I was recently lucky enough to be invited along to the Sunday Times Best Companies Top 100 dinner as a result of a very generous invite from the CIPD. A fun and interesting evening it was too and if you were into buzzword bingo, this was the place to be. The one word that came up time and time again was Engagement.
What occurred to me, listening to the speakers and hearing about the awards, was that as organisations, our attitude to engagement has changed little in the 20 odd years I have been working. Even the way we try to ‘engage’ or measure ‘engagement’ has remained pretty much the same, save for some automation and the beneifts of data analysis brought about by technology and the internet.
This seems totally at odds with the fact that the way we, as employees engage has changed significantly. This presents a huge potential disconnect between organisations and the individuals that inhabit them.
My grandfather spent his life in the coalmine and he did so without ever openly challenging the work he was doing or the working conditions he had to endure. He accepted his lot and got on with it, never moaning to anyone, not even his wife.
Fast forward half a century to the 60’s and 70’s and we see a significant shift with the onset of the trade union and collective bargaining. By this time, we are happy to take issue with our paymasters – but through a third party, and only largely on issues relating to pay and conditions. Hiding behind the front of an official representative was comfortable. It was also sometimes necessary in order to protect your job.
Fast forward to today and the landscape is very different again. Unions still exist, but as individuals we have become much more comfortable with challenging the organisations which put the bread on our table. And not only over issues of pay and conditions. The whole remit of the organisation is up for grabs – style and competency (and more recently the pay and conditions) of the leadership, ethics and integrity of the organisation, how it is managed, how it produces and markets its products and so on.
Currently this ‘noise’ is relatively low key, and there is still a large amount of anonymous dialogue on blog posts and websites. But the momentum is gathering. Or, as @drmcewan put it in a recent conversation we had on this very subject, there is a ‘rising chorus of voices’ which is being amplified significantly though the use of social media. It may not acceptable right now to express your dissatisfaction with, say, your boss on your facebook page. But getting fired for it will soon be a thing of the past. And over time, more and more people will become comfortable with challenging, openly, decisions and actions of their employers. Anonymity will not be necessary.
Unfortunately, to a large extend, we still see these conversations in a negative light, preferring to either close them down, ‘manage’ them or avoid them taking place altogether. Which is, in my humble opinion, a big mistake as it is these very conversations that hold the key to business transformation.
As HR professionals, and leaders in general, there are a number of ways we can respond to this ‘rising chorus’. I know how I would respond. Do you?!