Engagement is a Three-Way Street

May 16, 2017 in Culture

Do your engagement programmes bypass your management?



The most important relationship in any organisation is the one between an individual and their boss - or rather, that is the relationship with the greatest potential. But how much of that potential is realised in practice?

In many cases, the answer is 'very little', and the result has been a lack of motivation and engagement.

More recently, that lack of engagement, and its implications for business performance, have been very publicly highlighted, not least within the influential MacLeod report. The clear business case has led many organisations to establish (or reinvigorate existing) programmes to increase the engagement of their people.

Is this a good thing? It can be, but it could also have negative implications for the longer term - it very much depends on how the engagement programme utilises the management structure.

Some engagement programmes largely bypass the management structure. They recognise that the management structure has not delivered, and set up a parallel process to attempt to provide what is missing. They create initiatives and communication structures which reach directly from the top of the organisation to the bottom, but they do little to correct the root cause of the issue.

Conversely, other programmes recognise that the people that have been under-served and under-engaged are not so much the people as their managers, and their managers' managers. They recognise that the correct pathway for engagement is through the management structure, not despite it, and they set out to better empower and resource their management for engagement; to equip their relationships to fully realise that 'great potential'.

The problem with the bypass approach is that it is not sustainable - it actually further weakens the management structure by both side-lining it and compensating for it - like a splint weakens the bone and muscle it protects.

And while engagement can begin in a system of general exhortations, common purpose, and a unified programme, eventually it has to be translated to local interpretations and specific relationships if it is to be truly effective in harnessing the insight and creativity of our people - and that will require good management.

Equipping management for more effective engagement is a significantly more expensive and time-consuming exercise than the bypass approach, but it is a lot more sustainable, and ultimately it is a lot more productive?

So which type of programme is yours?

  • Is it about helping people to better understand, appreciate and value the business and their part in it - a one-way street?
  • Does it build on that by getting the business to better understand its people, and to actively value their potential, their interests and their values - a two-way street?
  • Does it achieve both of these things through the management structure by making these discussions a natural and effective part of up-down-and-across dialogue - a three-way street?

These questions may provide some clues.

In your engagement programme:

  • Who communicates the organisation's purpose, its values, and the role of the 'engagement programme' to its people?
  • How does the organisation gather data about how the people feel about those things, and their current levels of engagement?
  • To what extent has the organisation equipped its managers to regularly monitor their own people's attitudes and levels of commitment?
  • How does the organisation keep abreast of what its managers most need to more effectively manage their local culture?