The Secret of Employee Engagement is No Secret

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

The Secret of Employee Engagement is No Secret

Last week I was working with all the senior leaders and middle managers for a large city government.  They were launching a number of challenging new programs for their city. They knew they needed an engaged staff if they wanted the changes to get up and running and to make a difference in their community. (Sustainability is the jargon term for that.) 

I started my time with them by asking half the group of 400 to think about a job that they had loved. It could be their current job or a part-time job they had way back in college. Then list what made it such a great job.

I asked the other half the room to think about a job that they hated. (To illustrate my point, I told them about a good friend who once described his job as, “an acid bath.”)  Then I asked them to list what made the job so bad.

The people who described jobs they hated came up with a ghastly list. No need to depress you, so I won’t list those items here.

But the other group identified things like: The work mattered. I knew what to do. My work was respected. My boss knew when to lead and when to get out of the way.  I worked with great people. I had the tools to do the work.

Perhaps we should alert the media! I can picture cub reporter, Jimmy Olson, running into Perry White’s office yelling, “Boss, I’ve got a story here that will break this town wide open. Here’s what really motivates people.” OK, so I know this is not late-breaking news. We’ve known that these are the things that motivate and engage people for decades, well before the term employee engagement ever entered our vocabulary.  And yet, that list holds the key, if we only looked down and saw that it had been in our hands all along.

My advice to my client was turn to what you know and use that as a guide. You don’t need a new incentive program, or motivational speakers, slogans, or posters of kittens grasping branches extolling you to “hang in there, baby.”  Let your experience be your guide when it comes to employee engagement.

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