Engage your brain

There is an intrinsic stupidity around the work on employee engagement. But it’s not the one you might think it is, oh no. The real intrinsic stupidity, it goes a little something like this:

Bright eyed and bushy tailed HR professional receives the annual employee engagement survey results from ACME Consultants Ltd and declares, “we’ve increased engagement to our highest level yet, it now stands 69%”

And we need to reflect on this for a second.

– Is the stupidity that we are happy that we have staff that are less than three quarters engaged?

– Is the stupidity that we’ve taken our budget and spunked it up the wall to please ACME Consultants Ltd?

– Is the stupidity that we believe in engagement at all?

But as I say, we need to reflect.

Let’s for one slightly scary and heart stompingly dangerous moment make three bold assumptions.

– Three quarters engagement is not bad

– ACME Consultants Ltd aren’t a bunch of parasitical idiots

– Engagement is a purposeful measure

Bear with me, I know some of you are going to be hurting right now and I admit that as I write these words, my eyeballs are seeping a little bit of blood.

Because the intrinsic stupidity is none of these things.

It is this.

We increased engagement?

Did we?

What level did it start at?

How many disengaged people did you recruit?

The thing is, most people join a company motivated and happy. And yes, if you want to use the term, engaged. Most people are pleased to get a job offer and go along on their first day thinking that they’ve fisted laid the golden goose.

And then bad stuff happens. Because we disengage, demotivate and depress them with our poor management, disorganisation and completely ineffective HR management systems. We actively and slowly kill their passion.

That’s what we’re doing every day. We are managing the heart and soul and lifeblood out of the poor suckers who took the King’s Shilling in good faith. Maybe not consciously, but certainly effectively.

So this week and the week after. In fact, for the rest of your working life. Don’t focus on the shiny stupid nonsense that you think will engage people. Focus on the stuff that you do that actively disengages them.

Do less.
Think more.
Make it simple.

Nobody wants to be engaged

I once said that “nothing says past it” more than Human Capital Management.

I was wrong.

Don’t worry, I haven’t suddenly become a HCM groupie.

Far from it…..

I was wrong because NOTHING says past it more than the term “Employee Engagement”.

I recently tweeted that “every time I hear this term another part of me dies“…so you can imagine what writing about it does to me.

But sometimes I just can’t help myself. We all have our crosses to bear.

I have a confession. Never…..absolutely NEVER in my life have I woken up and thought….”I wish I was more engaged”. Moreover, I can guarantee that there is not a single employee within your organisation that has either.

Engagement doesn’t exist. Engagement is the sort of term a consultant would create. And then claim it was measurable and sell it at massively inflated amounts to a profession that was insecure and desperate to find some data to prove that they were both relevant and commercial.

I have no idea where they would find a profession like that. Do you?

Please. Let’s stop.

Let’s grow up.

Let’s be human.

For generations people worked for the same companies. They worked there because the organisations valued them, they treated them well, they gave them security, they gave them incentives to stay. But, they NEVER TALKED ABOUT ENGAGEMENT.

Engagement doesn’t replace a decent pension scheme, engagement doesn’t pay the mortgage on your house, engagement doesn’t provide job security.

Engagement is a term that we create to apologise for using people to generate profit.

We need to stop focussing on vacuous self-created concepts that are completely alien to the vast majority of human beings. We need to start talking about the things that matter to people. Real people.

Call me uncool, call me old-fashioned. Call me naïve.

I’m ok with that.

You aim for engaged employees…..I’ll do what’s right for my people and treat them like valued grown ups.

I think they deserve that.

The HR sausage factory

Every company has a back and forth debate.  The sort of debate that, if you spend long enough in that company, you get to see various solutions attempted at either end of the scale, normally unsuccessfully, before swinging to the other end of the scale. Back and forth. I spent many years working in retail, our back and forth debate, was about customer service.

At one end of the argument was that customers just wanted to get in, get what they wanted and get out (an argument I had some sympathy with given the state of a lot of the stores). At the other end was the view that customers wanted to be given a bit more individual attention, advice and support. We went back and forth, back and forth. The reality was that they probably wanted the latter, but the financial model of the retailer wouldn’t properly allow for it, so they got the former and, well, you only have to read the news to see how that worked out…..

Moving from one end of the alphabet to the other, we arrive at Zappos. There isn’t much to write that hasn’t been written about the American retailer. One thing that amazes people on first reading about the company is their approach to the customer.  The customer is put at the heart of the organisation, even if it means finding a product for them in a competitor’s store.

Now let’s make one gigantic segue into the world of HR. The mainstream agenda over the last decade has been about standardisation, about systematization, about centralisation.  How can we get slick processes that are efficient and allow us to reduce the amount of resource we need to deploy? The answer is simple, you treat employees in the same way that my old company treated customers. You process them.

The thing is about processing rather than serving is that initially it looks like great value for money. It costs less, it moves quicker, it isn’t resource hungry.  So you feed the disease. Slicker and slicker you get, faster and faster, more streamlined, you start to measure, so that you can get even better. And then suddenly you realise…..you can’t remember why you’re doing this anymore.

In the same way the retailer forgets the customer, you’ve forgotten the employee. This is all about them fitting into your process, not you understanding their needs. In fact, their needs are an inconvenience that gets in the way of your process. Because they aren’t really a “need” in the first place are they?  They don’t REALLY need it, they’re just being difficult.

Humans want to feel like they are being treated as individuals, that they are being listened to and that their needs are being taken into account. Treating people as people isn’t an inconvenience; it is should be the foundation of every half decent company.

Engagement, motivation, retention? So why is it than In HR we talk a good talk, then put on the overalls and get back to the sausage factory?