The book “The Truth About Employee Engagement” by Patrick Lencioni was on my reading list for quite a while (it was initially published under the enticing title “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job”). This book belongs to the category of “I wish I’d read it before, but still there is a huge benefit from belated reading than never”.
Patrick Lencioni has the talent to captivate the reader with profound but straightforward stories; he depicts concepts that seem simple but revealed as vast and deep after peeling the first layer.
Unlike commonly thought, engagement is not directly related to your job’s nature; even if you have found THE dream job, it does not promise you will be fully engaged or excited. The same applies to the opposite scenario: you may not have a coveted position, but you are motivated and committed.
This article outlines the three pillars of increasing employee involvement and shows why they are still relevant in the workplace today, even though the book was published more than a decade ago (2007).
You won’t find any spoilers here, so you can enjoy the book’s plot as is.
First, let’s have a baseline about the importance of engagement.
The feeling of having a miserable job has a ripple effect. It affects the employee’s work and permeates other circles: colleagues, clients, family, friends. In a broad view, society suffers from having employees that are not satisfied or feel down because of work.
Not only the human factor is affected, but also the bottom line is. There’s a hidden cost for the lack of employee engagement, which is hard to estimate or measure; nevertheless, we can gauge when the engagement level rises since the impact is notable.
Smartly, Patrick unfolds tangible benefits of increasing the employees’ engagement:
- Increase productivity – no need to invest more capital in machines or new staff; the company can produce more with the same group of employees.
- Greater retention and lower cost – recruiting new employees has its toll; that’s more significant for specialized professionals. Furthermore, maintaining the same employees for long allows utilizing their expertise and enjoying the fruits of their effort. Lastly, long tenures facilitate building group cohesion and strengthen the interconnection between colleagues.
- Substantial cultural differentiation – engagement shapes the company’s culture; culture is unique. Companies can copy products or try to emulate their competitors’ processes. However, replicating culture is almost impossible; culture is a differentiator, like one’s personality. Therefore, building a culture that supports business productivity can be a competitive advantage that propels the business forward.
Finally, I’m confident that if you look back, you can find scenarios where a bit more engagement of your team members or colleagues has made the difference. The drive of our teammates makes the difference between success and failure.
Engagement – Not Only Salary
The apparent reason for going to work is earning money. That’s also considered the main incentive that drives people and enhances their motivation. The alleged simple equation is that higher wage yields better results.
But this is a fallacy; the correlation between high salary and satisfaction is not significantly proven. Studies from recent decades have shown this (see the references below).
Something else formulates our workplace affinity; Patrick embeds it well in the book’s narrative. Although these are not groundbreaking ideas, their simplicity is what makes them so understood; that’s the book’s aha moment.
The Current Workplace Trends
The second part outlines trends in the workplace. The traditional workplace is changing in front of our eyes; companys’ structures reshape, and the boundaries between work and life are becoming vague. In my view, these five trends embody these changes:
- Working remotely is prevalent more than ever; with that, the working hours are more flexible, and thus there is no natural segregation between work and personal life.
- Multi-cultural teams are found in many industries. So, communication and conveying messages becomes more challenging.
- Communication is mainly virtual, not physical; technology is a mediator in almost any interaction, regardless of your teammates’ or colleagues’ location; you send an email to your colleague when her office is a one-minute walk from you. We have lesser cues and signs while communicating.
- The workload increases; the tendency to reduce costs continues; roles’ scope has expanded, and working hours extended too; we are bombarded with tasks.
- Changes are frequent; a re-org happens once in 3-5 years, business units change their business goals more often; therefore, managers come and go, your role’s domain keeps moving.
The Three Reasons for Disengaged Employees
Now, let’s combine the current workplace trends with the three fundamental reasons for lower engagement.
Patrick describes three reasons for having disengaged employees:
- Immesearment (a deliberate blunder)
These three elements are much relevant due to recent workspace changes mentioned earlier; employee engagement becomes more difficult to maintain. Let’s see why:
Anonymity is not seeing the individual behind the role, not being aware of their personal life and concealed qualities. The manager relates to productivity and contribution but has no interest in the personal facet beyond.
This factor has suffered the most in recent years. Communication is less direct, so we do not fully use our innate senses to communicate with our interlocutor. For example, talking over the phone or exchanging emails will never be the same as a 1-on-1 physical conversation.
Furthermore, we lack time to delve into our team members’ personal lives or notice their feelings. We are task-oriented; sometimes, continuous business challenges do not allow managers to clear the fog and see the person behind the employee. Without this human touch, one does not feel related; the rapport degrades.
Not only that, having multi-cultures in a team may lead to blurring individual needs. A manager may address the lowest common denominator while neglecting the teammate’s background.
Irrelevance means not fully understanding the contribution of your deeds and their direct influence: Whom do you help? Who enjoys your actions? How do you do good? How do your actions affect the overall outcome?
The contemporary approach sees the employee as a partner, which aligns with expressing the role’s expectations; therefore, employees can visualize how their role contributes to the company.
However, in some cases, goals are set to a group and not to the individual level; therefore, a deeper level of granularity is required to tailor each role’s relevancy and depict clearly how the daily deeds contribute to the beneficiaries.
Relevancy is also affected in an environment of frequent re-org that confuses the staff and raises questions about how their roles fit into the new puzzle. Changing goals may lead to losing the purpose. Thus, the management should re-calibrate the teams’ vocation after such changes.
On top of that, relevancy is downgraded when working remotely since the worker lacks feedback from peers and management. Hence, a manager must find ways to reinstate relevancy and put things into context to maintain engagement.
Immesearment (a deliberate blunder) means not being measured for the productivity you bring to the table. Measure yourself is the cornerstone to gauge the progress you’ve made. So, after outlining why the employees’ actions are relevant, the author, Patrick, suggests letting them set and measure their impact criteria. With that, the employee accepts and undertakes the challenges.
In the recent decade, technology has allowed measuring many tangible metrics; the question is, are we covering the factors related directly to the employee’s endeavors? Does the assessment solely include acts that depend on the employee’s contribution?
The assessment combines the business unit’s performance, accomplishing the team’s goals, and individual achievements in most cases. Subjective and tailored measurement requires attention and perseverance and are harder to outline. Needless to say, it becomes more complicated when working remotely or under a high workload.
Finally, it is expected that measurements are set by the company and not by the employee, who, in turn, may choose to alienate these measurements. To overpower this pitfall, it is highly recommended to define metrics with the employees to increase their willingness and cooperation.
The Manager’s Duties
It is difficult to lift yourself up; even great performers are mentored by someone: a friend, spouse, colleague, or professional mentor. In our case, it is the manager’s duty to facilitate employees to overcome their lack of motivation, resolve disengagement, and find meaning.
This endeavor requires awareness and sensitivity; a unique approach should be accommodated for each person. This effort is essential as things will most likely deteriorate if a manager overlooks the three engagement factors and doesn’t continuously look for ways to cultivate employees.
Lastly, a Personal Note
As a manager who works in a multi-cultural environment, this book has led me to ponder situations where my teams’ involvement was improved; it happened mainly after I had invested more in communicating individually.
Understanding each team member required attention and persistence, but it was rewarding. When I reached the person behind the role, the sense of belonging increased, and the commitment level arose too.
For me, this book revealed some blind spots and equipped me with new ideas on how to increase engagement; after all, the people we work with are the most valuable asset we have.
References and Relevant Resources