What does engaging employees really require? If you want to get the most from the process, it takes a full commitment to involving employees in decision making and creating systemic change. Anything less is not really engagement.
A few years ago, a company asked for our help in improving their employee involvement. As is turned out, they really only wanted to touch the surface of the process. Management still wanted to maintain full control, determine a narrow range of issues employees could consider, and severely limit the level of empowerment they provided. The result would have been a management-controlled process masquerading as employee engagement. Obviously, we declined to be part of their process.
Engagement does not mean conducting an employee survey with clumsily worded questions and no desire to do anything with the results. It does not mean bringing employees together to tell them what you have already decided. It does not mean asking for employee input with no desire to be open to their responses or make change.
For employees, effective engagement also demands their commitment to the process. It takes time, effort, and a desire to find the best ways to improve the work system. Engagement does not mean merely showing up at meetings without being prepared and providing meaningful input, shirking responsibilities to do the work of the team between meetings, or be locked into the “That’s how we’ve always done it” mentality.
Unions must also share the commitment to employee engagement. They must support the process, provide joint leadership with management, and be open to new approaches and ideas. Doing any less is not providing real opportunities and representation for their members.
Without the commitment and real empowerment, the engagement process cannot succeed. Those that lack dedication to engagement will have too many opportunities to roadblock progress, resulting in frustration for those trying to make it work. In these circumstances, it may be better to not even bother trying, since failure of the process could hamper later efforts to do things right.
If your organization is really interested in employee engagement, it is essential that everyone make the commitment to the process. Management, employees, and (in organized employers) the union must be equal parts of the process with a desire to improve the work system.
Either go big and commit to true employee engagement or stay home and work to lay the foundation so that an effective process can begin in the future.
Need help optimizing your employee engagement process? CALMC has the experience to help you get the most from your efforts, whether you are starting a new effort or trying to optimize your ongoing practices.