The great engagement swindle

I’ve written before about employee engagement, but its a subject that can’t take enough kickings.

I’ll put it simply, employee engagement is the biggest corporate swindle since Asil Nadir thought, “no-one will notice”.

Let’s be clear:

Engagement does not pay the bills.
Engagement won’t cover your medical costs when you take a fall.
Engagement won’t keep the heating on in your retirement.
Engagement doesn’t make you healthy or happy or even a better lover.

Engagement doesn’t even have a standard meaning, definition or measure. It’s a fabrication.

The biggest con about employee engagement? The goal is to drive commercial success, whilst dressing it up as employee welfare. Look at any purveyor of employee engagement services and they will talk about driving business performance.

Employee engagement doesn’t replace talking to people, caring for people, listening to people. It doesn’t replace paying people well, investing in their benefits and providing a decent pension scheme.

Do things right as an organisation, treat people well, don’t treat them like fodder and you’ll be surprised how much they’ll do for you. Not because they’re engaged, but because they want to.

How about we measured leadership engagement instead? How engaged is your leadership team with employees? How well do they know them? When was the last time they had a human to human conversation with someone in the organisation they didn’t know?

Employee engagement is the classic example of human resources forgetting about humans and focussing on resources. It’s bad mumbo jumbo dressed up as science.

Employee engagement is an idea that’s long over stayed it’s welcome. Let’s kill this vacuous, malevolent concept once and for all.

Why I work in HR

I don’t believe that anyone should hate what they do. I don’t think anyone should come home from work at the end of the day and, just like the day before and the day before that, feel dejected, desperate or despondent about their working life.

I don’t believe that anyone should feel afraid or intimidated, should fear their work, their colleagues or their boss. I don’t believe anyone’s health, welfare or security should be placed in jeopardy by their need to earn money.

I believe work should be a place where people can come and be themselves, whatever their religion, gender, sexuality or any other “defining characteristic”. I believe work should be a place where you are judged on what you contribute, not who you are.

I believe work should be meaningful, even when it’s repetitive. That everyone can find their own purpose in what they do. I believe in empowerment, trust and shared responsibility. I believe that work should be rewarding, for everyone.

I believe in fairness and equity. That differences in compensation and reward should be justified and that everyone should have the chance to progress if they have the desire, capability and opportunity. I believe that the success of the enterprise should be enjoyed by all.

I believe work can and should be better. And simply, despite the distractions, the snide comments and the jokes. That’s why I get up in the morning. That’s why I work in HR.

Why do you do your job?

5 HR mindsets for the future (and right now)

1) Adaptability – HR has been built on creating fixed structure and immobility. That’s where we used to add value, but no more. The frustration that we hear in a lot of organisations is that the world is demanding more flexibility and yet the profession is slow to catch up. We need to be more adaptable, able to turn our hands to anything and make decisions based on the immediate circumstances that face us, to help our businesses move forward.

2) Tech Savvy – I can’t repeat this too many times; if you don’t understand technology then you’re going to find yourself obsolete pretty damn quickly. It isn’t a case of being an expert, although having some coding experience in your team is never going to hurt. Our experience as human beings is increasingly influenced by technology, so if you want to be in HR you need to understand that experience.

3) Commerciality – Before I lose you….I’m not talking about the stupid linear relationship that most people draw when they talk about HR and commercial reality. I’m talking about the big global issues that you need to understand to help your organisation navigate the next ten or twenty years. Demographics, pension legislation, immigration and emigration, skills and education. Changes in FX rates, inflation and interest rates. You’re on top of them right?

4) Creativity – If we are going to adaptable, tech savvy and commercial then we sure as hell need to be creative too. We too often look down our noses at creativity and view pragmatism as the holy grail of HR. Remind me the last time you went to a party and talked to your friends or family about this amazing piece of pragmatism. Then ask yourself the same question about creativity. It matters.

5) Connectivity – Our ability to see inter connections, relationships, to look inside and out and see how things relate, to understand the impact of one element of practice on another is critical. Our ability to think systematically and understand that neither our organisations nor our practice can operate in isolation. We need to be the organisational glue, not the institutional porridge.

Information is energy, not power

How does your organisation treat information? I mean proper information, the stuff that makes a difference.

The organisational response to feedback about their information flow is normally one of two things, to instigate more formal information sharing platforms, to berate management for not cascading the content of the already existing platforms.

Meanwhile, the real information flow in the organisation doesn’t change. Because it isn’t a process, it’s culture.

We all know the phrase, “knowledge is power” but the reality is that in far too many of our organisations information is being used as such by a large proportion of our people.

It strikes me the leader’s job is to use information as energy and not as power. We are there to disseminate the appropriate information at the right time to aid performance but also to retain information, to shield people if that information would hinder performance.

And that’s a fine balance.

I don’t buy the idea that total absolute information flow is the organisational gold standard. The demands to know everything is a simple means of recognising that information is seen as power within your business.

We all know that organisations produce ridiculous amounts of data and also, particularly in these fluid times, the agenda can change repeatedly. Sometimes it just isn’t helpful to know.

Culturally advanced organisations know when to share and when not to share. Likewise, people in culturally advanced organisations recognise what they need to know and what they don’t.

And that’s where we need to aim.