The Silver Bullet for Employee Engagement

Peter Hunter

There is a Silver Bullet for employee engagement but most people can’t see it because they are looking in the wrong direction.

We blame the workforce for poor performance and quality issues because their hands are on the product. Logically, if there is a problem it must have been caused by them.

Tie this to the only other alternative, to blame management, and it is clear that the people who are reporting on performance issues, management, are not going to blame themselves for what they see as someone else’s failure.

In this way we have come to believe that performance problems are the fault of the workforce.

Thus when the issue of "Engagement" is raised we automatically assume that the lack of engagement is the fault of the workforce and we look for the "Silver Bullet" that can be aimed at them to make them engage.

We have been looking for that bullet for a long time and having failed to find it we are close to assuming that it does not exist, not recognizing for a minute that the reason we can’t find it is that we are looking down the wrong end of the gun.

What we should be looking for is not the bullet that will make the workforce engage, we should be looking for the bullet that when fired in the other direction, at management, will highlight their behavior that is preventing the workforce from engaging.

An engaged workforce is energetic, the engaged workforce is imaginative, they are intelligent and skilled.

They are proud of the performance they are capable of, they look for opportunities to demonstrate it and boast of their and their organizations' achievements.

When not at work the most unengaged worker actively seeks opportunities that allow them to engage.

They passionately follow football, they walk and run for charities, they get involved in parents groups, amateur dramatics, local government, sports and social groups.

People have a massive amount of energy and commitment, which they use in every aspect of their lives, except at work.

The big question is, what is it that happens at work that prevents them from engaging when in every other aspect of their lives they are actively seeking the opportunities to engage that allow them to be proud of their performance.

The answer, and the clue to the location of the Silver Bullet, is that all of the discretionary effort that individuals make in their private lives is made of their own free will. Everything that is given outside the workplace is given freely and fully because each individual chooses for themselves to give it.

There is no obligation, nobody is telling anybody else what to do and the only pressure to perform is pressure that is created and accepted voluntarily.

What happens at work that prevents our workforce from engaging is that every aspect of their employment is designed to force them to work, to coerce them to produce what the management decide is an acceptable level of performance. With that pressure to perform comes the ultimate sanction, that employment will be terminated if the management performance targets are not met.

This external pressure to perform creates in the workforce the resistance that makes it impossible for them to perform.

Catch 22.

Putting more pressure on the workforce to perform is simply a reinforcement of the sort of management behavior that is already preventing them from performing.

The Silver Bullet therefore is not something that we should be aiming at the workforce to make them perform. The Silver Bullet should be aimed at the behavior of management that is preventing the workforce from engaging.

When management are able to behave towards the workforce in a way that respects and honors their experience, their skills and abilities, then we are approaching the position from which the workforce might choose to engage.

Engagement is a personal choice that belongs to every individual and as such no other individual can decide whether another ought, or ought not, to be engaged.

One of the biggest obstacles to engagement is the directive, controlling behaviour of management.

When the obstacles are removed this creates the environment in which the workforce can then choose to engage.

Nobody ever tells anybody else to fall in love, but when love is the object we all set out to create the environment in which our chosen partner can fall in love.

In the same way we cannot tell our workforce to engage but by removing the obstacles to their engagement we can create the environment in which they can choose to engage.

The Silver Engagement Bullet to allow the workforce to perform should be aimed at the management behaviour that is preventing them from engaging, not at the workforce.

The workforce are only disengaged because of the way they are treated by management.