“All the benefits we attribute to engagement happen when employees want to add value and have the ability to do it.” – Paul Hebert

In software development, a fork occurs when programmers use a copy of existing software to create a distinct and separate piece of software. Forking often occurs when the development of a piece of software has reached an impasse. The project is “forked” so that the code can be developed independently in different ways to get different results.

We are at that point with Employee Engagement.

It is time for a fork.

Maybe Engagement Shouldn’t be the Goal

I think we need to look at whether employees feel they are adding value to the company versus whether they feel “engaged.”

Every person at a company should feel like they are adding value. Employees should always ask:

“How do I make this company more valuable for my fellow employees, for our customers, for our vendors and suppliers? How do I make sure working here is still a valuable exchange of my time and talent for their cash and benefits?”

Managers should have an additional charge:

“How do I make this company more valuable for my employees? How can I help them want to expend their unique talents in service of the company? How can the company best service those that spend their time and talent here?”

We all want to be valuable. We all want to know that our uniqueness has purpose and it adds to the experiences of our family, fellow employees, friends, and yes, even our companies and our managers. That is the bar by which we typically measure how much of ourselves we will put into something. Work. Life. Anything.

Paul Hebert, HRExaminer.com 2015

Paul Hebert | Founding Member, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

We want and NEED to add value.

But so far, the best the business world can do when trying to figure out how to encourage employees to add value is to label it “engagement” and create proxy measures for it. We’ve created 100s of definitions of engagement and 100s of ways to measure it. But so far, the business world has spent 15 years working on engagement and Bersin suggests companies could spend as much as $1.5 BILLION PER YEAR in the future.

We have identified plenty of inputs. We arrange them like a Da Vinci code cryptex hoping to find the magic combination. And nothing has changed.

Call me crazy but when I see so much work being done and seeing so little result, I have to assume we’re doing “it” wrong. Either the starting point is wrong, the process is wrong, or the result is right, and we just can’t accept it.

A New Definition

I think the starting point is wrong. I think we need a new focus. Engagement isn’t and shouldn’t be the goal. First of all, I think it is biased toward the company since most definitions of “engagement” talk about “discretionary” effort for the company. What that really means is more work for same money. That’s not an engagement goal. That’s a financial and accounting goal. That’s how you buy a machine. You ask about its output potential.

None of the current and popular definitions get to the real crux of the issue – employees do their best and companies get their best when employees feel they add value – and when they can.

Let’s measure that.

Creating value is THE human need. To know that if you weren’t here the world would be less good. The company would be less good. The people at the company would be less good.

All the benefits we attribute to engagement happen when employees want to add value and have the ability to do it.

A Positive Reciprocity Loop

A company will be successful and create value and profit when they are successful at creating a positive reciprocity loop that fuels employees’ desires to create value.

A positive reciprocity loop means when I create value for the company, it in turn creates value for the consumer, vendors and suppliers and other employees. The value they create in turn adds value to my company and me. I am then happy to continue to create more value knowing it will be reciprocated as the cycle continues.

That is what drives organization success.

Adding value. And positive reciprocity.

Unfortunately, most companies spend an inordinate amount of emotional (and real) capital focused on negative reciprocity. Meaning, companies and managers are constantly playing defense dealing with perceived and real failures in fairness. Negative reciprocity happens when employees intentionally perform poorly to “even the score” on issues of perceived and real unfairness in the employee-company relationship.

Companies need to eliminate the things that create negative reciprocity and work very hard on creating positive reciprocity around value creation.

It’s Not Engagement That Drives Success

The value employees bring to a company isn’t reflected in engagement scores. I can manipulate that all day long.

The real value is in defining and running a repeatable process, with any market conditions, with any group of employees, with any company financial states, that ultimately creates a positive reciprocity loop.

Simple right?


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