Really…are There Rules…for Engagement?

 OK, first, this is waaaay too long. I’ll do better next time. Promise!

Employee Engagement**, as measured using the Q12 was first introduced as the now popular TRUTH by the Gallup organization back in late 1998, early 1999. Many of us first heard of the Q12 while reading “First Break All the Rules” by Marcus Buckingham whenever we may have read it, in my case 2001.

But I am not writing about the Q12 today, only  marking its introduction into our conceptual framework. I am also noting that it seems that once Gallup told the world what it had found much of the western business culture suddenly realized that there was some connection between an employee’s level of engagement and their performance/productivity.

 Like so many other things in business (that most pragmatic of worlds) we came to care about this subject when we were in enough pain and not much sooner. Honestly, if you look back in the literature you’ll find references to engagement, albeit called by other names,  as early as the 1920’s in the writings of Mary Parker Follett.


Unfortunately, as has often been the case before with newly promoted management ideas the general drift of the studies and literature that followed the introduction of the Q12 has reinforced the fundamental power differential that has come to be accepted in the workplace. Basically, employer/management has the power and employees don’t. And so it goes with codifications of the so called “drivers” of engagement such as those presented to us by The Conference Board.

 Based on a distillation of several intensive studies by varying sources TCB in 2006 presented its clients with the following common drivers of employee engagement:

  •  Trust and integrity – how well managers communicate and ‘walk the talk’.
  • Nature of the job –Is it mentally stimulating day-to-day?
  •  Line of sight between employee performance and company performance – Does the employee understand how their work contributes to the company’s performance?
  • Career Growth opportunities –Are there future opportunities for growth?
  •  Pride about the company – How much self-esteem does the employee feel by being associated with their company?
  •  Coworkers/team members – significantly influence one’s level of engagement Employee development –
  • Is the company making an effort to develop the employee’s skills?
  •  Relationship with one’s manager – Does the employee value his or her relationship with his or her manager?

To all this “driver” stuff, and similar notions that employers are responsible for employee engagement  I say Poop! They are postured in an allegorical tale of good and evil with all the appropriate archetypes. Consider that what we have all been talking about (and I suspect sincerely) is how to resolve the seeming paradox that only arises when we accept that there is an irresolvable conflict between the interest of workers and employers. Again, I say Poop! The non-resolvability is in the eye of the beholder.

 If there is any responsibility to be assigned it must include all parties in equal measure. If nothing else I say that that what we have struggled with since the introduction of the Q12 is to find who is at fault for the awful statistics provided us by Gallup as output from their famous survey. They found

             Engaged employees- 29%     

                                              Not engaged employees – 56%

·                                                                                                                                                               Disengaged employees -15%



        TABLE: The Three Types of EmployeesIf you have any sense of pride as an employer these numbers were bound to drive you crazy (and launch 1000 consulting practices!) and if as an employee you had previously bought into your role of worker as victim you now had evidence for the case you pleaded daily in the break room. Humbug to all of this, the pride and the prejudice!


        Yes, as employers we do have environmental factors affecting employee engagement within our control that we are well advised to attend to. Failing to heed the research has it its own consequences and they are well deserved.


At the same time, Yes, as employees maybe we have our own set of guidelines for maintaining our own engagement. I propose to you the following Employee Guidelines for Staying Engaged, developed by me without survey instruments or statistical analysis.  (Myers-Briggs type INFP) Are these rules? The question makes no sense to an INFP!

 Mike’s Employee Guidelines for Staying Engaged         

#1 Whoever sees it first gets to do it. This is the principle of Responsibility. There is no
validity to the statement “That’s not my job.” until you say so.

#2 Nobody likes anybody’s ideas better than there own. This is the principle of
Participation. Everyone wants to play, they will play your game if they can play their way, let

#3 Organizational life will provide as much nonsense as you can deal with, do not add
to the confusion. This is the principle of Persistence. There is normally nothing and no one
assigned to your success at work.  At the same time, there is nothing and no one assigned to
make sure you do not succeed. Whining is not a good substitute for performance and it adds to
the mess.  Hang in there and don’t take it personally.

#4 Do not confuse your beliefs with the truth, it makes you stupid and an annoyance to
other people. This is the principle of Perspective. Your “point of view” is valid, as “your point of
view.” As “the point” it makes life at work really crummy.

#5 When you have no control you must communicate. When you do not communicate,
apologize.  When someone fails to communicate with you, forgive. This is the principle of
Traveling Light. The work is hard enough all by itself, don’t collect or create baggage.

#6 Nothing is more valuable to your performance than your working relationships, respect and maintain them.This is the principle of Managing Mutual Understanding. Never, never, never leave your motive or your intent up to someone’s imagination.  If you really need to communicate pick up the phone or walk down the hall. Communication is a process, not a transaction to be trusted to email.

#7 Give up your right to say, “I told you so!”  This is
the principle of Partnership. If you don’t say it when you first see it, forget it, and get to work.

We are all, as individuals, in over our heads. That’s just the way it is.” The greatest barrier we all face to performance and productivity in our organizations is our unwillingness to ask for help.

#9Be ready to walk away today” Given the overall uncertainty of the times in which we live and the general condition of nothing being guaranteed you do yourself enormous honor by being prepared to leave your current employment at a moment’s notice. This means to handle your personal finances with the primary objectives of protecting your confidence and ensuring the comfort of your family. Enough said?

# 10 Remember. . .  If you can’t laugh at yourself, someone else will always be
happy to do it for you.”  Embrace the interdependence; it is the path to both success
and satisfaction.

(Of course there are 10, there are always 10 when it comes to Guidelines,Rules, etc.!)

If you can’t remember these 10 Guidelines write this on the back of your hand...“Life First, Business Second, May The Force Be With You”–Pam Slim

 Thank you for your attention!

**My thanks to David Zinger , Steve Roesler , Abhishek and Patricia Soldati for addressing this dilemma months before me.


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