“The Art of Engagement”

I scout out and read a lot of employee engagements books to recommend in this blog and my workshops. My latest recommendation is The Art of Engagement: Bridging the Gaps between People and Possibilities by Jim Haudan, CEO, Root Learning. This book provides a framework to bridge the great divide that exists between organizational strategy and execution: specifically, how to effectively implement strategy “through” (rather than “despite”) people by ensuring that people actually understand and embrace a company’s business strategy. (What a concept!)

Setting the foundation for his engagement framework, Haudan explores the roots of engagement as being based on four qualities that people want:

  1. to be part of something big, something special, so that their work is associated with a “sense of substance, importance, pride, and direction”
  2. to feel a sense of belonging, a sense of connection
  3. to go on a meaningful journey, so that their work is invested in something that matters
  4. and to know that their contributions make a significant impact or difference, that their efforts matter.

He also uncovers the reasons for disengagement and disconnection based on listening to employee “voices from the trenches.” Employees can’t be or stay engaged when they:

  1. feel overwhelmed with too many or conflicting directives from management
  2. don’t understand what the business is all about, what’s expected of them
  3. are afraid that their work isn’t valued or don’t feel it’s safe to speak up
  4. don’t see how the various parts of the business connect (“the big picture”)
  5. don’t have a sense of ownership of business issues and aren’t fully involved in problem-solving and offering ideas.

Haudan recognizes that every organization has major gaps (“canyons”) between its leaders (“who see what need to be done but don’t have their hands on the levers of change”), its workforce (“who have their hands on the levers of change but can’t see the big picture”), and its managers (“hopelessly caught in the middle”). Here’s a great description of the situation:

In reality, leaders almost always conceptually outrun their engagement and execution supply lines. … Leaders spend months and months developing a strategy – considering, contemplating, contrasting, and dismissing all the alternatives and possibilities for future success. When they’re finally done, they usually craft this into a “strategy-in-a-box” and ship it off to their people. Then the leaders wonder why their employees don’t get excited about it immediately. Their employees can’t realize how critical the strategy is because they have no idea what went into its creation.”

So, how do you bridge these canyons? Haudan provides specific recommendations for leaders, managers, and individuals that include:

  1. creating a “line of sight” that links organizational strategy to employee efforts
  2. connecting individual – team – and organizational goals
  3. developing capabilities at all levels of the company so it can execute strategy.

These recommendations involve helping employees understand the organization’s reality by creating visual “learning maps” of the company’s internal and external pressures – so they can better see and connect to the “big picture” of where the company is and what it needs to move forward, building employee ownership in the process.

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