Why Engagement Alone Is Not Enough

Why Engagement Alone Is Not Enough

In the first post of this series, I shared with you our thoughts on what employee engagement is and isn’t. Put simply, it’s the level of motivation and commitment present in a workforce. After that, I pointed out why most companies fall short with their efforts to increase this all-important measure: they focus on commercial strategy but don’t consciously manage and develop their people strategy, or their culture.

In this post, you’ll see where engagement fits in and why, alone, it’s not enough to create a winning culture. Then I’ll share some simple ways to lay the building blocks for a high performing team or organisation.


First, meet Tim…

Tim joined a new company about 7 months ago. He knows his stuff and was a major loss to his previous company, who had to downsize drastically and let him go. He’s easy to get along with, self-driven, very capable, willing to learn and, by anyone’s standards, would be described as a very engaged employee. As you might expect, his new employer is delighted to have him on board. Tim, though, is less delighted. He’s doing good work and the people are nice – there are even plenty of perks like free lunch, a games room and gym membership – but something’s not right. He wants to do his best work, but the company doesn’t seem to want anyone’s best work. Everything seems to default to a kind of mediocre middle-ground. There’s no real joined-up thinking, and the resources needed to do the job are patchy at best. He’s starting to feel frustrated.

Ok, I’m sure you’ve guessed that Tim’s not real – he’s just a character, but the things that happen to him and the place he now finds himself are very real indeed. I’ve met and worked with dozens of “Tim”s who feel frustrated. And when capable, engaged people start to feel frustrated, the chances of hitting high performance (let alone TOP performance, which we’ll cover in a future post) are greatly reduced.


Frustration is a performance-killer

So, what’s going on for Tim?  I used the word “frustrated” very deliberately.  Not only because that’s the emotion he’s feeling (and let’s face it, this is a pretty debilitating emotion for someone who’s used to doing great work), but it’s also what the company has been doing to Tim: frustrating his performance.  He’s ENGAGED, but he’s not being ENABLED. His best work is remaining untapped because the company is not removing the barriers in front of him.

The Shocking Truth About Employee Engagement!

The Shocking Truth About Employee Engagement!


Going back to our friends in “Average Company Utd.”, it’d be like making those precious 1.4 engaged players wear uncomfortable boots, or train at awkward hours, or practice with basketballs instead of soccer balls. These examples may sound far-fetched, but how often do companies end up with workarounds or situations where people have to make-do with poor (or no) resources, support, direction, tools or structures?

Put simply:

“Engagement without enablement leads to frustration”. 


And what happens then?

Well, people like Tim only have four options:

  1. They can break through: Hi-Potential employees, in particular, want to exceed expectations and stretch themselves.  They usually have a high internal locus of control, so their first response will be to try to improve things for themselves and others. When they eventually decide that they can’t change things because they’re so ingrained in habit, culture, or bureaucracy, they move on to one of the remaining three options …
  2. They can break down: People like Tim don’t give up easily; they’re used to being listened to and to being successful.  But, there’s only so much mental and physical energy available to them and, through the exertion (both mental and physical) of pushing against the system, frustrated employees can end up overwhelmed and unable to cope.
  3. They can hit the brakes:  To avoid breakdown, or sometimes as a result of having suffered it, another option for the frustrated employee is to reduce their level of discretionary effort to match that of their less engaged colleagues – most of whom are being treated just as well as, if not better than, them anyway. This can either be a conscious or unconscious “decision”, but either way, this is not a place that our engaged friends want to be.
  4. They can make a clean break: Some employees will jump straight to this step, after they realise their efforts to “break through” were in vain. Others may go through option 2 or 3 as well, but at the end of the day, this group, more than most, will have other employment options and will be more likely to exercise them and go where they feel they can make an impact. Needless to say, with this option, everyone loses out.

This “frustration” section is an evolved version of the content in the brilliant book “The Enemy of Engagement”.


Engagement and Enablement … got it … so, where do the 3 E’s come from?

It’s clear that organisations need a solution for these engaged-yet-frustrated people like Tim, but they probably have much larger numbers in the “not engaged” group, where there are, arguably, bigger gains to be had by driving these employees towards higher levels of engagement and performance.  Thankfully, it’s been my experience that leaders can satisfy the needs of BOTH groups in the same way; through sustained focus on the engagement and enablement of their people.

What exactly do we mean by enablement?  Well, this is made up of two separate, but equally important parts: efficiency and effectiveness.  So, now the solution becomes the 3 E’s, defined by us as follows:

Engagement: Increasing peoples’ levels of motivation and commitment to their work and their stakeholders.

Efficiency:  Getting maximum value for minimum time, energy and resources, with minimum errors and waste.

Effectiveness: Ensuring that all activity drives progress towards goals and makes a positive impact.

It’s important to note a couple of things about this.

Firstly, it’s not a linear solution; you don’t have to spend a year on engagement before moving onto efficiency and then effectiveness. Sometimes making some efficiencies is a big part of driving engagement, so we don’t want to worry too much about the “chicken or egg” conundrum – if you pay attention to all three areas, it will come good in the end.

Secondly, most managers will have a preference for, and probably a greater level of skill in, just one of the three areas (and it’s usually NOT engagement – after all they probably became a manager by delivering on the numbers and being a good problem-solver).

So, with these points in mind, managers and leaders need to be trained to look at the world through all three of these powerful lenses simultaneously, and to measure and manage them proactively and consistently for best results. Let’s look at a few ways they can do this.


How to manage the 3 E’s at individual employee level

Great results can be achieved in a short time by keeping things practical and focused. Here are some simple actions we’ve used to great effect (to save space and allow you to print them, we’ve put them into this PDF):

Simple & LOW-COST ways to drive results under the 3 E’s

These ideas cost little or no money, take very little time to do and can be implemented without any big project plan. It’s not an exhaustive list, nor is it a perfect list, but, in my experience, the biggest success factor is not the ideas themselves but the enthusiasm of the manager using them. 


What if you want to make a difference at company level? 

It’s the same stuff! Except it’s done in a joined-up, systematic way. Yes, in a large organisation, it requires a lot of planning, commitment and effort… BUT… it doesn’t have to be complicated.

We’ve embedded these tools and practices into organisations across Europe, with staff numbering in the thousands, but have also achieved success with small, local teams, by using the same set of tools and behaviours, in a consistent, focused way.


Want more?

Here’s a webinar video from Canadian Management Centre with the authors of The Enemy of Engagement.

A lovely, and short, TED talk on the power of thanks and showing people the difference they make in the world.

You’ve probably seen this one before, but it’s worth another watch to remind you how motivation really works: RSA Animate’s video on Dan Pink’s “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”.


Tell us …

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic – have you tried any of the tools?  What measures do you have in place for engagement and enablement?  What alternative approaches have you seen?


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