The 4 Reasons your people aren't engaged

 Or “why I subverted my promise to myself never to write an essay with this title.”  About a million years ago, or 1997, I worked for a startup in the very first dot.com boom.  Dotcomboom ! It was the best — smart, motivated crew in Tony Blair’s Britain, where anything was possible — until it wasn’t. We had lots of the perks now associated with  Sili (silly) money : an on-site massage room, hired a 707 to take the company away to Malta or Spain every year.  I am such a geek that the thing that made me happiest was having a full-time organizational psychologist. That was the coolest.  His name was Howard, and he was every bit as influential to me as the high school history teachers who changed my life — ex-Black Panther Mr. Lee who unlocked my personal opinions about politics, and Mr. Giacomazza who taught International Relations and unlocked the world for me.  Howard shared insight into how I as a leader could promote engagement and participation.  I refuse to quote the xxx% of employees are not engaged figure, we all know that it’s bad-bad. But here’s my offer — consider these 4 ways to check — and I’m going to use active first person here — because it’s not up to you as a leader, it’s up to the individual:  1) Are you involved in decisions that impact your work?  2) Is there a tangible outlet for your creative/innovative ideas?  3) Do you feel like you are better/have grown in your work in the past 6 months?  4) Do you feel like your colleagues are both good at what they do, and support you to do your best work?  Is this the first time you’ve seen these offers? Perhaps not phrased in exactly that way, but I’d be surprised if you hadn’t.  Theory has it that if you ‘get these right’ then the level of engagement is at least in the potential range of ‘happy’. I’ve iterated these (beyond recognition of the unknown primary source) over the past 20 years. I quote them or consider them very frequently — and I can’t remember anyone ever disagreeing!  In my years at the pointy end, I would consider these elements to be in the realm of my influence — behaviours or actions as a manager/leader I had the potential to effect. Looking at them today, with the shift of my personal lens of understanding to self-management, all of these elements seem obviously in line with and  OPO  (open participatory organisation) a  DDO  (deliberately developmental organisation) or a self-managing organisation.   1) Are you involved in decisions that affect your work?   Are you in an environment where your work is dictated to you, or prescribed? Do you have the chance to co-create your role or at least the tasks that you do day to day and week to week? Do you have enough insight or visibility into the bigger/broader picture so that you can make decisions or recommendations about the work that you do?   2) Is there a tangible outlet for your creativity/innovative ideas?   Can you create or invite this?  It goes way beyond the old ‘suggestion box’ to an invitation to sit with or build a cross-functional cohort that creates and provides the space for experiments. Even before the experiments, the chance to share what you’ve seen, what you sense, what you think, and what might be the basis for these making something from these thoughts or ideas, either independently or with your peers.   3) Do you feel like you are better/have grown in your work in the past 6 months?   Never mind the pejorative definition of better — have you grown? Doesn’t need to necessarily be in the skill competence realm of one’s particular technical capacity, it could be across any domain. I posit that choosing a  growth mindset  makes this inevitable.   4) Do you feel like your colleagues are both good at what they do, and support you to do your best work?   This to me is about relationships and high trust. This is about collegiality and interdependence — and perhaps the most difficult aspect, one might think, because the locus of control is different. But I’m not sure that it is — if we hold as important and non-negotiable our  interdependence  then this concept of  safe psychological space  can manifest and from that can emerge a certainty and sanctity. It cuts both ways — and it requires honesty and rigor.  I am so eager for feedback on this hypothesis — what’s missing? Please share your thoughts and especially any experience or experiments.  This is Applied Research for Enspiral Labs.   
Or “why I subverted my promise to myself never to write an essay with this title.”

About a million years ago, or 1997, I worked for a startup in the very first dot.com boom. Dotcomboom! It was the best — smart, motivated crew in Tony Blair’s Britain, where anything was possible — until it wasn’t. We had lots of the perks now associated with Sili (silly) money: an on-site massage room, hired a 707 to take the company away to Malta or Spain every year.

I am such a geek that the thing that made me happiest was having a full-time organizational psychologist. That was the coolest.

His name was Howard, and he was every bit as influential to me as the high school history teachers who changed my life — ex-Black Panther Mr. Lee who unlocked my personal opinions about politics, and Mr. Giacomazza who taught International Relations and unlocked the world for me.

Howard shared insight into how I as a leader could promote engagement and participation.

I refuse to quote the xxx% of employees are not engaged figure, we all know that it’s bad-bad. But here’s my offer — consider these 4 ways to check — and I’m going to use active first person here — because it’s not up to you as a leader, it’s up to the individual:

1) Are you involved in decisions that impact your work?
2) Is there a tangible outlet for your creative/innovative ideas?
3) Do you feel like you are better/have grown in your work in the past 6 months?
4) Do you feel like your colleagues are both good at what they do, and support you to do your best work?

Is this the first time you’ve seen these offers? Perhaps not phrased in exactly that way, but I’d be surprised if you hadn’t.

Theory has it that if you ‘get these right’ then the level of engagement is at least in the potential range of ‘happy’. I’ve iterated these (beyond recognition of the unknown primary source) over the past 20 years. I quote them or consider them very frequently — and I can’t remember anyone ever disagreeing!

In my years at the pointy end, I would consider these elements to be in the realm of my influence — behaviours or actions as a manager/leader I had the potential to effect. Looking at them today, with the shift of my personal lens of understanding to self-management, all of these elements seem obviously in line with and OPO (open participatory organisation) a DDO (deliberately developmental organisation) or a self-managing organisation.

1) Are you involved in decisions that affect your work?

Are you in an environment where your work is dictated to you, or prescribed? Do you have the chance to co-create your role or at least the tasks that you do day to day and week to week? Do you have enough insight or visibility into the bigger/broader picture so that you can make decisions or recommendations about the work that you do?

2) Is there a tangible outlet for your creativity/innovative ideas?

Can you create or invite this?

It goes way beyond the old ‘suggestion box’ to an invitation to sit with or build a cross-functional cohort that creates and provides the space for experiments. Even before the experiments, the chance to share what you’ve seen, what you sense, what you think, and what might be the basis for these making something from these thoughts or ideas, either independently or with your peers.

3) Do you feel like you are better/have grown in your work in the past 6 months?

Never mind the pejorative definition of better — have you grown? Doesn’t need to necessarily be in the skill competence realm of one’s particular technical capacity, it could be across any domain. I posit that choosing a growth mindset makes this inevitable.

4) Do you feel like your colleagues are both good at what they do, and support you to do your best work?

This to me is about relationships and high trust. This is about collegiality and interdependence — and perhaps the most difficult aspect, one might think, because the locus of control is different. But I’m not sure that it is — if we hold as important and non-negotiable our interdependence then this concept of safe psychological space can manifest and from that can emerge a certainty and sanctity. It cuts both ways — and it requires honesty and rigor.

I am so eager for feedback on this hypothesis — what’s missing? Please share your thoughts and especially any experience or experiments.  This is Applied Research for Enspiral Labs.