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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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The following comments are for Engagient's Employee Engagement Seminar for Managers

We were trying to get the buy-in from our Management team, prior to rolling out a new Performance Review Process and move the management style away from the industrial age style in an attempt to get our employees more engaged.  For the last 45 years we have been working under the old world style of management and old habits die hard.  The Engagient seminar on Employee Engagement was exactly what we were looking to install at Perfect Plastic Printing.

Don presented the information with a passion and energy that impacted every participant.  The information presented represented the results of research and science as opposed to just one more consultant’s opinion.  This made the buy-in so much easier.  The combination of instruction and small group exercises kept the class from getting tired and kept the information geared more toward our business as opposed to generalizing information.  Don was extremely knowledgeable on the subject and this was apparent when he answered participant questions.  He kept the conversations light and humorous, but had you believing that getting your employees more engaged is crucial to surviving in business today.  The feedback from the Management team on the seminar was all positive. Don was one of the best presenters that we have experienced at Perfect Plastic Printing.

--Carl Valenti
Director of Facilities
Perfect Plastic Printing
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