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November 2013

Best Definition of Employee Engagement

Employee Engagement iStock_000004933240SmallIt is hard to keep track of all the different definitions of employee engagement. David MacLeod’s government appointed task force identified more than 50 perfectly good definitions.  So how can you expect to create employee engagement when you can’t even get a standard, universally accepted definition?  This very diffusion makes it almost impossible to come up with a singular solution that appeals to everyone. 

That is why I was so struck by the pithy answer that Ellen Kullman, the CEO of du Pont, apparently gave during an interview when asked what she looks for in an employee. She gave a single word answer which I am sure you will agree takes a lot of beating: “presence.” (Source: ‘That Used to be Us’: Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, Page 100.)

Having colleagues who, years ago, joked about “people who had left the company but were still on the payroll”, this struck an immediate chord.  If, however, you find it too cryptic, her expansion is clear. “We want every employee to be in the room … the rote jobs today are gone – they are done by machines. Now you have to have people who can think and interact and collaborate.” You cannot think or interact or collaborate effectively if you are not 100% focused.

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Management, Manipulation and Employee Engagement

If you are striving to be a better manager – which, as a self-respecting manager you undoubtedly are – you may find it helpful (even if it seems slightly odd) to start with a little etymology. 

You see the word ‘manage’ is derived from the Latin ‘maneggiare’ meaning to handle and comes from the root word ‘manus’ or hand. As such it has a great deal in common with the word ‘manufacture’ (literally to make by hand) and ‘manipulate’ (literally to fill the hands) and all conveying the need to handle, or operate the hands. This has some pretty profound implications when it comes to people. 

Manipulation_000024665380XSmallThroughout history and right through the Industrial Age, human labour has been “hired.” One consequence of this was the phrase “hired hands” which broadly characterised the relationship between employer and employee. It was this concept which gave employers the right to hire and fire people at their discretion.

Today, however, we have moved beyond this narrow need. Since the start of the Information Age we have talked widely and openly about “knowledge workers,” thus implicitly recognising the need to move beyond the historic limits conveyed by the traditional terminology. Even if you haven’t consciously recognised this, you have already intuited it, hence your efforts to develop initiatives “to win the minds of your people.” Yet even that is not enough.

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