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Can Employee Engagement Be Taught Or Is It An Internal Locus Of Control? (Part 1 of 2)

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Below is an edited excerpt of a LinkedIn discussion which I recently participated in.

Forget about the question of “locus of control”. There are many, so searching for one or another is not very productive. To me, the question for managers or CEOs is more useful when it is “where do I begin?”   That question is actionable and will result is something concrete. Visualize employee engagement as a circular cycle with limitless opportunities of where to intervene to nurture and support engagement.

Our definition of employee engagement is focused on outcomes — not conditions: “An employee’s willingness to volunteer discretionary effort.”  There are many ways to accomplish that.

Now on the question of whether or not employee engagement can be taught… A week ago I would have readily agreed with the comments of the previous opinions — no, it can’t.

But then I just returned from a seminar I gave in Atlanta with a large trade association. Five months ago I delivered our Employee Engagement Boot Camp for Managers to all of the organization’s managers (about 50). Two months ago they called and said they wanted me to deliver the same content to their employees in an all-day session — which I just did.

I was concerned about the impact of talking about employee engagement (EE) directly to the “rank and file,” harboring some of the same concerns echoed that Employee Engagement is not a cognitive exercise. But the client was adamant, so I moved ahead.

In the session I showed them what EE looks like when you measure it in an organization. It looks like a bell curve (no surprise here). Our EE assessment tool measures engagement into four categories: Actively Engaged, Somewhat Engaged, Somewhat Disengaged, and Actively Disengaged. I then had them tell me what they considered engaged behaviors (on a flip chart), and disengaged behaviors (on another flip chart).

Over several hours we explored the differences in the two lists, including what the impact of the behaviors were on the individual, their co-workers, the company, and the customer. One key take-away for me was that I did not have to add any “content” to the discussion — they knew quite a bit about the impacts of disengagement, and they hated it.

So we closed the day coming up with a plan for increasing engagement through a very practical lens — we developed a set of Best Practices for being “A Professional.” That is, since they all agreed they wanted to be seen as professionals (regardless of their title), they created a list of behaviors they all agreed to aspire to. And those Best Practices will increase EE, guaranteed.

So, “Can you teach engagement?”  This afternoon I would say YES, because I just saw it unfold in front of me.

Now, of course the managers and the overall culture of the organization need to be brought into this as well, but the employees felt so strongly about the need to develop a better work environment that they wanted their own initiative — regardless of what management was doing. They felt, for the first time, empowered to take action on their own (and the organization’s) benefit. I know this may sound a bit boastful (it would be if I thought I was the source), but the whole experience was really remarkable.

Please come back on Wednesday, Nov. 16 for the continuation of this discussion.

BEST PRACTICES TIP:  There are many entry points for increasing workplace engagement, so just pick one and get started!

To view the entire LinkedIn discussion, click here.

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Engagient provided a safe environment for managers to openly share comments, issues and concerns related to the workplace culture and practices. Facilitation and careful probing by Engagient staff provided our managers with the view and challenges facing senior leadership and how managers may be helpful in the process, identifying opportunities to enhance their leadership skills.

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