Engagement: Enough already…

ImageAs I emerge from quite a challenging and busy few months, one of the first blogs I read is about my pet subject – engagment – from Gemma Reucroft, who penned the rather excellent post called The E Word. In it she refers to an article recently published online by HR Magazine entitled “Whose job is employee engagement: HR, CEO or dedicated head of engagement?” Frankly, if we are still asking this question then there is no hope – someone pass me a Stanley Knife….

To the guys who wrote that open letter to The Times, I’d like to say; dudes, engagement is an outcome, nothing more. And most organisations have totally lost sight of that including yours by the looks of it. It’s not a ‘thing’ or an initiative, yet as Gemma points out, most companies treat it like a dog. Whilst the organisations who put their name to the letter might mean well, its like me writing to the Times and pointing out how important it is that I stop biting my nails – Stop pontificating and blaming others, just go fix it.

Ask any large corporate what they spend on ‘engagement’ and they will probably say a very large number, and be able to point to a load of resources and people assigned to this grand topic. BUT ask them how much they spend Trust and see what happens…. tumbleweed.

Engagement is an outcome of things like Trust, Honesty, Authenticity… If these companies want to increase engagement, they should stop wasting time scribing self promoting letters to the editor and instead invest their energies in driving these factors through the business. It’s not rocket science and it ain’t hard. #JFDI.

I will leave you with this rather good image I found on the web, which while im not suggesting should be a manifesto for engagement, is a nice reminder of the basic ingredients needed to build trust.



  1. Yes! Engagement is not a program. It’s not an initiative. It’s not a function of HR. It’s not a sideshow, it’s not a cure, and it’s not even a very good a metric.


    1. Hey Broc! Thanks for the comment! Indeed, its not a very good metric either as you say. funny how we spend so much time and money on it though eh?! Good business for some folk I reckon! Hope all is good with you!


  2. With reference to the HR Magazine article, I think there is a real danger that when this thing is seen as someone’s job – that’s the end of it, at least so far as most typical working folk are concerned. I confess that when I worked at BT towards the end of my time there I took on some responsibility for ‘managing change’ and ’employee engagement’. I now realise that neither of these are a job with substance. Maybe you can influence change – but I don’t think you can manage it, no more than you can engage employees. The responsibility for making work better lies with everyone, assigning that responsibility to HR or some head of is a cop out, an abdication of responsibility. If this stuff has a value – it’s when it is devolved, not owned.

    So I disagree with your boss Roger Philby when he says in the article that engagement is a matter for the C Suite. If it exists – it matters to everyone.


    1. Hi Doug. Totally agree, its not a job or something that can be managed. Like you say, once it sits with a person or a team, the essence is lost. I do think though that there is some truth in what Roger says. Agreed, it matters to everyone. But the C-suite hold an (not necessarily the only) important key to creating an environment where trust prevails, where authenticity and honesty are driving forces in the organisation. The employee flesh can be as willing as they like, but if the ‘C-Suite’ are not subscribed, it won’t happen. Thanks for the comment!


  3. Hi Gareth, I’ve been wondering where you’ve been. Hope you’re good.

    For me, this goes right back to the thought that a brand essence is a unifying thread, and a brand proposition is a promise, and (before that) to ‘my word is my bond’…in other words good old fashioned trust, yes, mano a mano.

    The temptation to abstract engagement comes about as part of the pressure of business to produce, I believe. The temptation of the industrialised age, and it’s great weakness, has been to encourage people to think not to feel.

    These days when you look at say the set-up of, say, an Amazon depot, that idea’s been extended beyond even not to think, to perform, as a battery, to a preordained set of targets…
    which degrades the quality of work somewhat of course, which is what happens when we try to pit human beings against the competition of automation.

    It’s unfashionable and possibly a little bit girly to talk about a mindful recognition of how things make us feel, but that is where organic action potential lies, and where engagement can, quite literally, become moving and spontaneous, it seems to me.


    1. Anne! Nice to see you and yes, im good thankyou! Insightful comment as always. I think the journey of the industrialised age has taken us on a path that, whilst looked right at the time, was the result of a set of norms and parameters that were based on a very limited understanding of the power of the human mindset. You are right, mindfulness, feelings etc are not considered credible in the broader business landscape of today, and why should it?! Good is, after all, the enemy of great! There are a lot of organisations (and individuals!) doing very nicely thankyou very much with there automated, goal focused, non feeling, non girly leadership strategies!

      But the interesting thing is that new research in neuroscience might just be about to prove this wrong. Been reading some fascinating stuff recently that shows how our ‘goal focused’ approach is driving empathy out of our business leaders portfolio of skills, just at the time when research shows that superior performance relies on just that!

      Great debate and thanks for commenting!


  4. Sorry but engagement isn’t an outcome. That implies it’s an end in itself.
    It’s certainly linked to and driven by some of the factors you mention.
    But the outcome is surely more effective, fulfilled, productive and innovative employees leading to more £ for all concerned!!!
    The problem with this decade long circus is that there are too many commentators with dangerously little experience of OD preaching nonsense.
    And because there’s a business downturn they have a great deal of time.
    Leaders, in the meantime, are simply grateful for their jobs and have no intention of taking risks or embracing anything that sounds as vaguely flaky as many of these half-baked notions!
    Doug makes some good points I’m pleased to hear.


    1. Hi Ian. That’s the problem with blogs! We are actually in total alignment. You get more “effective, fulfilled, productive and innovative employees” from embedding the things I talked about in the blog – Trust, authenticity, honesty – into the organisation, not by focussing on an engagement initiative or a survey. At the root of an engaged person are the things I mention. At the root of an organisation that has people in with those traits, lie those things. That’s what I was saying. Engagement of the people in the business is simply a result of these behaviours and actions, not a ‘thing’. The problem is most organisations see engagement as a goal in itself, something to hang an initiative off, something that can be ‘bought’. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


    2. Thanks for your feedback Leon. And I think you are right about ‘it’ not being an outcome, and to your point about leaers being grateful for their jobs and not taking risks – wow, now there’s a much more fascinating subject for sure. Cheers – Doug


  5. Co-incidentally, I blogged last week about the Bradford Factor and also suggested that if we place engagement with trust, we might approach it differently.

    I think we’re trying to fix the wrong thing when we run engagement programmes. The work is too abstracted from reality.


  6. I can empathise with many of the critical comments about the so-called engagement “movement” and am only surprised it has taken this long. As someone who has worked in the change space both client and agency side for a couple of decades I’ve been puzzled by the obsession with a term that is and has only been a description of one of the enabling factors necessary for a healthy and sustainable relationship between employees and the business they work for.

    I can see where Gareth’s coming from as, in my view, much of the engagement-related PR has been a re-working of concepts at the expense of action and real change where it’s clearly needed most – within the boardrooms of many of our FTSE companies. Take RBS as a case in point – lecturing the City and Icomms and HR professionals about employee engagement and yet the business results and ongoing cultural catastrophes speak for themselves…….


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