nothing withheld, we will choose to become engaged because that is our way of responding to being treated far better than we could possibly expect. Engaged people throw everything they have at their work because of being so thankful and they cooperate totally with others because it really turns them on.

    So the way to unleash engagement is simply to provide more than enough opportunity for employees to voice their complaints, suggestions, and questions and to respond to those to their satisfaction or better. I admit that there are many pitfalls in so doing but any leader who commits to doing it will quickly learn from their mistakes as I did.

    Best regards, Ben
    Leadership is a science and so is engagement
    http://www.bensimonton.com

    • http://www.switchandshift.com Shawn Murphy

      Hi Ben,
      First, thank you for actively contributing to the conversation. We appreciate it. The art of conversations, albeit online in our case, is seemingly slipping into niceties where differences in ideas can be viewed as disrespectful. You do a good job sharing different views.

      On to your comments . . . you capture the importance of valuing people, their needs to be respected and given a voice and shaping the workplace of which most of our daily lives are spent. Though these are rooted in human needs that have always been there, organizations have been slow to accept and adapt to what you and I advocate. Fortunately there is progress in this area. There is still much more work to do here, however.

      Let us keep up the good fight in this area. It’s good to know I’m in good company. Oh, I’ll need to check out Deci and Ryan. Thanks for the insight there.

      Shawn

  • http://www.bensimonton.com Ben Simonton

    Shawn,

    The Deci/Ryan research is named Self Determination Theory and that is the name of their website. Their theory was made popular by Dan Pink in his book and in a youtube video though he changed the word relatedness to purpose incorrectly.

    And it is a fight. The command and control types who demotivate and disengage employees somehow just don’t want to change. It was easy for me, but I did it after realizing that I was not able to significantly improve the performance of my middle and lower level performers.

    Ben

  • http://www.malvee.com/jobber Emile Bons

    In my opinion, it’s not quite fair to treat employee engagement surveys like those things that are only their because someone has the feeling they need to be there without having any further purpose. Instead, it helps the company to define those areas that need some attention when it comes to engaging employees and marking some areas that don’t need direct attention (as with everything, there is a certain trade-off in place). The follow-up might be in a more personal (one-to-one) way; and make sure you’ll do follow-up.

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