Hey you! Are you listening? I’m engaging with you!

Well, that’s one way of doing it. And, sadly, it’s how the majority of large organisations seem to approach engagement.

We do tend to assume that engagement means the same to everyone, but my experience in working with global companies highlights that there are significant differences in understanding even internally, let alone between organisations.

So I like to go back to basics and take people though the dictionary definitions. Some they recognise and others offer new concepts and insights.

Here they are:

Definition #1 - "Get someone’s attention or interest"

The first line of this blog captures the essence of this approach. For many it is the holy grail: let’s get them to listen and pay attention to our message – often one that is strategically important (to us) – and get them to buy in to our idea.

However, it’s all about broadcasting and no space is given to allow for feedback. After all, that would be confusing and we might have to consider changing things, which is hard because we’re already committed to the specific course of action we’ve decided on.

This is not what we consider to be Employee Engagement.

Definition #2 - "Participate or become involved in something"

Another favourite! Getting people “engaged” in their work is also a highly desirable outcome. After all, engaged workers are more productive.

In theory this is great, but in practice I’ve seen this approach used predominantly to mean focussing on what they’re told to do. Employers want their people to get on with the task of implementing their defined strategy with enthusiasm and commitment, but also without “rocking the boat” or asking difficult questions.

On the other hand, if this is done in a true participatory spirit and people are genuinely able to contribute to co-creating outcomes, then it is an important part of Employee Engagement best practice. But it’s not the whole story…

Definition #3 - "Take on or employ someone"

In HR legal terms, when you take someone on you’re engaging them in employment. It’s a bit of an antiquated term these days, and we generally prefer to use hiring or appointing people rather than engaging them.

So that’s not what we mean.

Definition #4 - "Engage in conflict"

Engaging the enemy is not just a military term. Too often in old-style organisations there is an adversarial relationship with staff and strong management is required to keep people in their place!

This is definitely not what we mean by Employee Engagement!

Definition #5 - "Get engaged to be married"

What has this got to do with Employee Engagement? I would argue, everything.

Consider what happens when a couple get engaged to be married. It is the culmination of a process of mutual exploration to create the sense of a shared future together.

That’s what is so important when you look at Employee Engagement in this light. The engagement is a result of listening to the other(s) and incorporating their thinking into your own. It is therefore an outcome of a deeper process: you start out by engaging in dialogue (Definition #2) in order to reach a shared understanding, which ultimately creates genuine alignment of interests for all parties.

That’s true Employee Engagement: everyone working together to achieve a common goal that they have had a part in creating.

Work then becomes a joy which, in turn radiates out to create joyous experiences for colleagues and customers, making it more fun for everyone, and more profitable for the organisation.

If you can achieve that, you’ve really hit the sweet spot!