How to manage complexity of engagement

DOES AN ENGAGEMENT PROCESS EXIST?

Martina Georgievova, senior trainer and consultant of DEVELOR brings her opinion and sheds light onto the topic of engagement.


In recent years, employee engagement is much talked about. It is becoming the focus for not only HR but the top management as the employee satisfaction and engagement are becoming part of their goals.

For a long time, companies have been conducting surveys. However, only a few companies are able to actively do something about it and even fewer achieve a positive progress, thanks to well-thought and targeted interventions. Typically, these surveys serve only as a diagnostic tool and the companies cannot convert the results into concrete plans of change to improve employee engagement.

The topic of employee engagement is abstract and hard to grasp for many. It relates to something so changeable as human emotions and measures something so subjective as employee satisfaction. If this topic concerns you as well, I would like to shed more light on it and share my opinion about it.

I became immersed in this topic 5 years ago, at an internal DEVELOR workshop focused on employee engagement and employee experience.

We had been trained for Positive Leadership and Happiness, only to find out that was not our way and hence we have started to create our own DEVELOR approach to engagement. Those of you who know us are aware, that we focus on practical concepts bringing results.

Let’s use an unusual example, to demonstrate. Imagine: your 11-year old son wants to have a birthday party. You have several options of approaching this. Step by step, we will look at 4 different ways to plan and realize the event. Which of these would best support the engagement of the involved people in your opinion?

Chaotic approach

You don’t give your kid any limits on how many friends he can invite, when they should come, what is and isn’t allowed. Your son, thrilled by the non-existent boundaries and supported by his friends can test your whisky collection and organize a metal band performance in your bedroom at the same time. When secretly smoking dad’s cigarettes, he can set the curtains on fire. The kids could be possibly enriched by new experiences (chaos always brings flashes of self-discovery) and you could possibly spend several thousand euro on the house reconstruction, but the main danger is, the kids could get seriously hurt. So, this is probably not the best option.

Simple approach

You tell your son he can invite 5 friends at 2 p.m. You define, that at 3 p.m. you can order a pizza for them, 3 pieces per each, and non-alcoholic beverages. You expect them to play football in the backyard and play with lego in the room (you have paid a lot for it so it should be used accordingly). You also expect the friends to leave politely at 5 p.m. You also mention that your son is responsible for any potential damage and therefore he should consider the limit of going nuts. Well, your kid probably wouldn’t be excited about such party. You would more or less keep things under control, but the joy, good mood and the will to relive the party, would disappear for sure.

Complicated approach

You organize a family council and collect suggestions, how the birthday party should look like. You ask all family members to prepare a presentation on what their role and duties will be during the party. Then you allocate the budget and create an Excel sheet to record who will do what and when. You present the final plan to everybody and ask for personal commitment to fulfil their tasks responsibly. You feel satisfied with the whole plan and organization, whereupon your own offspring surprises you by making faces – most of his friends refused to come and those not daunted by the detailed instructions on what to do/not do, left very early. And your child will tell you that you have destroyed his life. But you have put so much effort into organizing the party!! You wanted to maximize the entertainment and minimize the risks… but it did not work out.

Complex approach

In principle, it is the simple approach with acceptable limits: 5 to 8 friends, arrival from 2 to 3 p.m., there will be buffet tables with various food. When the kids arrive, you summon them for a moment and state what is not allowed: to cross the fence, to enter the parents’ bedroom, to play the music too loudly. You will remind them there is still plenty to do and wish them great fun. You prepare the sports equipment, table with playing cards in the backyard, set the PlayStation in the room and let them decide how they spend the time. You go to the garden to prepare meat and hope they won’t ruin the house (the belief in good ending helps a lot with this type of organization). You check upon them from time to time and when you find out, they cannot immerse into anything, you suggest a shootout – adults vs. teenagers. Your kid either accepts your idea enthusiastically or rolls the eyes and rather talks his friends into playing the football. At the end of the day your son will be happy he has cool parents, who know how to take care but also how not to stand in the way.

To which of the parties would you like to go to? And which one would your child choose?

DIFFERENT WAYS FOR DIFFERENT RESULTS

The chaotic approach is expensive and dangerous. Both simple and complicated approach take all the spontaneous joy away and cause either boredom or a rather mechanical effort to carry out the plan. You feel like a slave to the plan and its completion contradicts its meaning. The complex approach sets negotiable limits and prepares the so-called attractors. These, if positive, attract more focus and, if negative, such activity is ceased. The parent maintains the informal authority, not standing in the way of the fun, but able to set boundaries and if required, take action and refocus the energy accordingly.

It is true, not one party will ever be the same, even if you prepared it the same way. At the end of the day, you will only know ex-post, what did the kids react to the best. And you will only anticipate why – in complex issues, the relations among events are only recognizable in retrospect; there are events recognizable only partially and also those that remain hidden (but play their role).

Image result for cynefin frameworkIf you have read this article up to this point, you should suspect, why engagement is such a complex topic and what is the optimal approach toward it. What was just described to you is the concept of „Cynefin Framework“ by Dave Snowden (his ideas are fascinating, mainly in relation to complex systems). Dave describes various types of environments (structures) with different forms of management (and decision making).

Engagement falls among the complex topics. Therefore, NO ONE WILL WRITE A STEP-BY-STEP ENGAGEMENT PROCESS, that could be applied automatically with expected results. We can only prepare a “cookbook” with inspiring examples, what can work as an “attractor” and what to avoid as a “blocker” to engagement.

If you overdo the employee engagement or make it compulsory, you will kill the joy in people they would have had from the activity, was it conducted spontaneously on their own will. You cannot direct me to be engaged! At the same time, it does not mean the managers are helpless in relation to his topic and that the employee engagement cannot be influenced.

KEY IDEAS

Employee engagement CANNOT BE MANAGED DIRECTLY, you can only create conditions, that make people engaged.

Engagement is a TWO-WAY STREET – the employee needs to have PERSONAL SETTING to want to be engaged and the manager is responsible to CREATE CONDITIONS that enable the manifestation of employee engagement (setting the boundaries – roles and responsibilities, attractors and detractors of behaviour). Even the BEST CONDITIONS CANNOT MAKE ENGAGEMENT A SURE THING if the employee doesn’t want to have his/her inner fire sparked.

The manager CANNOT ORDER TO BE ENGAGED or BUY ENGAGEMENT BY BONUS. To be willing to go the extra mile, to be an advocate of the company, to be actively interested and participate in the company’s mission and vision, to be creative, take initiative – all of these things are voluntary and fully dependent on the free will of an employee.

Engagement is the result of the known and unknown forces within a company (and in the inner world of an employee). Should it manifest in a company, it is an indirect proof of a well-tuned ecosystem.


This article was prepared by Martina Georgievova, Senior trainer and consultant of DEVELOR.

For more information of DEVELOR’s related services visit our website and contact our colleagues in your country.