Engaging employees for fun and profit

When you start doing something people perceive to be worthwhile, they naturally want to join in

It seems employee engagement has become the rage, and there are a number of different definitions, depending on who you speak with. And of course, if you subscribe to one of them, there are programs to get your employees engaged that way.

I’ve been asked to comment on this a few times, and I usually ask people to view this video before providing the explanation below: https://www.youtube.com/embed/GBaHPND2QJg

It’s less than six minutes, and it’s an impromptu performance of the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, arguably one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. Enjoy the music, but watch the process. Do you think those people were engaged? Even the spectators?

Unfortunately, this process has been used for bad purposes throughout history, but thankfully, it can also be used for good, and there are many examples of that as well.

In 1209, a man named Francis began living a devout and simple life in the Italian city of Assisi. He gave up his expensive clothes and a luxurious lifestyle to live in poverty, and in no time at all, others joined him. Today, the Franciscan order has over 20,000 members.

More recently, a nun named Mother Teresa began caring for the poorest of the poor and the sick in Calcutta. It was the kind of job that nobody wanted, yet women joined her in no time at all. The world took notice, and she won the Nobel Prize in 1979. In 2012, her Missionaries of Charity numbered over 4,500 and were active in 133 countries.

Neither St. Francis nor Mother Teresa intended to start new religious orders.

Now, if people are willing to give up even luxurious lifestyles to slave for others, do you think it might just be possible to get our employees to do something similar, especially if we’re not asking them to leave their families, sell their homes and SUVs, etc.?

I’ve done a fair amount of troubleshooting. They don’t usually call a consultant in until they’re desperate, and then they want it done yesterday. I don’t have time to become an expert in whatever they’re doing, so I have to use their knowledge.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “Everybody wants to get better, but nobody wants to change,” and he was so right. You can’t solve the problem(s) without finding the causes and removing them. The general attitude is usually, “This too shall pass.”

I usually try to do a presentation for all the top and middle management explaining what I intend to do and what I’ll need. It has to be convincing and persuasive. Assuming they go for it, I go after some low-hanging fruit to get some quick wins. This dramatically increases credibility, and more people want to get involved.

Even those not assigned to the project want to contribute. If you ask them for something, they’ll often do it even before the things they are assigned to do. They may even stay over and do it on their own time.

Why? Well, they think it’s worthwhile; it’s making a difference, and they want to become part of it. Everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon when they think it’s going in the right direction.

Perhaps the greatest criticism of the assembly line and mass production is that doing the same thing over and over again becomes very boring. That’s true, even in white-collar jobs. The more routine your job is, the easier it is to replace you with a computer or a robot.

This approach offers people a chance to break out of the routine and do something good. Whether it fits your definition of engagement or not, it’s hard to beat.

But again, it has to be a noble or worthwhile effort. Just making more money doesn’t tend to be much of a motivator. But improving customer satisfaction, saving jobs and the like tend to be far more compelling.

If the effort will leave your company and/or the world a better place, people will sign up or become engaged.

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or RonBourque3@gmail.com.