Article: The Changing Face of Employee Engagement

Employee Engagement

The Changing Face of Employee Engagement

If employee engagement is to be sustained, a careful study is needed of the extent to which employees respect the organization and respect the leadership of the organization
The Changing Face of Employee Engagement

Are you tired of being told that change is here to stay? 

But when wasn’t it? Since time immemorial, change has been at the heart of evolution — of species, of civilizations, of governments, of markets… 

So, what’s the big deal? 

The big deal is that despite millennia of practice, we have gotten better at resisting change than we have at exploiting it. We spend most of our time like King Canute, fighting back the tide of change, rather than like Frieda Zamba, one of the world’s greatest-ever female surfers, riding the waves even into her 50’s.

So often, when organizations face transformational change, however, triggered, we rely far too much on winning the logical argument, believing that the waves of discontent that arose in the past can be held back. We create project teams, generate complex project management Gantt charts, and blitz the staff with communications packed with corporate-speak. But, as Dr. Marciano and I documented in “SuperTeams”1, in order for organizations to experience optimum performance and engagement, five forms of respect are critically important, and two forms in particular at the outset of any transformation: Respect for the organization and Respect for the organizationís leadership.

If employee engagement is to be sustained or built on during a period of transformation, a careful study is needed of the extent to which employees respect the organization (including any acquiring or merging organization) and respect the leadership of the organization(s)/transformation. I have personally experienced an organization being acquired by a new leadership team who were blatantly unsuitable. The impact of that factor alone on employee engagement was catastrophic.

If you are going to lead or be involved actively in any transformational change, do your homework. Find out how the organization and the leadership are viewed. If corrective action is needed, get to it. Do not wait and hope that it will go away. Herein lies part of why so many mergers and acquisitions fail.

If respect for the organization(s) and its leadership are established, then another, a third type of respect becomes important — for those required to implement change as well as for those who will be affected by it: Respect for the work they are asked to do.

As Dan Pink so clearly articulates in his book, “Drive”,2  employees want Autonomy (A feeling that they have some control over what they do), Mastery (to achieve a level of capability that ensures they can respect themselves), and most importantly, Purpose (something they can believe in and commit to).

All too often, when transformative change is contemplated, we give too little attention to the issue of Purpose. But, as Simon Sinek so powerfully explains in his TED talk, “How great leaders inspire action,” people buy your ‘WHY’ — the Purpose. 

All too often, we set out to win the transformation’s logical argument. However, the logical argument merely gives us the right to be heard. To ensure employee engagement, we need to win the hearts as well as the minds. And winning hearts demands honesty and integrity; employees can “smell” a lack of either and this is why respect for the leadership is so critical. Winning hearts and minds demands that credible leaders bring the future alive – hence, the explosion in interest in powerful story-telling. Humans appear to be preconditioned to want to hear and to believe in stories as they excite our emotions and help us to feel part of what is going on. Powerful stories create tribal cohesion and underpin the courage to act. 

If you are going to lead or be actively involved in any transformational change, actively engage as many people as possible in discussions about the purpose, why the transformation needs to take place, and in determining the work to be done and how it will be done. Use powerful and descriptive stories to draw them in and help them to connect with and remember the key messages. These build a feeling of security.

Once the why or purpose is established and commitment to it is achieved, the organizational issues will be addressed. Often at this point, attention rapidly switches to routine operational matters. After all, we have communicated ‘why the transformation is needed’, we’ve explained it everyone in detail, we have engaged them in discussions about what needs to happen and how we will make that work. Let’s just do it!

Doesn’t that ensure that employees are engaged? No!

In most transformations:

  • There are casualties – employees who are let go.

  • Individuals’ roles change and create new insecurities.

  • Structure and management changes take place.

These all demand that we attend to the fourth type of respect: that employees respect their fellow workers. Without this, many individuals rapidly become disengaged and corrosive to the organization. Blaming culture can quickly take hold as even peers pass the buck onto others whom they see as less capable and/or committed. They can soon undermine collective commitment and their gossip becomes the fuel of much wider discontent.

We can get a long way to achieving, “Employees respect their fellow workers” by:

  • Ensuring that there is transparent and objective means by which employees are selected for their roles. The quality of management appointments during this time is critically important (don’t get me started talking about that or we will still be here in a month’s time!)

  • Ensuring that there is transparent and objective means by which employees are selected to depart and that those who are asked to depart are treated with dignity and assisted to find new careers.

  • Ensuring appropriate training and development to enable individuals to have some autonomy and to acquire and demonstrate mastery.

It is often at this late stage that organizations make the biggest mistake. Often, there are celebrations of success during the transformation, managers get awards, and teams get recognized for their contributions. But, all too often we forget the last type of respect that impacts engagement and performance: All employees feel individually respected.

During the heat of transformative change, managers often: 

  • Focus primarily on getting the change done and fixing problems – the tasks, unintentionally ignoring all those who have done precisely what was expected and done it well.

  • Only give feedback when something has slipped expecting employees to subscribe to the, “No news is good news” philosophy.

  • Pay most attention to the new employees, often putting them on metaphorical pedestals, thus leaving existing employees feeling neglected.

If you are going to lead or be actively involved in any transformational change, remember that “Just when you are thinking it is going well, you may well be on the brink of making it go badly.” Step back and think about each and every one of your employees. Answer the question for each, “How have I ensured that they individually feel truly respected?” If you can’t answer it, do something, fast.

At the start of this article, I asked, “Are you tired of being told that change is here to stay?” Well, it is almost certain that your employees are tired of hearing that. So, break the mold – become a great manager and ensure that the next change is managed really well. Then, you will earn the respect that it deserves. 



  1. “SuperTeams: Using the principles of RESPECT to unleash explosive business performance,” Marciano & Wingrove, McGrawHill, 2014

  2. “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us,” Dan H Pink, Canongate Books Ltd
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Topics: Employee Engagement

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