Study after study shows that engagement in life and work benefits you, your team and your organization. Yet, the engagement problem remains, the sorry result of too many organizations wanting their employees to be engaged, but not finding success through programs, leadership, and initiatives. One reason it may remain near the top of the list every year is that organizations and leaders may be focused on the wrong solution and often, mis-diagnose the root of the problem altogether. After all, engagement may not be only due to the factors most often considered, and it cannot, thus be sustainably improved only through programs, incentives, or any other organization-only solution. If the root causes of employee engagement are not addressed by the solution, and if all parts of the engagement equation are not included in the solution, the problem will remain.
This begs a question: How could it be that so many organizations, with so much data to back their diagnosis, could be missing part of the story? Luckily, there is a very simple answer: the data is right. It’s just not complete. It’s only telling half of what is true, and too often, it leads organizational leaders down the wrong trail, sniffing out misaligned solutions, or creating costly strategies that don’t involve the employees themselves, when they are key stakeholders in the employee engagement equation.
Times have changed, and the factors that impact engagement have changed with it, and maybe it’s time to lift our sights a little higher, so we can see a little farther – maybe even to see what we have not been able to see before. Like, for example, the idea that first and foremost, engagement is an inside-out choice that cannot be “fixed” alone through outside-in solutions. It requires both an inside-out, and an outside-in paired response to create lasting change.
Here’s how this might translate to practical reality. Engagement requires that each individual person be taught that they have the choice to engage, and why it matters to them, and others, that they do. Engagement, after all, is a choice – it’s not just something that happens to you, with you acting as a helpless victim of circumstances. To believe this is to disempower the human spirit, and to suggest that you are only as engaged and enthusiastically committed as the environment you are part of. And, there are too many evidences to the contrary, that suggests that this is not entirely true.
This means that you, in partnership with your organization, can share co-responsibility for creating both the internal and external conditions needed to act from high energy, extra-mile effort, and with full commitment. You have more power in this equation than you may now realize.
Although most organizations tend to look almost exclusively at the external factors that are supposed to create conditions for engagement, the truth is that the more impactful factors tend to be internal ones. For example, the way you choose to perceive your co-workers, or the degree to which you choose to create connection with others, or look to collaborate with, and through others on worthy projects. You might be someone who simply chooses to see yourself as powerless, and wait for others to make things rosy (maybe even blaming others when they don’t). Or you may know some employees who steamroll over others, and establish a self-created silo. These are likely the very same employees who may be the first to feel disengaged, never fully recognizing that they are part of the disengagement equation, both adding to it, and taking from it for themselves and others.
After all, as Mary Parker Follett, hailed by Peter Drucker as the Prophet of Management, said: “Various factors are continually influencing each other… I never react to you, but to you-plus-me; or to be more accurate, it is ‘I-plus-you’ reacting to ‘you-plus-me’…” Employees are equally culpable, and part of the interwoven engagement (or disengagement) challenges facing organizations.
If you understand this, and recognize the factors that drive your own engagement, you can create high energy and performance for both yourself and others. Engagement is first, and will always be, a personal responsibility; and secondarily, it is a shared/team responsibility. Notice we didn’t say “it’s a shared organizational responsibility.” After all, organizations are not engaged or disengaged. People are. And, if you are like most people, those who matter most are yourself, the “me” in the equation, and the people you might claim as your “we”.
So how do you, as an individual influence your engagement? Equally important, what can leaders teach their team members about engagement, so they can choose to live and work with more energy, passion, commitment and joy?
Our seven years of research, involving over 13,000 individuals around the globe, suggests that high engagement is best achieved through three things:
- Living and working from Interdependence
- Having a clear and strong connection to three levels of purpose (relational, work/role, and situational)
- Effectively using Strengths Strategy® to energize self and others.
What do we mean by these three solutions? Let’s look at each of them in turn.
First, Interdependence is a way of seeing self and others with greater clarity (acuity), characterized by these ways of being:
- Operating from a belief that “I serve us, so we can serve others” (choosing “we” over “me”)
- Taking responsibility for co-creating conditions, so that high energy and performance can be experienced and maintained by all
- A shared commitment to meaningful purposes
- Balance between the contributions and needs of those involved
- Unconditional curiosity – nonjudgmental celebration of strengths and weaknesses
At Interdependence, there is alignment around the why, what, and how of your work with others. There is clarity. You know how to be together with your team, because you’ve intentionally co-created conditions for mutual benefit. You know what you’re up to, and what your objectives are. And most importantly, you know why you’re doing it.
The purpose that is defined and shared in Interdependence engages and energizes you and others. It’s not always easy to work Interdependently. You don’t always agree. But, when there is a clear, shared purpose, even when it seems like you are light years apart, you find a hidden strength to forgo ego, refuse to cave in to frustration, and you can find new ways of synergizing that lift everyone involved to high energy and performance. You can have shared situational purposes with others and an understanding of the various work/role purposes you and others hold.
For you to be fully engaged, you must also have internal purpose alignment within yourself. This means being clear about how you will make a difference in others’ lives, and how that difference can be expressed through your work/role and situational purposes. In the end, being connected to purpose simply leaves you feeling happier and more fulfilled at work.
Strengths Strategies are needed to help you bring your best contributions, stay in Interdependence, as well as staying connected to Purpose. If, for example, you cannot see clearly the conditions under which you flourish and contribute your piece of the puzzle, you can’t create those conditions and you can’t contribute as effectively as you might. If you are like a lot of people, you might even blame HR (or your supervisor) for their absence, thinking that they should know what you need and give it to you. Never mind, that aside from shared universal needs, your individual needs are as unique as your fingerprint. And, based on Gallup’s data, the chances that someone would have the same needs as you individually have, with the same priority, would be 1 in 476 trillion.
It’s no wonder organizational strategies don’t work! How can a universal program possibly meet the unique needs of diverse individuals?
The truth is, that it can’t. Only when each person, individually, learns to understand and communicate their needs, and use their own resources to effectively meet those needs, can engagement happen. Interestingly, when you do this well, the most natural thing is to help others do this also. Thus, engagement spreads, in an organic, inside-out way, with each person taking personal responsibility for their piece of the engagement equation. Again, engagement is best defined, developed, and refined from inside-out. Not from the outside-in.
While there is a time to be “in the trenches”, digging for solutions and new ways of working, the solution to the engagement problem today is new vision, a new way of seeing what engagement is, and maybe what it isn’t. We don’t need more digging in the same trenches.
As you individually, and with others on your team, lift your sights, empower yourselves as individuals, and unite in interdependence for a shared purpose (while managing your contributions and strengths), you will soar! Engagement issues will become old news and the new conversation will be centered on how much higher, faster and better we can fly. And that is a conversation worth pursuing!
For more information about how to create an engagement strategy with the individual at the core or to change your own vision, request a consultation with one of our strategists by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: this blog was written by DeAnna Murphy, Lisa Gregory, and Steve Jeffs, the People Acuity thought leader team.
DeAnna Murphy, a 23-year organizational development veteran and CEO of People Acuity, has led the 7-year research process with the People Acuity Analytics team. It has involved over 10,000 individuals around the globe participating in original qualitative and quantitative research, exploration of over 1,000 academic and practitioner articles, top-rated marketing reports, and analysis of 200 of the best-selling books in leadership, self-help, business, and psychology. People Acuity, an affiliate of Strengths Strategy, is in 31 countries, and includes over 300 practitioners across the globe.
Lisa Gregory is a thought leader and Manager of Product Development and Delivery at People Acuity. With 17 years of business experience as a trainer, coach, advisor, entrepreneur and corporate leader, Lisa has extensive experience in learning and development, at both strategic and implementation levels. She has worked with leaders in 80 percent of the Fortune 500 and Global 1000 companies and has broad and deep knowledge of the challenges facing top executives, employees, and managers as they strive to bring their best to an organization and to their own lives.
Steve Jeffs is the Chief Scientist, Senior Faculty and is co-leading the international expansion of People Acuity. Integral to the People Acuity Analytics team, Steve recently presented the validation of our Foundations of Interdependent Teams Scale at the World Congress of Positive Psychology. He is a registered Psychologist, multi-award winning Executive Coach, energetic facilitator and scientist. Fascinated by interdependence and synergy, Steve is completing his Doctorate in this field, and applies this learning, consulting with organizations and in Executive Coaching with Senior Organizational Leaders around the world. Steve lives in Dubai, UAE, and operates globally.