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The Core of Employee Engagement

I have been giving a lot of thought to a PowerPoint presentation created by Simon Larcombe called “Employee Engagement in a Nutshell” that I came across recently. (Do check it out if you haven’t already seen it.)  I was particularly struck by the diagram on the second slide, but couldn’t help wondering if, in a way, it didn’t also illustrate how we over-complicate the whole subject? Let me explain why.

  Employee Engagement in a Nutshell

The picture, rather brilliantly, illustrates that the core of employee engagement is relationships.  And the key to healthy (i.e. effective) relationships is that they have to be mutually rewarding. In other words they have to bring each party a benefit that they are aware of, acknowledge and appreciate. For both parties! That means each has to be aware of, acknowledge and appreciate not only their own expectations but also the other party’s.

The minute either party feels that the benefits are less than they expect, want or merit they become disillusioned and dissatisfied and the relationship sours and becomes less healthy. And, inevitably an unhealthy relationship is inefficient and/or less effective.

This is significant if you are trying to run a lean organisation. “Lean” is all about eliminating waste and unhealthy relationships are wasteful. Consequently eradicating poor relationships is possibly the single biggest untapped resource of efficiency savings that any organisation can make.

Employee engagement initiatives may well be an attempt to tap into this stream of savings. But the link has never been recognised or acknowledged. Nor has the paradox of employee engagement and the fundamentally flawed way it looks at relationships.

By definition employee engagement means viewing the organisation from the individual’s perspective. This inherently means you are only looking at one-side. Yet even then, that view is biased because you are starting from a motive of improving it for the benefit of the organisation. Consequently, notwithstanding what the diagram depicts, you are not really looking at the relationship.  

How can you ever hope to have a healthy relationship unless you know what the individual employee is looking to gain from the relationship? This means you have to approach employee engagement one individual at a time. And because employment is a relationship and there are two parties this calls for clear communication on the expectations of both parties. That is the only way you can achieve the authenticity and meaning depicted in the diagram. Only with full understanding of both of their own and the other’s expectations can you hope to optimise the mutual benefits and so reap the full rewards of the relationship.

If you think about it, executing strategy depends entirely on the effectiveness of your people. You cannot really expect to execute your strategy unless your people are effective. This demands effective relationships. Only then can you achieve strategic alignment. This is the essence of the relationship segment of the diagram and can be illustrated in a simple diagram of its own.

Strategy Execution


To create the kind of strategic alignment that ensures your strategy is executed you have to build effective relationships. That starts with a clear understanding of what the individual wants, and melding that with the organisational needs. This is core but is about so much more than just employee engagement. 

Bay Jordan

Bay is the founder and director of Zealise, a company created to help larger small to large business organisations to properly value their people and thereby inspire them to optimise their self-worth and so engage them that they transform organisational performance and bottom-line results. Bay is also the author of several books, including “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” and “The 7 Deadly Toxins of Employee Engagement.”


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