Need engagement? Don’t communicate

I’ve posted along these lines before, but because the hot topic of engagement doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon, it’s worth a refresh–and this brief article from Forbes online make the point again.

Businesses seek engaged employees because the unleashed energy will drive the business farther and faster.  But the focus and energy of engagement aren’t the same thing as “happiness.”  If anything, they’re more like “hope.”

As the article mentions, one more team lunch at Olive Garden won’t do the trick, probably because that lunch will be seen as 1) the shallow gesture it is and 2) the time spent now means I’ll be getting home later.  So much for happiness.  People get energized about their work when they can see that their best efforts can make an important difference: product quality, business reputation, recognition, pay, new opportunities (and no, you can’t add “you get to keep your job” to that list).  People have to be hopeful their increased energy and investment will pay off for them.

Will a strategic communication campaign get that done?  Probably not.  As the Broadway song put it, “Don’t talk of June, don’t talk of fall — don’t talk at all! — show me!”  The goal is that employees have first-hand experiences of the effectiveness of their efforts and the responsiveness of their leaders and systems.  Communications can support those experiences, but it can’t deliver them.  
One of the most tried-and-true tactics to take when facing an unengaged workforce is to stop and ask people to articulate what’s grinding them down.  First, you get credit for listening.  Second, you’re likelier to get the solution right.  And be sure that “listening” doesn’t feel like just another employee survey.
Next time you have the urge to sink resources into that campaign-theme video, sit down until the feeling passes.  It could just be another kind of breadstick.

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