No Silver Bullets in Engagement?

At the end of the 1990s organisations started to shift their perspective on employee surveys from the more traditional employee satisfaction survey towards something we quickly began to call employee engagement surveys. The HBR article about Sears published in 1998, along with other pieces of research and marketing, encouraged many organisations to review the way they measured their employees’ attitudes. Engagement became a buzz word.

The widespread adoption of the word itself helped to create an environment in which engagement was ‘a thing’ in its own right. Suddenly we were looking for the best way to define it, measure it and increase it. This created a whole industry helping to chase this holy grail and left behind a group of frustrated academics who, from their perspective, already had a perfectly acceptable and usable measure in the form of organisational commitment.

For some years now, ENGAGE has been helping a large global organisation define, measure and understand engagement within their unique environment. They have pushed us hard to help them discover engagement’s silver bullets which will help transform their organisation and in turn we have explored many issues including managing through change, employee well-being, values, advocacy, retention and pride. Despite our efforts, virtually every single one of these has led us back to the same drivers; inspirational leadership, strong values and great communication through change. The leaders of this organisation now clearly understand that there are no silver bullets; their job is to provide great leadership, live the organisation’s values and create great dialogue at all times – especially the tough times.

Of course, this situation is by no means unique. It is as if we have allowed “this thing called engagement” to exist as an entity above and beyond the fundamental building blocks of a great organisation, rather than play its part as a surrogate measure of a productive and fulfilling environment. As the general level of maturity around engagement increases, more and more companies are realising that there are few if any short cuts to creating a great working environment.


Nick Thompson | Practice Head, ENGAGED Employees | ENGAGE

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