Employee Engagement: Let The Fakery Begin - InformationWeek

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11/26/2014
08:37 AM
Grumpy IT Guy
Grumpy IT Guy
Commentary
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Employee Engagement: Let The Fakery Begin

It's a good thing HR isn't in charge of IT employee retention. Their new "employee engagement" campaign is really "employee enragement."

Overheard during an HR "employee engagement" workshop: "Work on human capital so you can ask employees for discretionary effort."
 
Go away, HR. Come back when the double-talk fit has passed.

Here at BigCorp, bosses are "discovering" that (gasp) if employees hate the company, they don't work as well. Translation of the HR double-talk: "Be nice to people and they'll go the extra mile for you." Now, that was worth the $100,000 consultant, wasn't it?
 
But hey, it's the "brand new" science of employee engagement. It's social science! We did a survey! What are you, a hater?

[Will some cool tech toys make the Grumpy IT Guy less grumpy? Look at 10 Smart Tech Toys For Kids.]

Here is the problem. The thing that causes DIS-engagement is saying stupid stuff like, "Build up human capital so that you can ask workers for discretionary effort," and treating common sense as if it's super-complex science beyond the ken of normal people. The smug doubletalk attitude causes enragement, not engagement.

Many employees here are disenchanted with how the company treats them. They are disenchanted because they feel like a cog in a machine, not like the "most important asset" of the company, despite this HR platitude.

We are now to follow HR's lead on how to manage or browbeat our employees into engagement nirvana.

Except, management by platitude and mandatory meetings is rarely successful. And a manager's actions speak louder than words. If I exhorted my IT team to "be engaged" at the same time as (for example) micro-managing them, I doubt it would do any good.

How about: Stop acting like you're smarter than your employees. Treat them like human beings. Stop managing by platitude.

It is uncomfortable to disagree with HR. Generally, at BigCorp IT, we do not talk about the HR buzzwords-of-the-day because we don't want to demoralize our employees. Is this us being "disengaged?"

Probably.

Two things:

  1. If you want people to be engaged, be engaging. Don't tell people to be engaged and then be shocked when they are not.
  2. "Engagement" is voluntary. In other words, if it's about our "discretionary effort" as leaders, quit shoving it down our throats. Stop wasting our time. Quit forcing us to spend six hours of offsite "training" on how to make employees enraged... er, engaged.

A message for BigCorp bosses everywhere: you want engagement? You want employees to stop rolling their eyes when you talk? You want voluntary extra effort? Stop treating us like kindergartners and start trusting us. Start being straight with us. Stop telling us part of the story. Start giving us details without super-careful press-release type language. Stop the complicated consultant-speak. Start talking in language that shows that you're not trying to impress anybody.

Most of all, if you want us to feel like we are the most important asset of the company, show us. Don't tell us.

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Grumpy IT Guy avoided historic disasters and clueless people while working his way up the IT ranks, but he retained his keen sense of humor. He now leads an IT organization somewhere in America, as part of the FBI's Grump Protection Program. Need advice? Send questions to ... View Full Bio
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nasimson
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nasimson,
User Rank: Ninja
11/28/2014 | 9:25:12 PM
Re: An enigma wrapped in a mystery
> Management via platitude is apparently a class offered in every HR tract in the country.

Management education does not teach much about human psychology. Resultantly when business managers become people managers, applying tactics that work well to manage business dont work well to manage people.

Result: People change their bosses, and as a consequence change their organization.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
11/28/2014 | 5:37:09 PM
Re: Great post...stating the obvious...obvious for some
Good points, if information about the company is not provided to its employees and departments are working in isolation then, margins will never increase, profits will not be earned and wages will never increase. Or, an alternative possibility is that one department is doing all the work/innovation and the other departments are displaying free rider characteristics.
asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
11/27/2014 | 10:31:51 PM
An enigma wrapped in a mystery
Management via platitude is apparently a class offered in every HR tract in the country.  It's a ::MYSTERY:: why employees don't seem to be immediately motivated to lick bootheels a lot more frequently and of their own volition.  o.0

 

 
Angelfuego
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Angelfuego,
User Rank: Ninja
11/26/2014 | 11:21:21 PM
Re: To get engagement, be engaging
@Grumpy IT, you are so right. I laughed out loud when you outlined two probable reasons for disengagement in the workforce, because I totally relate to those 2 points. You nailed it and it was well stated.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2014 | 6:30:21 PM
To get engagement, be engaging
"To get engagement, be engaging." That's actually hard for the employer to do. Leaders of the company have to be willing to talk with people, which includes listening to them. Talking with people is different from talking at them. And at the same time there's a role for leadership. People are looking for it and respond to it. But it's the nature of the conversation on the way to leadership expression that's hard to get right,  
Number 6
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Number 6,
User Rank: Moderator
11/26/2014 | 6:13:56 PM
Re: "HCM" lingo has to go
No, it goes back further than the layoffs that came with the "re-engineering" (blech!) movement. It goes back to when the Personnel Department was renamed "Human Resources."

Then the local HR people were all centralized in HQ, then a lot of their functions like benefits administration were outsourced.

It's interesting to note the high turnover in HR itself. Like they know something we don't.
Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
11/26/2014 | 2:16:39 PM
Re: "HCM" lingo has to go
Oh, I agree with you so much here. I've worked at organizations where they touted "We love our employees" and then hide behind the management ceiling as it crushes the potential of these employees.  The nice thing is rarely you do find organizations who actually do focus on employees, and as a result you can feel the difference in employee engagement and individual contributions.  Funny enough, one of the companies actually banned the term HR from the org charts in favor of People and Growth, which already illustrates in that one gesture, that the committment to employee engagement and development is there, not just a used as a term to fake this mindset.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
11/26/2014 | 1:29:11 PM
Great post...stating the obvious...obvious for some
HR considering employees "human capital" says it all. Anyone who uses that term already discredits employees as persons and sees them only as an expense line in a financial statement. That aside, expecting engagement or increasing engagement requires a lot of effort. After all, you need to pay people to do the work in the first place. Engagement coms when people actually want to be there and work because it is self-fulfillment and joy. That is something that comes from within as an organic development, that cannot be planned.

The most powerful tool for management is to listen and help. When an employee comes to her or his manager and talks about a problem is it a cry for help. Managers need to help the employee to fix the problem. Management doesn't even need to fix the problem for the employee, showing means of coping with an issue is already sufficient. Make employees welcome and valued, simple things like walking around and asking what each employee is working on and saying "Thank you!" does wonders. As does giving treats once in a while like catered lunch or teams going out to eat or just out of the blue end the workweek at noon on a Friday. Way more effective and often less expensive than any one of self-centered consultants.

It is similar to copying "20% time" from Google without giving employees a chance to spend 20% of their time on innovation or R&D by reducing the current workload per employee by 20%. Making this even part of an annual goal is totally missing the point. All it does is force employees to work 20% more or get marked down during annual review. That is not creating engagement, it only frustrates people beyond repair.
Todder
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Todder,
User Rank: Moderator
11/26/2014 | 1:20:13 PM
Re: "HCM" lingo has to go
Wow! Nailed it. Employees are chattel, and the old lines sbout "our people are our strength" is window dressing.

There was a time that HR had an omdudman-like role, while today at BigCorp they send out direction like the town cryer in the HBO Series "Rome". Managers listen, read them, scoff, and then move on.


There are still the Kool-Aid drinkers (mostly fake swallowers) who will tow the company line to prove what good mindless soldiers they are. We know who they are, and frankly don't care.
jharker980
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jharker980,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/26/2014 | 1:17:32 PM
If BigCorp actually had an exciting vision...
It's amazing to me how many companies spend time on this drivel rather than focusing on customer engagement, compelling business vision and equitable internal policies. If the company has a clue it's employees won't need to be coaxed into doing their jobs or working together in teams. They will realize quickly they cannot succeed without each other. Building a compelling business is exciting and hard. If your employees don't see how their work aligns to the success of the business it isn't their fault, it's the managers. Vision first... engagement follows.
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