When Engagement Won’t Save You

Engagement is important, but it can’t solve everything…


In the world of enlightened strategic leadership, the topic of employee engagement comes up.

A lot.

But, like so many good ideas in the world ranging from fried foods to financial derivatives, it has to be taken in moderation and in context with other good things.  Why?

Well, employee engagement is, at some level, a luxury.  Sure, there’s a base level of dignified square dealing that a company has to provide to maintain its employee base.  But, the actions that go toward fostering an engaged workforce or an engaged team can be dangerous in the wrong circumstances.

What circumstances are those?

First of all, it’s very, very tough to engage yourself out of a hole. Hard situations require hard decisions made by small groups.  The best Scandinavian consensus driven managers know that when hard times hit, engagement has to take a back seat. Deciders have to decide.  If your company is failing and you are surveying your employees, maybe you aren’t focused on the right things.

Second of all, engagement activities won’t work for you if you are disingenuous about them.  You can have all the free lunches and free snack bars you want, but if people think they are being played, your engagement strategies won’t make you Google…ever!  If you are offering a free t-shirt to your employees and they are spun up about your corporate jet and ten-thousand dollar watch, engagement strategies can backfire.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, focusing on engagement as a way of ignoring your strategic elephants is a bad thing. If you go rah rah when everybody else knows you should be hunkered down, you will look like the fool.  Good work forces appreciate honesty.

And perhaps that the point here.  Employee engagement is absolutely strategic, but it won’t “win” for you any more that a fantastic marketing campaign can win without a fantastic product.  In fact, just like marketing, it can backfire on you.

If your employee engagement plan is merely a topical salve or the business equivalent of whistling past the graveyard, re-think it!

You can’t engage yourself or your company out of a hole.

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