More organizations today are aware of the benefits of engaged employees. But most are going in circles by addressing just half of the employee experience equation.
With more organizations becoming aware of the importance of engagement, media coverage of the topic has become widespread and more scholarly. This, however, can be a double-edge sword.
Harvard professor Teresa Amabile and researcher Steven Kramer shared the results from a project in which they collected more than 12,000 diary entries from 238 employees at seven companies. They found that about a third of the time, the workers were unhappy, unmotivated, or both—but that on the days that they were happy, they were more apt to have new ideas.
Articles like this create a compelling and data-driven case for the importance of engagement and the role that engagement plays in performance. However, they can also confuse organizations who don’t understand the concept of engagement. When we were knee-deep in the research for our recently released book, ENGAGEMENT MAGIC: Five Keys for Engaging People, Leaders, and Organizations, it became clear that words and phrases like happiness and work harder create confusion and fuel misconceptions for many about what engagement is and isn’t. Is employee engagement about feeling happy? Is it about simply getting work done? Not quite.
So, what does engagement look like? It involves bringing hearts, spirits, hands, and minds to one’s work. It looks something like this:
The heart is about meaning, passion, and fulfillment, even finding joy in what you do. Spirit is about attitude, energy, and excitement. It’s something that can be felt when you walk into a room or work with a highly engaged team. Heart and spirit imply that we must feel the work that we do. Unfortunately, that’s where most employee engagement models stop, and that’s a mistake. There is more to engagement than just “feeling something.”
The mind is about intellect, interests, curiosity, and creativity. The hands are about effort, productivity, and self-determination—using your skills and sweat to produce something of value. Mind and hands imply that we must do something. In order to be fully engaged, we must act. To put it simply:
Heart and Spirit = Feeling
Mind and Hands = Action
Engagement requires that we bring both our emotions and our actions to the table—our hearts, spirits, minds, and hands. To be engaged we must feel something and take action on what we feel. Take one away and you don’t have engagement. You can think of feelings and action as the as two oars in a rowboat. They are complimentary opposites. Both are necessary. Row with just one and you’ll travel in circles. You might work up a sweat and feel as though you should be getting somewhere, but you won’t. Pull on both at the same time and you’ll make progress.
You Can’t Have One Without the Other
We see this kind of wasted effort with a majority of so-called employee experience initiatives within organizations. While well intentioned, most of these initiatives row with only one oar. Some target the heart and spirit, while others involve the mind and hands, but few encompass them all simultaneously. The results? A lot of energy spent, little distance traveled.
Sometimes, leaders mistakenly feel that if their people row hard enough with one oar, the other will come along with it. We recently worked with a large technology company that had just acquired its formidable competitor. To the employees of both companies, the acquiring company effectively communicated the steps of the acquisition, the reason behind it, and the actions that would need to take place over the subsequent months. Employees clearly understood that their minds and hands would be required to make the integration process a smooth one, and they knew that it was financially beneficial for the company overall. On paper, everything looked solid. Yet the integration was failing miserably.
It quickly became apparent that, while minds and hands were active, hearts and spirits were stagnant. When we surveyed employees, we learned that although they were acting, they were not feeling. In short, the company had failed to gain buy-in. Though the process was very solid and clearly outlined, the acquiring company had failed to see that nearly a quarter of its people felt that the integration process would most likely result in the loss of their jobs.
Even more damaging was the feeling we found in employees of the acquiring company that the company they had purchased was built around a “culture of cutthroats.” Talk about toxic. They had made little effort to bring hearts and spirit along for the ride, and so the acquisition was doomed from the start.
On the other extreme, we have worked with a number of organizations that had worked hard to attend to hearts and spirits, but failed to engage minds and hands. These companies made great strides in energizing the workforce and even instilling a sense of passion. But while the employees felt great, they weren’t required to act. These companies invested a great deal of effort and money in creating what they thought was an engaged culture when, in reality, it was only a company that felt good about itself.
When you involve hearts, spirits, minds, and hands, your organization is both feeling and acting. You have an engaged workforce that produces its own bottom line improvements in retention, quality, customer service, and profitability. You don’t have to design those outcomes into engagement; they are inevitable.
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