If Employee Engagement is Such a Good Idea, Why Hasn’t It Caught On?

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

If Employee Engagement is Such a Good Idea, Why Hasn’t It Caught On?

According to a study conducted by AON Hewitt, there is a downward trend in employee engagement worldwide. Why is that, since research points to benefits like retention, greater loyalty – and perhaps most important to businesses, improved bottom lines?

One reason is the recession. When you lay off people (the polite word for firing them), it’s hard to build a culture that supports engagement. “Hey, roll up your sleeves and get engaged or you’ll be next” is not likely to inspire the troops.

In some ways, the recession was an easy excuse for a deeper problem. And that is. . .

Leaders don’t really trust the opinions or work of people who report to them. Organizational change is an area that cries out for employee engagement. When I started writing about organizational change in 1996 (Beyond the Wall of Resistance) the failure rate of change in organizations was 70 percent. When I looked at successful changes, I found that giving people information about what’s going on and giving them a chance to influence changes that affected them, were key drivers for successful initiatives. When I was asked to update the book in 2010, I found that the failure rate remained at about 70 percent. Since the mid-1990s lots of books were sold: lots of consultants were hired; and most managers had to attend at least one change management training session. So the message was out there, leaders just didn’t believe it.

Many leaders nod their heads when they hear about support for change and resistance. They approve of talk about making a compelling case for change, inviting people to take part in planning and implementation, but that approval doesn’t turn into practice very often.

I don’t think it is lack of skill on their part. After all there are plenty of good books suggesting what they could do. They could read Kotter, Weisbord and Janoff, Dannemiller, Jacobs, or Axelrod for solid instruction. Or they could hire consultant who would salivate at the chance of helping them plan and implement a major new project.

Perhaps these leaders fear ceding control, or fear how this “touchy-feely” approach will make them look to their own peers.

What are your thoughts?

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